Despite improvements, the Fiancé visa process to the US raises new problems

A Fiancé Visa (category K1, K2) allows an unmarried American to bring a foreign partner to the US for marriage. During a visa interview in a US Embassy, the qualifications of the couple and their relationship are evaluated by a Consular Officer before being approved or denied. The entire process may take 5-10 months in total.

Due to its convenience and speed, in the last two decades, this process has exploded in popularity. According to the official US Department of State statistics, in 2000 there were 24,746 K visas granted worldwide. In 2019, the numbers grew by 66%. If it weren’t for the recent immigration restrictions placed by President Trump, numbers would have been even higher.

In addition, due to the increasing availability of free legal guidance online in the form of videos, online support communities (forums), and/or social media, the immigration process is less intimidating. Most applicants can easily and correctly prepare their own paperwork.

One would expect that with the increased volume of applications and legal help online, approval rates would also improve. However, trends indicate that despite significant volume rise, the per cent of visa rejections has kept steady (about 20%+ yearly). This is because the primary reasons for denial have changed. First, let’s look at how things have improved for applicants before we look at what new problems have taken their place.

Communication and Guidance have improved

In the past, it was mostly a communication and paperwork problem, where applicants were unaware of the procedures, not contacted by the consulate in a timely manner, or lacked proper legal / expert guidance on how to prepare documents.

One of the biggest improvements in the Fiance K visa process has come from the government itself. Communication with the US consulate is surprisingly much easier and streamlined. Less than a decade ago, the US Department of State maintained a clunky website and sent information by postal mail. This slow and unreliable method often lead to problems.  Many applicants, for instance, complained they never received the mail and were subsequently delayed. In addition, the consulate’s email and phone lines were left largely unanswered, leading to further confusion and delays. Recently, however, they have embraced digital communication. They send only important documents by post mail and keep everything on their website with easy-to-follow instructions, reducing confusion and error.

The second area of improvement has come from increased accessibility to legal expertise or guidance. In the past, applicants either self-filed with little understanding of forms, or they hired sometimes unreliable legal help to assemble their petition, leading to mistakes, delays, confusion, and visa denials. Nowadays, a robust online community virtually eliminates the problem of a lack of guidance. Applicants have an easier time finding help, expert guidance, and solutions to unique problems in online support groups, trusted legal websites, and even YouTube. In fact, a simple Google search reveals a host of step-by-step videos.

It’s easy to see how readily accessible legal guidance and transparency from the government has improved in recent years, thereby adding to the increase in fiance visa applications. However, this has not been without new and unpredicted challenges.

Proving a genuine relationship is now more difficult

In the past, Americans were mostly drawn to Europe or Asia-pacific for tourism, often finding partners in those regions. However, with the growth of social media and online dating websites, it’s easier to find diverse partners in any region of the world with different backgrounds, languages, ethnicities, or social classes. While this is great for couples, it gives birth to a different set of problems.

Americans can become targets of sophisticated “romance scams”, where a foreigner emotionally manipulates them for money or a visa to the US. Sometimes the US petitioner and the foreigner both participate in marriage fraud just for a green card. This makes the job of an immigration officer more difficult.

How can this officer differentiate between a legitimate relationship and a fraud scheme only meant for immigration purposes?

Remember, in the Fiance K-1 visa interview, an officer judges the applicant and passes a decision on the visa. The decision is mainly based on the discretion of the officer, regardless of how qualified the couple is. They may consider, for instance, “They have all the paperwork in order. But how can they claim to be in love when they don’t even speak the same language? Is it love or fraud?”

This difficulty in this judgement is reflected in actual statistics of K-1 visa denials. Of all the applicants who now face denial, 75% of them are cited for the INA 221(g), or “incomplete application or supporting document”. Meaning the officer couldn’t determine whether the relationship is true or not from what was presented in the paperwork or during the interview.

The subjectivity of this problem was largely absent when Americans routinely had partners from only Europe or Asia-Pacific.

Conclusion

In many respects, the visa process has gotten much easier. It’s easy to find a partner online, through social media, or other digital platforms. The number of growing applications speak for themselves. It’s also easier to get quality help, support, guidance and feedback. Many trusted legal sources offer free, well-written guides and videos, and many immigration websites see millions of visitors a year.

However, the difficulty in getting approvals has kept pace in a different form. Whereas the paperwork and legal fees were the barriers in previous years, now the challenge is convincing the legitimacy of a relationship to an immigration officer.

Because of these two different dynamics at work, the denial rates have remained steady at 20%.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Prem Kumar

Prem Kumar runs Visa Tutor to help fiance visa couples navigate the immigration process to the US. On a monthly basis, tens of thousands of couples trust his advice on his website. Prem is a bonded Immigration Assistance Provider.

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