US K-1 Fiancé(e) Visa Approved Within 8 Months and Here Is How We Prepared
Mike and I have been in a long-distance relationship for about two years. I am a Chinese citizen living in South Korea and he is an American living in San Francisco. We met through work and we fell in love in 2017.
We embarked on our K-1 visa journey at the end of last August and so excited that it got approved and stamped in my passport in less than 8 months.
It has been a roller-coaster-like journey because sometimes during the long waiting period, it felt like it was never gonna end. We are so grateful that it ended up taking less time than we expected. Now we can finally start our life together!
Our Timeline (US Pacific Time)
- End of July 2018: We started researching on K-1 visa, listed up and divided tasks for the first step I-129F
- 27 August: Mike sent the I-129F petition package to USCIS via a courier service
- 29 August: Case was received by USCIS
- 5 September: Mike got the confirmation of acceptance from USCIS via email with a case receipt number (NOA1)
- 4 months and 20 days of waiting. (According to the historical processing time of I-129F, the average process time for I-129F was 6 months as of January 2019.)
- 18 January 2019: Mike got notice that the petition was approved by USCIS and sent to the NVC (NOA 2)
- 5 March: Mike was notified by NVC that the approved petition was sent to the US embassy in Korea
- 12 March: My case arrived at the US embassy in Korea and was ready for the interview
- 14 March: We hadn’t got the instruction package from the embassy yet, which I would need to take the required medical exam. So I called the visa hotline in Korea and Mike got the package via email in a few hours.
- 18 March: I finished DS-160 and started to schedule the visa interview. But it wasn’t easy to find an open slot.
- 18 April: I had the visa interview at the US embassy in Korea, got approved on the spot.
- 22 April: I got my passport back with the visa in it.
The timeline is influenced by many factors, some of which are probably out of our control, such as how many cases are being processed and the political environment, etc. I think we were pretty lucky that it took less than the average time. However, there are several things you CAN do to speed it up a little bit:
- Read the official instructions and filing tips very carefully (See details in I-129F Preparation below). Make sure you include all the documents and evidence required. The biggest cause for delay is probably if USCIS needs to request for more supporting evidence from you.
- Most of the time in the process is spent on waiting for the approval of I-129F, so utilize the wait time to prepare for the next stage. As soon as we got NOA1, we started our research on the actual visa application stage and made a plan for all the tasks. I called the designated hospital in Korea to find out the reservation process for the medical exam and how long it takes to get the result. I also checked with the police station to find out the exact process and time for police certificate issuance. We had a very good idea of what exactly either of us would need to do and how long each task would take. In our case, it is 2~3 weeks if everything needed at this stage is done in parallel. This might differ from country to country, so it’s always good to know what to expect sooner than later.
- Once we got the notification that the case was sent to the US embassy in Korea, I started filling up DS-160 (the visa application form) and applied for police certificates in the countries I’d lived for longer than 6 months (China and Korea). At the same time, I tracked my case status every day. When I realized the case had arrived in Korea for 2 days but we hadn’t got the instruction package, I called to give the embassy a nudge. As soon as we got the instruction package, I booked the medical exam.
- It took 2 weeks before I luckily spot an open interview slot that worked for our planned timeline. For the first week, there was no date open at all. Due to the randomized system, I had to check the website now and then, booked the first date I saw open, which was May 9th, then kept monitoring it every day until I spotted an earlier slot open (April 19) and changed the appointment time right away. Every time I applied for a US B1/B2 visa, interview appointment was never a problem, so it caught me by surprise. In the end, it worked out perfectly. I think to prepare better, it may make sense to check the visa booking site around the time your case is on the way to the embassy in your country, so you know what to expect in terms of the availability of interview slots and plan accordingly. Note that you need to pay the visa fee before you can check the available dates.
You probably have already read quite a few articles on what the process of K-1 looks like and what’s needed for the I-129F. If you haven’t, we highly recommend you read the official visa information page for K-1 and the instructions I-129F on the official instructions on the USCIS website very carefully. We had probably read most of the top search results on Google before we started our document preparation based on the advice and templates online. But when it came down to the nitty-gritty of the filing, we had to make a few last-minute fixes after reading the instructions and filing tips more carefully. It would have saved some hassle if we studied them more thoroughly at the beginning.
Our criteria in choosing evidence
The main point of I-129F is to prove that you are in a bona fide relationship, you are planning to get married, and except for special cases, that you have met in person in the recent two years. So strategically, we made sure to include the evidence that clearly showed the big milestones in our love story, such as how we had met, how we fell in love, how frequently we communicated and saw each other, when and how we had interacted with each other’s parents, when we got to hang out with each other’s friends and/or other people in our inner social circle, etc. We did end up filing a big book of evidence and we have no idea what would be the “sufficient minimum”. We enjoyed the process because we found it a wonderful chance to review our relationship and relish the memorable moments together. Judging by the time it took for our visa process compared to the average, I’d guess it was a successful move.
