K-1 fiance visas offer an option for family-based immigration visas that may require less paperwork and filing fees than spousal visas. Compared to spousal visas that can take up to two years, fiance visas only take five to seven months, and the fiance of the petitioning party can live and work in the United States prior to marriage. However, recent events in California have prompted the federal government to take a harder look at the potential pitfalls of the current K-1 fiance visa process.
The recent shootings in San Bernadino California that killed 14 people and wounded 21 others has raised questions about the security of the fiance visa vetting process. After a federal investigation revealed that Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter, immigrated to the U.S. as the wife of Syed Rizwan, the male shooter, the Department of Homeland Security launched an investigation into the K-1 visa program and national security problems.
According to CBS News reports, Tashfeen Malik went through a personal interview for her K-1 visa at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. She was vetted by five different government agencies, her name and photo were checked against a current terror watch list, and her fingerprints were run through two different databases. Although she did give an incomplete address, her information did not raise any red flags. Her K-1 fiance visa was granted and she arrived in the U.S. with her fiance, Syed Rizwan in July, 2014. Questions about how she got through the system have caused major concerns about national security. Since 35,000 other foreigners received K-1 visas in 2014, White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the fiance visa program will go through changes to ensure increased security for the country.
Under the current K-1 visa program, a U.S. citizen can file a petition on behalf of a foreigner he/she plans to marry. Existing visa requirements state that the petitioner must meet the other person at least once within two years of filing and plan to marry within 90 days of entering the U.S. Obtaining a visa is a two-step process that includes a counter terrorism screening at DHS and a personal interview from a U.S. consulate. Although the current K-1 visa program is built on rigorous background checks and controls, these recent acts of terrorism suggest that it needs a much closer look.