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Becoming a K Visa Holder as the Spouse or Child of a U.S. Citizen

UPDATED: February 10, 2020

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With the passage of the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act) in December 2000, came new immigration visa options aimed at uniting families. In addition to providing legal status to many foreigners already living in the United States, the act created two new categories of non-immigrant visas for the husbands, wives, and children of U.S. citizens—for spouses, the K-3 visa, and for children, the K-4 visa. These new visa categories allow individuals admission into the country as non-immigrants while they wait for permanent resident status (a green card).

K-3 Visas

To qualify for a K-3 visa you must be:

  • Legally married to a U.S. citizen;
  • The beneficiary of a pending I-130 immediate relative petition; 
  • Seeking entry into the U.S. to await approval of that petition.

Your spouse begins the process by filing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-130. Once USCIS has sent a notice indicating receipt of Form 1-130, your spouse then files a Form I-129F petition together with that receipt notice. Once the I-129F petition has been approved, your visa application is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) and the appropriate American consulate. An I-129F approval is valid for 4 months although a consular officer may revalidate the petition for an additional four months should it expire.

If your marriage took place in the United States, the consulate that will issue the K-3 visa will be the one with jurisdiction over the foreign spouse’s current residence. If your marriage happened overseas, then the issuing consulate must be in the country where you married, so long as the United States has a consular office that issues immigrant visas in that country. If the country where you married does not have a consular office that issues immigrant visas, you should get in touch with an immigration attorney to determine your best course of action, which in some cases may be to apply for a different kind of visa.

K-4 Visa - Children of K-3 Visa Applicants

Your child or children may accompany you on the K-4 visa if they are named in your 1-129F petition. To be eligible, K-4 children must be under 21 years of age and unmarried. K-4 status is dependent upon the parent’s K-3 status and ends if the K-3 visa or I-130 petition is terminated or revoked.

Benefits of the K-3 Visa

K-3 visa applications usually require a shorter waiting period than other marriage-based immigrant visa petitions; the petition takes on average four to six months to go through USCIS, and another two to three months for the consulate to process. K-3 and K-4 visa holders may be granted employment authorization while their I-130 petitions or adjustment of status applications are pending. Other benefits include being able to study in the United States while waiting for approval and the ability to travel outside of the United States, even if you are also applying for adjustment of status. The K-3 visa is valid initially for two years, and may be extended, if necessary, in two-year increments.

K visa holders may not change status to another non-immigrant visa once in the United States, which means you can’t switch to become another type of visa holder after you’ve come into the country on a K visa; you have to stay with the K visa. The reverse is also true: once you are the holder of another type of non-immigrant visa you cannot change to K status.

Termination of K3 Status

K-3 status is automatically terminated 30 days after the denial or revocation of the visa holder’s I-130 petition or adjustment of status application, the divorce of the couple making the application, or the death of the U.S. citizen petitioner spouse.

While an I-129F petition may be approved by USCIS, you may be denied a K, or any other visa, and not be allowed to enter the United States, if you have been temporarily or permanently barred for a previous violation of immigration law.

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