How to apply for a K-3 visa for the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen

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A K-3 visa is for the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen. It reduces the time that you are separated from your foreign spouse by allowing them to enter the United States, adjust their visa status, and wait for their green card application to be approved.

However, K-3 visas are very rare. So rare, in fact, that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only issued a total of five K-3 visas in 2019. This is because a K-3 visa takes, on average, about 6–9 months to process, which means that it takes just about as long as it takes USCIS to approve the marriage green card application.

Because of this lengthy processing time, most people find that it’s not worth it to apply for a K-3 visa. Unless the processing times change, the K-3 visa should probably be avoided, as it involves an unnecessary step and additional expense (including an extra $265 filing fee).

Here are some quick facts about the K-3 visa to help you decide if it is the appropriate visa for you.

Am I eligible for a K-3 visa?

If you married a U.S. citizen outside of the United States, then you might be eligible if you meet the following requirements:

  • You must be the legal spouse of a U.S. citizen, not a green card holder or a holder of another U.S. visa.
  • You must live outside the United States.
  • Your U.S. citizen spouse has filed a Form I-130 that is pending with USCIS. The I-130 cannot have been approved yet, and there must be a receipt notice from USCIS.
  • Your U.S. citizen spouse’s adjusted gross income on their most recent tax return must be at least 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines in order to qualify as the financial sponsor. If they are unable to meet this requirement, a joint sponsor must file an “affidavit of support.”
  • If you want your biological or adopted children to come live in the United States, they must be unmarried and under the age of 21.

How do I apply for a K-3 visa?

Step 1

If you meet the K-3 visa requirements, your U.S. citizen spouse must fill out Form I-129F and file it with USCIS. This form can be confusing because it is called “Petition for Alien Fiancé(e),” but it can be used by spouses of U.S. citizens, too.

After the form is signed and completed, make sure that you include copies of all required documents, including the following:

  • The U.S. citizen spouse’s proof of citizenship. This can be a passport, certificate of naturalization, or birth certificate.
  • Your passport.
  • The legal marriage certificate, along with a certified English translation if required.
  • Proof of termination of any prior marriages (for example, divorce decree, annulment document, or death certificate).
  • I-94 arrival/departure record if you have ever received one from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • A passport-style photograph of your U.S. citizen spouse and a passport-style photograph of you.
  • The receipt notice for the Form I-130 (technically called the Form I-797).
  • There is no filing fee for I-129F petitions designated for spouses.

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After signing Form I-129F and attaching all supporting documents, it’s always a good idea to make an archival copy of the packet for your records. Typically you should receive a receipt notice within 30 days of filing the Form I-129F. Processing times will vary depending on which USCIS service center is handling the case, but the average is about 6–9 months.

A Request for Evidence (RFE) might be issued, should USCIS require any more information. After the petition is approved, the U.S. citizen spouse will receive an approval notice.

Step 2

When you receive the approval notice, you will receive correspondence, usually via email, from the U.S. embassy. This correspondence will include the date and time of your interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. It will also include a list of documents required for the interview.

The next step is to electronically file the DS-160 visa application on the Department of State’s website. This includes uploading a passport-style photograph. Once the DS-160 has been filed electronically, the confirmation page should be printed and taken to the interview, along with the following documents:

  • Legal marriage certificate
  • Your valid, unexpired passport
  • Your birth certificate
  • A police clearance for all countries of residence of more than six months since you were 16-years-old
  • Your sealed medical exam (obtained through a physician abroad, authorized by the U.S. Department of State)
  • Your sponsor’s affidavit of support (Form I-134)
  • Your sponsoring spouse’s most recent tax returns
  • Proof of relationship (for example, a copy of the pending Form I-130 package originally filed with USCIS). It’s generally a good idea to also bring things such as wedding photographs or any other proof that the marriage is valid.
  • Two passport-style photographs of the applicant spouse

The State Department’s visa filing fee is currently $265, usually paid at the interview. It’s important to review specific instructions regarding time and place of payment, included in the embassy’s correspondence, which may vary depending on the applicant’s home country.

The interview is usually scheduled about 4–6 weeks from the date of the correspondence from the embassy. The applicant should receive a decision the same day or shortly thereafter. If the consular officer needs additional evidence, they will request for it to be submitted directly to the U.S. consulate. After the K-3 visa is approved, you can travel to the United States.

Step 3

The final step of this process is to travel to the United States on the approved K-3 visa. Although you can apply for employment authorization upon arrival to the United States, you are not eligible to work until you receive approval of the work permit application, which typically takes about four months.

To avoid this, you can file for employment authorization and a travel permit along with the green card application, which can be submitted on arrival to the United States. This application, Form I-485 (technically called an “Adjustment of Status” application) is filed with USCIS based on a pending or approved Form I-130.

Important note: Although the K-3 visa is available to spouses of U.S. citizens living abroad, it is usually not the best option and should generally be avoided. Because of the lengthy processing times, applying for a K-3 visa usually ends up being an unnecessary step with additional expense (including the extra $265 filing fee).

If you are already married with a pending Form I-130, it’s almost always better to go through the green card process with consular processing, which takes about the same amount of time as the K-3 visa process.

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