What we included
- Cover letter
- 2. Personal check ($535)
- 3. G-1145 Notification of Application Acceptance (1 page)
- 4. Form I-129F (18 pages)
- petitioner’s employment history and address history, beneficiary’s address history (or any other attachment for extra information you need. We both had long address history so we had to add an attachment to the form.)
5. Statement of Circumstances of Meeting (Question 54) ( 1 page)
6. Evidence of Meeting ( about 25 pages)
- airline tickets, passport stamps, photos together*, hotel receipts, etc.
7. Evidence of Relationship (11 pages)
- phone calls, emails, cards, gifts
8. Evidence of Intent to marry statement (2 pages, signed by both)
9. US Citizen’s Proof of Citizenship ( 2 pages)
10. Proof of Beneficiary’s US Travel (e.g. I-94) ( 3 pages)
11. Two (2) Passport-sized photos (petitioner, beneficiary)
Evidence of Meeting
We tried to include at least 1 or 2 items of evidence for every meeting we had had. We also used a variety of different types of evidence, such as flight ticket and hotel booking confirmation letters, pictures of passport pages with entrance stamps, messenger conversation excerpts relevant to our meeting planning. ( We used screen capture for many things that’s on email or mobile app and it seemed to be fine.)
*As for photos, the filing tips recommended writing downtime and location, etc on the back of each photo, but we made a scrapbook using 1~2 photos from each of our meetings, with the time, location and a description of the meeting, sometimes even a short note of any significant happening, such as when we first said “I love you” or when we first met each other’s family, etc. This way, we could control the flow of the storytelling. (Note that we were lucky enough to spend some time together almost every month for about 18 months. That’s why we only picked 1~2 photos for each meeting. I don’t know whether there is an optimal number of photos, but I think photos with family and friends are very important too.)
We made a mistake by printing a photo book using an online printing service. However, we found at the very last minute in the filing tips that petitioners were asked not to submit binders or folders that cannot be easily disassembled. So we ended up dissembling the book into separate pages. The better way probably would have been to arrange the photos in a WORD doc, add notes, and print the document on high-quality paper.
Evidence of Relationship
We provided some additional evidence of our relationship other than our meeting, such as phone call history, emails to each other, birthday cards, gift receipts, Valentine’s Day card I got from Mike’s mom, which was when I first met her, etc.
If you are already planning your wedding, some evidence on any vendor communication/booking would be helpful too. We didn’t have any at that time so we didn’t include anything about the wedding. It turned out fine too.
Visa Application Stage
The instruction package we got notified us to schedule the visa interview and prepare the following documents for the interview.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S.2 photos (2 inches x 2 inches)
- Birth Certificate
- Police Certificates from countries of residence for longer than 6 months
- Medical examination result
- Evidence of financial support from the US petitioner (Form I-134, Affidavit of Support, and relevant evidence)
- DS-160 confirmation
- Receipt of visa fee payment
- Visa interview appointment confirmation
I also added an updated Letter of Intent to Marry, the same content as the one submitted with I-129F but updated to a recent date. This wasn’t included in the required list of documents in the instruction package, but I have seen it mentioned somewhere so prepared it anyway. The embassy took it and placed it into the case folder. However, I am not 100% sure whether it had any significance.
This stage is pretty straightforward. A big chunk of work is on the I-134, which the US petitioner needs to prepare. Mike reviewed the form as soon as we got the NOA2, so he knew what he needed to prepare. He finished most parts of the form before the case even arrived in Korea, and it took him a few days at the end to finish the form with the accurate numbers and review it several times for accuracy. It did take several weeks back and forth with his bank to get the right supporting evidence. Luckily since we started early, all the document was ready when the interview time came up.
Google Drive and Google Docs
We use Google Drive to collect and organize our documents. We created a shared folder for all the documents we need for I-129F and labeled them in the same order as on the cover letter. Then I created Google Doc templates to organize the evidence of meeting and relationship we had collected. This way both of us could paste screen captures, photos, etc. to the template, easily add descriptions. The great thing is the process is very collaborative, the results very readable and readily printable. (See templates by clicking on relative items on the list above.)
We started shared photo albums on Google Photos very early on in our relationship, one album for every trip we take to meet each other. Sometimes it’s for a week, sometimes a month, depending on how long we spend together every time. But it turned out to be very handy when we were picking photos for the evidence of meetings. We simply created a new album and added several photos from each of our original shared folders.
We love Trello. It’s widely used for project management, especially in startups. You can make checklists, assign tasks to each other, and track deadlines, etc. We use it for everything from travel to wedding planning.