Suppose you are a US citizen and you want to bring your fiance to the United States. What’s the better way to do it–a K-1 fiance visa, or an immigrant visa after getting married abroad?
The K-1 would seem the logical choice. After all, Congress created it for a purpose. It can save 1-2 months of processing time, so it may be the best option when your only goal is to get your fiance to the United States as soon as possible. This is especially true when you may have difficulty meeting up with your fiance overseas to get married. However, the K-1 has a couple of downsides.
First, with the K-1, you have to file additional papers for the green card after getting married in the United States. This adds another $1,070 in filing fees (and probably more in attorney fees), and creates a delay of six months or so until the green card is granted. By contrast, a person with an immigrant visa becomes a permanent resident on arrival, with no extra paperwork involved.
Second, an immigrant can begin to work as soon as she arrives in the United States. A K-1 visa holder can also work upon arrival, using the I-94 card, but that is only valid for the first 90 days. After that period, the K-1 visa holder has to apply for an employment authorization document. The EAD can take up to three months to process, which could lead to a gap in employment authorization, depending on when you file. You also have the filing fee for the EAD, which is $380 at the time of this posting.
For these reasons, the immigrant visa process after marriage often makes the most sense. This will probably remain true as long as USCIS processes I-129F K-1 petitions and I-130 immigrant visa petitions in the same time frame (which you can check at USCIS processing times).