Updated: January 21, 2020
In 2000 Congress created the K-3 classification and visa for spouses of US citizens who are awaiting the outcome of an immigrant visa petition (I-130). In order to obtain K-3 nonimmigrant status, the US citizen must file with the USCIS an I-129F petition on behalf of the foreign spouse. Upon approval, the spouse my apply for a K-3 visa and then after entering the US on the visa, he or she can live and work in the US while the I-130 immigrant petition process grinds slowly ahead. Once the I-130 immigrant petition is approved, the K-3 visa holder can apply for adjustment of status to permanent residence. Yet, in spite of the obvious lure of being able to join one’s spouse in the US and begin married life with a minimum of separation, during Fiscal Year 2013 only 1,679 persons entered the US on K-3 visas. This represents a 93% decrease from the all-time high of 25,615 during FY2010. When the K-3 offers so many apparent advantages, why do so few people apply for it?
The reason lies in the Department of State’s decision, effective February 1, 2010, that in cases where the Department’s National Visa Center has been notified of the approvals of both a K-3 petition (the I-129F) and an immigrant visa petition (the I-130) for an applicant, or where the I-130 was approved before the I-129F, the applicant must proceed with the immigrant visa; the K-3 route is administratively closed. This warning can now be found on the Department’s K-3 web page. Since the USCIS processing reports show that I-129F and I-130 petitions are taking approximately the same length of time to be adjudicated (or that I-129F petitions are taking longer than I-130 petitions depending on the Service Center), most would-be K-3 visa holders will find that they will not be able to obtain their K-3 visa—which requires additional processing and document production after the approval of the I-129F—before the I-130 is approved and the K-3 option thus eliminated. While the original objective of the K-3 visa was to minimize the period of separation between the US citizen and alien spouse, realistically, the long processing times for K-3 visa matters at the USCIS and National Visa Center have now essentially rendered this visa classification obsolete.
The good news is that if the US citizen spouse lives in one of the 22 countries in the world (including the United Kingdom) where I-130 petitions can be filed directly with the USCIS office at the Embassy rather than with the USCIS in the United States, the route to immigrant status is much faster than that endured by those couples who must process in the US. For information on the process and timeline in the UK, please see our website article I Married an Alien, Get Us Out of Here: Immigrant Visas for Spouses of US Citizens Living in the United Kingdom.
We hope that this short article has been informative. However, it does not purport to cover all permutations of this issue and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice tailored to the specifics of your situation. If you believe that legal advice would be helpful you should consult a qualified US immigration attorney.