Yikes, it’s been 7 weeks since my last post! Wasn’t intended, but when Carnival season starts down here, your everyday plans get suspended.
So to continue…many folks watched the TLC show and followed it weekly to keep up with the drama as it unfolded. Maybe those couples were real, I don’t really know, but the way they framed those stories couldn’t have painted a more skewed (fake) picture of the process and its requirements. Petitioning for your international fiancé is a highly scrutinized process and a pain in the ass–such that if you didn’t really like that person, or weren’t 100% committed to whatever fake story you’ve crafted (if that’s what you’re trying to do, though I wouldn’t try and defraud the gov’t), then it really wouldn’t be worth your time, money, or energy.
Efrem and I started compiling all of the documentation we needed in December 2013 to meet the requirements for the first step of this process, which is completing the I-129F, or Petition for Alien Fiancé . We didn’t actually complete everything and send it to USCIS until January 17, 2014, and we got confirmation of receipt, the Notice of Action (aka NOA1), on January 25th. Then we waited.
So here’s what viewers didn’t understand and that the show really didn’t portray:
Q: What do you need to file a K-1 Visa?
A: Your whole life. On paper. And your entire bank account. Seriously.
I’m going to describe getting a K-1 Visa like the drama it is–in 2 Acts
Act 1: The American Citizen’s Petition
As the American, you have to compile, double, and triple check the following series of documents as well as payment to USCIS for their time and energy to review said documents:
- Payment as required by USCIS: $340
- Cover letter–basically a table of contents and a description of what you’re petitioning for
- Form I-129F
- Declaration of how you met in person in the last 2 years, signed and dated
- Original statements from both parties certifying your intent to marry within 90 days of entering the US, with original signatures
- Proof of having met in the past two years (all your corny love emails, pictures, letters, boarding passes, flight itinerary, passport stamps, skype/gmail/facebook chats, etc.)
- G-325A (biographical info) filled out, signed and dated, by both parties
- One passport photo of each
- Copy of front and back of US citizens birth certificate
And then, if applicable
- Copy of final divorce decrees, death certificate of spouse if previous marriage ended in death
- Proof of legal name change if either is using different names
- And then certified copies of all court and police records if you have any convictions
Once you’re done creating/filling in the documents, print them all out, put it in order, make 3 copies of it just in case, and send it to some PO Box and wait for an NOA1.
Our first set of paperwork was about 40 pages, and the most annoying part was having to wait on two of Efrem’s documents to arrive in the MAIL in order to have the original signatures–so factor in the additional international priority mailing costs.
After you receive the NOA1 you have to wait for the NOA2–or the Notice of Approval, which lets you know that your initial petition was approved and you can now proceed to the next Part. We got our NOA2 on July 24th—6 months of waiting, which is longer than it should’ve taken, but we had the unfortunate reality of having to be processed through the Texas Service Center, which for whatever reason moves 2-3 times slower than the California and Vermont Service Centers.
After USCIS gives you the NOA2, they forward your case to the National Visa Center, which can take about 2 weeks, and they then forward your case to the US Embassy in your international fiancé’s country, an additional 1-4 weeks, and then once they receive it, they send you an email called “Packet 3,” which details what 500 million documents you need to have prepared next. We got our “Packet” on August 15th.
ACT 2: The International Citizen’s Petition
Scene 1: Affidavit of Support
The American citizen isn’t quite off the hook yet. You still have to mail your foreign lover a copy of the entire initial petition you sent to said PO Box (hence having multiple copies), as well as some renewed and new documentation as well:
- Yet another, more updated letter certifying your intent to marry within 90 days, signed and dated (just in case you changed your mind in this whole months-long ordeal)
- I-134: Affidavit of support form, signed and dated
- Supplemental information to prove what you said on your I-134 including
- Bank & savings statements
- A letter from your employer on letterhead detailing how long you’ve been employed and in what capacity
- Copies of last few pay stubs
- W2s for last couple years or IRS transcripts
- A copy of the NOA2 you received in the mail
- More proof that your relationship has continued throughout this petition, i.e. more copies of personal emails, skype/gmail/FB chats
The sheer costs and burden of proof is why that TLC show had little to no merit for me–because you had all these broke couples getting married. It’s not like you have to be rich to petition to bring someone across the pond–but you do have to have a certain level of personal income with PROOF of its coming and some stability, or a certain accumulated mass of savings if you’re not working. If you don’t meet the income requirements then you have to find a financial sponsor, who not only has to agree, but has to submit all of that information on your behalf. All these flakey and financial insecure relationships portrayed on the show didn’t make any type of sense–and it will become more evident why in later steps.
Scene 2: “Packet 3”
The International citizen has to do/obtain the following per Packet 3 instructions:
- Complete form DS-160: Electronic Visa Application, and DS-2001: Readiness to be interviewed
- Valid passport
- Long form birth certificate
- Police Clearance certificate (which can take like 4 weeks to get)
- The divorce decree (if applicable)
Once you have them, you send copies of them in an email, so that you can then receive “Packet 4.”
