The “K-3” visa is a nonimmigrant visa available to foreign national spouses of U.S. citizens. The intent of this visa is to shorten the couple’s physical separation – ordinarily, the foreign national must remain outside the U.S. during visa processing. The K-3 visa allows the foreign national to enter the U.S. and remain with the spouse while awaiting Lawful Permanent Residence.
Couples contemplating applying for the K-3 visa should be aware that the foreign national spouse is required to apply for the immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country in which the marriage took place. This requirement can cause logistical headaches for some applicants.
Example: A U.S. citizen (“USC”) permanently resides and works in the U.S. but spends considerable time working on projects in Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, he meets a German national who permanently resides in Germany and only works in Nicaragua one month out of the year. After four years of courtship, the couple legally marries in Nicaragua. Soon after, the couple returns to their respective home countries for the remainder of the year. Upon return to the U.S., the USC files a petition to classify his spouse as a K-3 that is subsequently approved by USCIS. USCIS then sends the petition to the National Visa Center where it is forwarded to U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. The embassy then schedules a visa interview at the consular post in Nicaragua. The German national spouse must travel from Germany to Nicaragua in order to attend this interview because the wedding occurred in Nicaragua.
U.S. citizens and their future spouses should carefully consider the potential logistical issues associated with K-3 visas when making wedding plans. The regulations do recognize the potential for marriages that have taken place, or will take place in the U.S. In these cases, the regulations state that the foreign national’s immigrant visa application will be sent to the U.S. consular post in the country of their nationality. If there is no U.S. consular post in their country of nationality, or the U.S. consular post does not issue visas, then their visa application will be sent to the U.S. consular post that normally issues visas for citizens of that country.
All K-3 applicants and their sponsoring U.S. citizens should note, however, that the U.S. government will only recognize the country in which the legal marriage took place. Returning to our example, the USC and German national are legally married in Nicaragua. This is commonly known as the “civil” marriage or “civil” ceremony. The couple then holds a separate “religious” or “friends and family” ceremony at a later date in Germany. The German national in our example is required by law to apply for the immigrant visa in Nicaragua, not Germany, because that was the place of their “civil” marriage.
For many couples, the “civil” and “religious” ceremonies may occur on the same day, but not always. Take the case of a U.S. citizen marrying an Iranian national in a civil ceremony in Iran, followed by a religious ceremony in Japan. Because the U.S. has no embassy or consulates in Iran and because U.S. law requires visa processing in the country where the civil marriage took place, our Iranian K-3 spouse will need to travel to the U.S. consulate in Turkey for visa processing. Truly a logistical nightmare without careful planning!