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Step 1 – The I-129F petition
Congratulations! You’ve carefully assessed every eligibility requirements and grounds of inadmissibility and decided that you should proceed with a fiance visa. (You did do that, right? If not, please jump back to the previous section.).
Now it’s time to do the heavy-lifting required to get your successful packet put together. For both this and subsequent steps, you can basically divide the work into two different categories.
The first category is the required legal forms. We will walk through each of the required legal forms, starting with the primary one, the Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). I will show you not just what legal forms are required. We’ll also walk through every single section of every single form.
We’ll talk about how to avoid common mistakes and incomplete information. Finally, we’ll walk you through the same quality assurance protocol that we use on our client’s forms to ensure they are accurate before they get filed.
The second category is all of the required supporting documents that you will need to prepare. People tend to focus on the legal forms, but you will probably spend more time getting the supporting documents lined up. We will walk you through every single document that is required for your packet. We will also help you understand best practices for the all-important documentation of your relationship. For the mandatory and optional legal declarations, we have sample Word documents for you to use. We will also share the quality assurance checklist that we use to review client packets before they are filed to ensure they are complete.
How long is this all going to take? Getting the I-129F packet put together is a major undertaking. At the firm, we have prepped entire client packets for filing in one week. But that requires an all-hands-on-deck effort. And remember, that’s from our attorneys who do this all the time.
A more typical preparation time is approximately one month. At our firm, the driving factor is how long it takes for our clients to return their homework assignments to us, providing requested documents. So, if you are willing to hustle, there is no reason you cannot prepare the packet quickly, assuming you have access to all of the required documents. Just please don’t rush the preparation of your legal forms – take the time to check and double check your work.
Order of operations
I recommend you start by reviewing the supporting documents section. Some of these items are things you may not have on hand, like your birth certificate or valid passport. If not, you’ll want to get the ball rolling to request those documents. That will prevent you from sitting around later, waiting for them after you have the rest of the packet set to go. Next, figure out how you are going to get the passport-style photograph from your fiancee. If she is going to send it by mail, go ahead and get this started immediately, Finally. you can next turn to drafting your legal forms, following the instructions in this section and also our firm’s procedure for Quality Assurance (QA) review.
This section covers all of the documents you need to collect for your Form I-129F packet. There are two categories of supporting documents. First are the mandatory items. These have to be complete for your packet to pass the initial screening process. If a mandatory document is missing, USCIS will issue a time-consuming Request for Evidence (RFE).
Second are the documents you will use to prove that you are in a legitimate relationship with your fiancée. These vary from packet-to-packet, since relationships are different. We will cover the different categories of documents that you may want to consider, and offer some guidelines for deciding what to include.
1. Proof of U.S. citizenship.
The U.S. petitioner must submit proof of status as a United States citizen. In 95% of cases this will be a copy of your U.S. birth certificate or valid U.S. passport. If you’re in the 5% that has neither, refer to our section on showing U.S. citizenship.
2. Proof re termination of previous marriages.
If either you or your fiancee were previously married you need to show that the prior marriage has ended. If your marriage ended in divorce or annulment provide a copy of the decree. Note that you should not provide copies of property settlement documents nor the other blizzard of paperwork involved in a divorce. The officer just needs to see that the marriage was ended. If your former spouse died, provide a copy of the death certificate.
3. Passport-style photographs.
Both you and your fiancée are required to submit one passport-style photograph. These photographs are just like the ones you would have submitted when you applied for a U.S. passport. For more details see my section on passport-style photographs.
Immigration lawyer tip – get your fiancée’s photo in the mail now! If you are going have your fiancee send a physical (versus digital) passport photo, this is the only item that needs to physically travel from your fiancée to you for purpose of the I-129F packet. Go ahead and get this in the mail so you aren’t left waiting for it later.
4. Proof of any and all name changes.
For both you and your fiancée you need to provide proof of any and all legal name changes. If you have ever used any name other than the one on your birth certificate, you need to show the legal documentation. For more details, see the section on name changes.
5. I-94 arrival record.
If your fiancee has ever traveled to the U.S. you need to provide a copy of her official arrival record. For more details see our section on the I-94.
6. Proof of in-person meeting.
You are required to provide proof that you and your fiancee have met in person in the past two years. At the very least, your fiancee’s written statement should explain your meeting(s). If available, you should also file copies if you travel itinerary and proof of hotels stays from the trip(s). It is helpful to provide a short hand-written note to provide context to the immigration agent. For example, you can print out the emailed itinerary from plane tickets purchased on Expedia, then hand write “April 2018 trip to meet Anna in Paris.”
7. Statement of intention to marry within 90 days.
The instructions to the Form I-129F state that you need to provide “evidence” of your fiancee’s intention to marry you within 90 days of arriving in the U.S. The the agency really wants is a statement by your fiancee that simply asserts that intention. Why USCIS cannot simply include that as a section of the Form I-129F itself is beyond me. At any rate, meeting this requirement is easy Simply include a written statement such as the following:
Example: My name is Karen McLlyod. I am the beneficiary of a Form I-129F filed by my fiance, Dangerous Dave. Dangerous Dave and I last saw each other in person during a scuba diving trip in the Cayman Islands in February 2018. After my K-1 visa is approved it is my intention to move to the United States. I plan to live with Dangerous Dave and to marry him within 90 days of my arrival.
Review the instructions for USCIS declarations in the later section and follow those instructions for this statement. Like other declarations submitted in USCIS petitions, you do not need to provide the paper original -a scanned and re-printed copy is sufficient.
8 – Filing fee.
Finally, include the mandatory USCIS filing fee. To check the current Form I-129F filing fee visit www.uscis.gov/i-129F. For more details see the section on filing fees.
Proof of legitimate (bona fide).
When it comes to supporting documents, most of your work will focus on documenting the legitimacy of your relationship to your fiancee. I address that topic at length in a subsequent section called – uncreatively – Proving a bona fide “legitimate” relationship.
There is only one required form if you are submitting our own fiancee packet: the Form I-129F itself. The only other form you need to complete – which is optional – is the G-1145. This is used if you would like to receive email notifications in your case, in addition to the standard paper notices. I recommend you include the G-1145, since you will want to get news about your petition as soon as possible.
A subsequent section of this resource takes you line-by-line through the process of completing the I-129F.
Immigration lawyer tip: The Form G-325A is being phased out and is no longer required by USCIS. This (obnoxious) form had been used to collection biographical information about individuals, along with work and residential history. It is no longer needed, despite many outdated instructions you will find on the Internet. If you don’t believe me, try to find where in the I-129F instructions you are told to file this form.
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