Luckily for us, we had already been working on Packet 3 before we got it, so we turned it around pretty quickly (August 18) and got Packet 4 the very next day (August 19).
Scene 3: “Packet 4” and the Invasion of your Fiancé’s Life
Packet 4 is your appointment letter, giving you instructions for how and where to do your medical exam, as well as your interview date and what you need to bring. In addition to what the American citizen sends, and all of the hard copies of the items in Packet 3, the interview requires more passport photos, the Medical Exam report, and of course, more money.
There were only 2 options for getting your medical exam done in South Africa–one doctor in Johannesburg and two doctors in Cape Town. The exam itself…
- A full on, strip down physical exam
- Blood test
- TB skin test
- Chest X-ray
- Every age appropriate/seasonal vaccination if you don’t have proof of it (Polio, MMR, Tdap, Chicken Pox, and Flu shot)
Cost: Between R1950 and R2650, plus R300 to courier the exam to the consulate in Johannesburg (that’s about $200 – $275 plus about $30. Efrem’s cost was on the upper end with all of the vaccinations)
Efrem’s medical was on September 1, and then he packed up his stuff and went to Johannesburg for his interview, which was on September 30.
Final Scene: The Interview
At the interview, you have to bring all of those documents we just talked about and MORE MONEY to pay for the Visa. They said in our email that the cost would be $240, but they had just increased it to something like $265.
Our interview date we were both super nervous, and I was up at 5 AM with him before he went in and waiting up all morning to hear thinking it would take a long time. Thankfully, we had a great Consulate officer who asked pretty basic questions, barely looked at the mounds of paperwork we had amassed, and then said approved by like 9 AM that day. I bought his plane ticket the same day, magically it was only like $650 (plus the ridiculous extra $175 to check an additional bag -___-)
On October 5 he actually received his K1 VISA, and by October 14th he was with me in New Orleans.
Summary of 2014:
- January 17: I-129F Filed = $340
- January 25: NOA1
- July 24th: NOA2 (I-129F Approved)
- August 15: Packet 3 Received
- August 18: Packet 3 Returned
- August 19: Packet 4 Received
- September 1: Medical Exam = ~$305
- September 30: Visa Interview & Approval = $265 + Plane ticket to Joburg (~$120)
- October 5: K1 Visa in Hand
- October 14: Efrem arrives in-country! = $825
ALL OF THESE STEPS had to be performed BEFORE he could even step foot on a plane to come to the US. The process certainly isn’t insignificant as the TV show would have you think, nor is it some light decision that can be made on a whim.
It’s long. It’s invasive. It’s expensive
It cost us about $1850 plus the cost of all the international mailing, which was often $25 each time given the number of documents being mailed. And the expenses for getting the K1 pale in comparison to getting a green card.
Epilogue: Adjustment of Status
I don’t want to jump too far ahead in our story, but because I don’t want to talk about steps & processes ever again, I’ll add in this last piece. The adjustment of status or I-485 is not THE final step, but one of the last paperwork-heavy steps to your International love’s being able to STAY in the country.
That silly TV show had all this speculating about what folks was gonna do after they got married, and who was gonna disappear and get over on the American citizen, and all this ignorant, uninformed chatter.
A K-1 Visa stipulates that you must get married within 90 days of point of entry (POE), lest your visa expires. But you have to ALSO file the I-485 in order to Adjust your status to permanent resident. If the I-485 isn’t filed, getting married and running away won’t save your behind in the long run.
Additionally, if you file the I-485 and you’re broke, you’re not getting approved! That little I-134/Affidavit of support I had to provide Efrem pre-interview was just a taste of what was to come on the I-864, which is a similar document but on steroids. You need that letter from your employer, plus 3 YEARS of tax returns demonstrating your financial stability and that your income is at least 125% of poverty level–to prove that the international fiancé won’t end up on any kind of social welfare once they get here, unless you want to open yourself up to a gov’t initiated lawsuit.
Given that I just finished graduate school, and I have a year with zero taxable income, I went back another year and pulled a 4th year of tax returns, PLUS a full year’s worth of pay stubs, bank statements, and savings account statements (they only require like 2 months). Because even if your income meets the requirement and you’re not required to provide additional information, they can choose to hold up your application and request more information; so I gave them everything–some 35 pages of documentation.
Also you need these things:
- Payment as required: $1,070
- Cover page
- The actual form I-485
- Copy of International citizen’s Passport page
- Copy of international citizen’s K1 Visa page
- Copy of NOA2 approval
- Copy of I-94
- Copy of International citizen’s birth certificate
- Copy of Marriage certificate
- G-325A filled out
- 2 more passport photos (seriously, where are all these damn photos going)
- Copy of previous medical examination vaccine sheet or a new I-693 if parts of medical exam were missing (more on this in a later post)
- I-864 as mentioned above
- I-765: application for employment authorization (getting permanent residency takes forever, so you want this paper so you can legally work while you wait)
- I-131: application for travel document (in case you want to leave the country while you wait on permanent residency)
We filed our AOS on December 18th, 2014. And now we wait…