Earlier this month, news broke out that 14 innocent civilians were killed in a company party in San Bernardino, California. As a result of the mass shooting, the K-1 fiancé(e) visa process is being looked into because Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani citizen, and one of the terrorists who carried out said shooting came to the US on a K-1 visa and later became a lawful permanent resident.
Several members of the US Congress have expressed concern over the fact that Malik was able to obtain her K-1 visa despite giving fingerprints and other information that were checked and cross-referenced against US immigration, terrorism and criminal databases. As a result, the USCIS is now looking into enforcing stricter guidelines.
The US government has a stringent process currently in place to ensure that marriages are made in good faith and is not ‘sham marriage’ or ‘fake marriage’. Under the program, the two people involved—the US citizen and his foreigner fiancé(e)— must genuinely love each other and have the sincere intent to get married within 90 days of the fiancé(e)’s arrival in the US. Both of them must be legally free to marry at the time a fiancé(e) petition is submitted to USCIS by the US citizen sponsor and must remain so thereafter. The couple must have met in person within the past two years. Proof of the relationship must likewise be shown.
Once the USCIS approves the K1 visa petition, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center where background checks are performed on the foreigner fiancé(e). The NVC will forward the petition to the Consulate that will conduct the interview. During the foreigner fiancé(e)’s interview before the Consulate, he/she is required to show proof of their intent to get married like pictures, letters, travel and hotel records and instant messages to the interviewing officer. Even during this stage, an application can be turned down if it cannot show enough proof of the relationship’s genuineness. In addition, it can be turned down on account of the foreigner fiancé(e)’s police or criminal record. The foreigner fiancé(e) also has to undergo a thorough medical examination.
Upon arrival in the US, the couple has 90 days to get married otherwise the foreigner fiancé(e) can be deported. When he/she applies for Adjustment of Status, they also have to show proof like pictures and joint documents. This is another step the couple needs to hurdle as it usually takes another six months before the ‘green card’ will be released, if at all.
The foreigner wife/husband has to go through another round of fingerprinting and facial recognition and another round of interview by the USCIS before the ‘green card’ is approved. Questions like “Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the US or have you ever engaged in terroristic activities?” need to be answered.
From 1989 to 2014, 512,164 K-1 visas were given following these layers of processes placed to ensure that nobody thwarts the security measures of the United States and to ensure that the couple are really who they purport to be.
It is also important to note that depending on which country the fiancé(e) is from, the process can be even more daunting. The Philippines, for instance, has the largest K-1 visa applicants with over 7,228 Filipinos entering the US in fiscal year 2014, but at the same token, it also has the most difficult process. US citizens often go to the Philippines to meet their fiancé(e) because it is logistically hard for Filipinos to obtain a tourist visa to the US to visit the American fiancé(e).
Needless to say, while we want our borders secure and free from anybody who wishes to cause harm, it is not fair to single out a particular type of visa. US citizens must likewise be free to marry foreign spouses of their choosing. And while more scrutiny and additional screening for the K-1 visa is inevitable, holders of K-1 visa have obtained the privilege to be on American soil by following a long and difficult process.