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- You need to get married and file your adjustment of status paperwork within 90 days of your fiancee’s arrival.
- Legal documents to be drafted: Form I-485, Form I-864, Form I-131, Form I-765.
- Expect between 4 months and two years to your initial interview.
Understanding where you are now.
Your fiancee has now entered the United States on her K-1 visa. Although you are now past the most stressful parts of the process, you still have one more major round of paperwork to complete.
After entering on a K-1 visa, your fiancee is not yet a lawful resident of the United States. The K-1 visa is a temporary visa that authorizes only a 90-day stay for the purpose of getting married. To successfully complete the immigration process, your fiancee will need to marry you and file her paperwork to “adjust status” to lawful permanent resident.
The final round of paperwork is filed after you and your fiancee have legally married. By filing the Form I-485, Application to Adjust status, your fiancee applies for status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), based on your sponsorship. You will need to file a binding financial support contract, the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, for your fiancee.
Immigration lawyer tip: Get started on your paperwork as soon as your fiancee arrives. Three months is not a lot of time, and your filing deadline will creep up quickly. Moreover, the sooner you complete the filing the sooner you will be heading to your final interview. Especially if you fiancee is planning to work, you will want to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. For legal purposes it is absolutely fine to get married as soon as your fiancee arrives.
After your adjustment paperwork is filed your fiancee will receive a temporary work and travel authorization. Under current processing times this will take 4-6 months. You will then have a long wait until finally being called for an in-person interview at your local USCIS office. It currently takes between 4 months and two years to be scheduled for that interview.
The first 90 days.
After your fiancee arrives in the United States you have 90 days in which to get legally married and then file your final step of paperwork – called “adjustment of status.” Let’s take a look at that 90-day – or roughly three-month – period. The purpose of the 90-day period is to give the couple time together to ensure that they do indeed want to get married. In reality, that’s not a whole lot of time, and most couples are firmly committed to getting married long before they hit this stage of the process.
May your fiancee work during the 90-day period? Effectively, no. Merely entering on the K-1 fiancee visa does not give someone legal authority to work in the U.S. A fiancee is allowed to apply for a work permit before filing her final round of paperwork. But as a practical matter, that doesn’t help. It takes so long to get a temporary work permit that the fiancee paperwork will be filed long before she receives the permit. However, once the adjustment of status paperwork is filed, the fiancee will receive a temporary work permit in roughly 3-6 months that authorizes work while the paperwork is pending.
The most critical requirement is that you marry your fiancee within 90 days following her arrival in the U.S. If you don’t do this, the entire fiancee process is lost and you will have to start over with a completely new strategy. Note that you need to be legally married in the 90-day window, but you can delay a larger family ceremony. Since the timing of your K-1 visa was so unpredictable, it’s understandable if you need more time to organize a larger family ceremony. But the legal marriage itself absolutely needs to occur within the 90 days.
The adjustment of status paperwork also should be filed within the 90-day window. As a technical matter, it’s actually possible to file it later, but this is a bad idea. If the paperwork isn’t filed within 90 days then your fiancee will no longer be in lawful K-1 status. She can still potentially adjust status to lawful permanent resident, but there will be a lapse in her legal status and she could potentially (although this is unlikely) be subject to deportation. Don’t risk it, and just get your paperwork filed on time.
Action items for this step.
1 – Get married.
As discussed above, you and your fiancee need to get legally married within 90 days of her arrival. You will need the official marriage certificate in order to file your immigration paperwork.
2 – Form I-485.
The main application for the final stage of the process is the Form I-485. This document is your fiancee’s request to acquire status as a lawful permanent resident. Another section of this resource provides line-by-line instructions for completing the form.
3 – Form I-864.
The Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, is your financial sponsorship contract as the U.S. petitioner. The Form I-864 is filed together with the Form I-485. See later in this resource for an entire chapter on the Form I-864.
4 – Forms I-765 and I-131.
The Forms I-765 and I-131 request temporary work and travel authorization respectively. There is no additional filing fee for submitting these requests along with the Form I-485. Without these documents you fiancee will be unable to travel or to leave the United States while the adjustment application is being adjudicated.
Immigration lawyer tip: File the Forms I-765 and I-131 even if you don’t think you need to! Even if your fiancee is not planning to work, and even if she is not planning to leave the U.S., always file these documents when you apply for adjustment of status. Plans change, and it will be too late if you decide you want these permissions later. There is no cost to file these requests with the Form I-485, so make the small additional effort to prepare these with your application packet.
Getting started on the final step.
Your final round of paperwork will be filed in one giant packet with USCIS. Everything gets packaged together and filed with the USCIS address designated for the Form I-485. This address changes periodically, so identify the proper address at https://www.uscis.gov/i-485-addresses.
I recommend you start by reviewing the document checklist to understand the supporting documents that need to accompany the adjustment application. Some government documents, such as marriage certificates and tax records, may take time to acquire, so start sooner than later.
You will then want to prepare each individual USCIS form listed above. Please turn to the complete chapter on Preparing USCIS packets for detailed advice about drafting those forms and compiling your packet.
What to expect after you file.
After you file your complete adjustment packet you will have yet another substantial waiting period. Your fiancee may not leave the United States until being issued her temporary work and travel authorization card, which takes between 4-6 months on average. Leaving the U.S. without that authorization results in automatic abandonment of the adjustment application.
If you have completed all of the paperwork properly you will not need to take further action until your in-person USCIS interview. Local offices vary substantially in how long they take to schedule interviews. Current times vary from 4 months to over two years.