K-3 / K-4 Spousal Visa Process:
On December 21, 2000 the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (LIFE Act) was signed into law. One of the provisions this legislation is the creation of K3 and K4 non-immigrant visas for spouses of US Citizens who are outside the US, and the children of those foreign spouses. These visas were created to allow reunification of families of US Citizens, by allowing the spouse and children to enter the United States as non-immigrants, and filing for Adjustment of Status inside the United States, rather than waiting for Consular immigrant visa processing. Provisions for processing for the K3/K4 became effective on August 14, 2001 after coordination required between USCIS (INS) and the State Department.
>> Before you begin be sure to read the K-3 “Step-by-Step Guide”.
Whereas the K1/K2 visa process is fairly straightforward, the K3/K4 is not as simple. It is important for the US Citizen to be informed and attentive to detail, because there are several opportunities to make mistakes and omissions which could result in unpleasant surprises. Immigrating to the United States via the K3/K4 is not such an automatic process as is experienced by the K1/K2.
Briefly, the K3/K4 process is as follows:
|A. The US Citizen files an I-130 petition for the foreign spouse.
B. USCIS (INS) issues a receipt (I-797) acknowledging filing of the I-130 petition.
C. The US Citizen files an I-129F petition, using the I-797 receipt as “proof of filing an immigrant petition”. All children of the foreign spouse will be listed on this petition. The I-129F is sent to the Service Center where the underlying I-130 petition is currently pending. At this point, the “track” of the K3/K4 process becomes similar to the current processing for K1/K2 fiance(e) visa.
D. When the petition is approved, it is sent to the NVC for processing and then the appropriate Consulate is notified and processing for the K3/K4 non-immigrant visa is begun, including medical, police check, I-134 affidavit of support, and Consular interview. The fee will be the same as the current K1 fiance(e) visa.
E. The K3 visa is issued to the spouse, the K4 to the minor children, they go to the United States.
F. The K3 spouse and K4 children file the I-485 for Adjustment of Status, either immediately or when the I-130 petition is approved. The new K visa will be issued for an effective period of 2 years, with multiple entries permitted, and provision to extend the visa beyond 2 years. The State Department has indicated that in K3/K4 cases, that the USCIS (INS) will retain the approved I-130 petition. This means if he K3/K4 visa holder wishes to obtain an immigrant visa at a Consulate, they need to notify that Consulate to begin the process, after which the Consulate will request the approved I-130 petition from the USCIS (INS). The USCIS (INS) seems to expect that most K3/K4 folks will apply for AOS from inside the United States, but due to long processing times at some local offices, it is very possible some folks will wish to opt for Consular processing after they arrive in the United States.Note about the I-130 approval – In some cases the I-130 may be approved prior to the K-3 being processed. There are certain advantages if this happens such as receiving an Immigrant Visa instead of a K3. Please read the IR1/CR1 Guide if your I-130 is approved during the K3 Process to find out what you can do.
The K visa for spouses *may* provide a major benefit for older stepchildren. Until now, a US Citizen would file an I-130 for the foreign spouse, and separate I-130 petitions for each child or step-child. Stepchildren would only be eligible if the marriage took place before the stepchild’s 18th birthday. The revised I-129F will automatically include all children under 21, with no separate petition required, removing a major disparity between current K1/K2 and spousal immigrant visa processes. However, Although a separate I-130 petition is not required for the children to obtain a K4 visa, an approved I-130 petition is required before they may be approved for Adjustment of Status to permanent resident. The I-130 petition still states the U.S. Citizen petitioner may not file for a stepchild, unless the marriage took place before the stepchild’s 18th birthday. This detail must be addressed, in order to prevent an older stepchild from moving here on a K4 visa, yet being denied approval of the I-130 petition.
Although the K3/K4 visa may allow the spouse and children into the US faster, they may now undergo the Adjustment process in the US, rather than entering the US with Permanent Resident status. This means filing for Adjustment of Status and work authorization, and paying the fees associated with these applications. It may mean problems with non-resident tuition fees at colleges, and other minor and major headaches experienced by current fiance(e) visa holders, including the sometimes nerve-racking experience of getting an older child adjusted to Permanent Resident status before turning 21.
The “basis” for Adjustment is the same as for current K1/K2 visa holders, who cannot change status to anything except Permanent Resident based on marriage to the original US petitioner. In other words, the spousal K visa holder will still need to be married to the US Citizen spouse (who filed the I-129F) at the time of the Adjustment interview.
The new K visa procedures allow the US Citizen and foreign spouse to bypass long I-130 petition approval times, and visa/affidavit of support processing steps at the National Visa Center, but will not decrease the time required to process and issue the new K3/K4 visa at the US Consulate.