Large Number of Cold Feet Among Those Applying for the K-1 (Fiancé) Visa

By David North, December 14, 2015

The amazingly high approval rate (99.7 percent in 2014) for K-1 visa applications — that's the fiancé visa used by, among others, the woman shooter in the San Bernardino massacre — puzzles me. In an effort to find out more about that rate, discussed previously, I delved more deeply into K-1 visa process.

What I found sheds minimal additional light on the basic question of the cause for the high approval rate (beyond official negligence), but I accidentally obtained some interesting information on this form of immigration by marriage.

The finding: Close to half of the aliens initially slated for K-1 visas (and marriages) did not get married in the United States as planned, with cold feet on the part of aliens playing a more significant role in this attrition than any other cause.

As background: The United States bends over backward to make it easy for citizen/alien marriages to lead to legal presence in the United States. Most alien spouses come in after their marriage to citizens or green card holders, and do so as immigrants. Other alien spouses of citizens (after the wedding) come in as K-3 nonimmigrants and later adjust to immigrant status. The V-1 nonimmigrant visa can be used in approximately the same way, but it applies to spouses of green card holders.

In still another circumstance, the citizen files a petition for a nonimmigrant K-1 visa for the alien fiancé and that fiancé then goes to a Department of State office overseas and applies for the visa. A K-1 beneficiary then has six months to come to the United States and has 90 days after arrival here to go through the marriage. K-2 visas, obtained in the same way, can be used to bring in the children, if any, of the alien.

If the alien waits too long to make the trip, the visa expires. If the visa is used and the marriage does not take place within 90 days, then the visa expires and the one-time holder of it, if in the United States, becomes as illegal alien.

There are, incidentally, no numerical limits on any of these systems for admitting alien spouses and would-be spouses, provided they are marrying citizens. If the marriage of the alien is to a green card holder there is about a one-year-long waiting period before the immigrant visa becomes available.

In the case of the San Bernardino terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook, a native-born U.S. citizen, presumably filed a petition (I-129F) that was approved by USCIS; after that his spouse-to-be, Tashfeen Malik, a native of Pakistan who had spent many years in an ultra-fundamentalist Islamic community in Saudi Arabia, successfully filed for the K-1 visa in Islamabad, Pakistan, as I reported earlier.

The Los Angles Times subsequently wrote that she had lied about her residential address in Pakistan. Had this been noticed by our people in Islamabad it might have slowed, or perhaps terminated, her efforts to secure the visa.

In a more detailed look at the whole picture in which K-1 documents are issued, then used or not used, I found the following sequence, and the resulting attrition rates:

As one who has written frequently about immigration/marriage fraud, I had noted earlier that the K-1 visa seemed to be used infrequently in fraudulent marriage cases, largely because it was a multi-step and more complex process than other alternatives readily available to criminals seeking to game the system. I had not realized at the time just how complex, and daunting, the K-1 visa process is.

Here's one way to think about it: Most citizens marrying citizens simply get a marriage license, and then get married. In my hometown, Arlington, Va., the fee is $30.

In contrast, in K-1 marriages there are two burdensome earlier steps that come before the relatively easy process of getting the marriage license. The citizen must file papers with the Department of Homeland Security, and pay a fee of $340. There is, of course, a waiting period at this point. Then, if all goes well in the DHS phase, the alien has to file a visa application with an overseas office of the U.S. Department of State and pay another fee, $265. There will be waiting in this part of the process, too. Once the visa is issued, the alien has to arrange for travel to the United States, all before the next-to-final step of getting the marriage license.

What I am describing is a process filled with paperwork, fees, and waiting times during which either the citizen, or the alien, or both, might well — despite various governmental approvals — decide to abandon the project.

I am not criticizing this system. In fact, the multiple obstacles may often break up an uncertain pairing, or a crooked one, and that's good public policy.

In fact, I think that there should be one more element in the process, a mandatory interview of the citizen before the granting of the petition to make sure that the citizen is aware of the potential of fraud in some of these marriages. Currently the citizen's petition, the I-129F, is adjudicated without human contact in a distant government facility. If there are questions they are routinely resolved in writing

The current set of barriers, however, did not stand in the way of the terrorist couple who shot up the social services center in California. A little more care in this process, particularly in the State Department portion of it, could have saved 14 lives.