A few commenters have warned against the K-1 fiance visa. I don't. Each situation is unique. In our current state of immigration law and slow visa processing, a K-1 visa can be a blessing, not a curse. Some are extremely wise to choose engagement over marriage for consular processing purposes. Let's examine which is best and when.
When should I consider a K1 visa?
How long have you known your fiance? How often do you see each other? What are the differences in age or culture? If you don't live with them in their home country, then the marriage visa petition process can have a tremendous strain on the relationship.
There are certain expectation in a marriage. Filing and processing a form I-130 petition to the visa packet issuance at a U.S. Embassy can take close to a year, perhaps longer. This will depend upon which U.S. Embassies can be used. A physical separation is not the appropriate way to start a marriage. There are many reports of deceit and jealousy due more to the emotional and physical disconnect that is caused by the separation than a determined desire to commit immigration marriage fraud.
A K-1 visa allows those who are engaged some time to build the relationship and establish trust. There will be a delay that can take many months, perhaps a year. This time can be used to develop the relationship that will result in a more stable marriage.
If you are unprepared to live with your foreign spouse in their home country, or fear that you may lose your job or create other complication, then seriously consider whether marriage is the proper thing to do. The emotional rollercoaster and eventually damage done by physical separation may not be worth the so-called permanent resident status shortcut.
In addition, if your foreign spouse is somehow disqualified from a K1 visa, then they may have other disqualifications that will also exist with an I-130. If your spouse was disqualified from a marriage visa, then you might have to immigrate to their country. Perhaps, you might find yourself having to consider a costly waiver petition or divorce, which can prove much more expensive.
The marriage visa petition can save time. If you are lawfully present in the home country of your spouse, then this is worth considering. You can actually directly file at the U.S. Embassy, which may eliminate many months of additional processing that otherwise will be done in the U.S. However, the K1 can be done outside the U.S., as well.
The key to any decision is whether you trust your fiance and are prepared to make a committment to this person. Or do you need more time to develop a more trusting relationship before marriage. Do you fear the stress and consequences of being physically separated from each other in spite of being husband and wife?
There are some who should not consider a K-1 visa. Those who have convictions for domestic violence or sexual abuse can be disqualified as a petitioner. This is a new challenge to filing for a fiance that was finally regulated and incorporated into the fiance visa program. If you have concerns, then you should seek an experienced attorney to decide whether to file a petition.
The difference in attorneys fees and filing costs, perhaps even the time lost in processing can be minimal when compared to the emotional turmoil of physical separation. However, each couple must make a careful decision.
In some situations, the wait may be better spent as husband and wife. However, the more separated that a couple is, then the more likely that concern can be expressed about the U.S. Citizens committment to the marital relationship and whether the marriage is based only upon getting the foreign spouse a green card.
This latter fact, if reasonably believed or proven can result in a visa petition revocation. It also can result in a permanent bar on immigration and a situation where no waiver or pardon is available through consular processing as a matter of law.
This is why I strongly recommend an appointment with an experienced immigration and visa attorney. Each situation is unique and different, so care should be taken to appreciate what is the best option for each couple.
The above is general information and does not create an attorney client relationship.