The K-1 Visa & the 90-Day No Fault Marriage

I get asked by my friends, relatives and perfect strangers about the process of a foreigner coming to America (what – didn’t they see the Eddie Murphy movie) and getting married. I can’t tell you how many people asked the following: “Why don’t you just fly Janet over here for a month or two so you can get to know each other better?” Shit, why didn’t I think of that!

There’s tons of information available on obtaining Visas and getting married in the land of milk and honey (OK, that’s Israel, but you get the idea) but none of that information will give you the real scoop on what happens, the hows, and the pain, joy and hysteria involved. So, I will!

As Americans we forget that one of our greatest freedoms is that little blue thing we’re issued (not Viagra – get your head out of the gutter – I mean a U.S. passport). You can go everywhere with it, other than Cuba. It’s essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” (for some people literally). But most countries don’t have that sort of freedom and if you are from most of the countries on the planet, the United States is not thrilled to have you arrive here.

So, if you’re a Philippines citizen what do you do? Yes, there are educational visas and work visas but the process is lengthy, expensive and in the end rarely do you get permission. Or you can be a sibling of a naturalized American citizen, which means we’ll see you here somewhere around 2050, give or take a decade. Or say you are one of those middle class Filipinos I’ve previously discussed. Why not get a tourist visa; Americans can get one to almost any country in the world. Well, you’re not an American. In order to get a tourist Visa you have to prove beyond any doubt that you will visit the US – and leave. By the time you might get that tourist visa they’ll be filling in the Grand Canyon. In short, unless you are the rare Filipino politician or fat cat, there is no way for the average Filipino(a) citizen to get here.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

But there is the fiancé or spousal visa process. No problem; fill out some paperwork, send in some money, and bang, boom in six months or so you’re here. Easy, right? Um, not exactly.

First, there’s the paperwork process which is Draconian. Any mistake, even of the most minor nature, and the paperwork will get kicked back. Janet and I spent hours and days online scouring every line of the paperwork for any mistake. Now, I was a technical writer at the time, pretty damn good at preparing accurate documentation, but the stress of trying to get everything perfect got to me. And even if it’s perfect, the USCIS has the occasional habit of simply losing one of the dozens of documents you submitted – and then blaming you.

How about money? I’m a software engineer with a good income (far more than I’m worth); so I figured, no problem. Wrong. By the time you’re all done, it will put a serious strain on most budgets. Speaking of money, you have to prove to the USCIS that you, the petitioner, make 125% of the current U.S. poverty line. So make sure you don’t lose your job during the process or it might be a do-over. For that matter, many self-employed men who make very good money, don’t qualify because, how should I put this, their true income is not reflected on their tax returns. Their sweet, naïve fiancé, travels to Manila for the grueling embassy interview and finds out her fiancé does not make enough to qualify for the Visa. It happens every day.

Oh and speaking of Manila, once your initial paperwork is approved, you are able to schedule your embassy interview in Manila. And prior to that you must take a medical exam. Now that doesn’t mean you go to your local doctor and have him listen to your heart or cough a couple times. It means you go to St. Lukes Hospital in Manila (the only accepted facility in the entire country) for a two day (yes, you heard that right) two day exam. And if they find anything wrong with your young fiancé, let’s say a shadow on the lung, she gets to spend another glorious six months in beautiful downtown Manila for TB treatment and a re-testing. Janet had never had any serious or even semi-serious illness in her life, but was terrified by the medical exam, as well as the half dozen shots she needed. And let’s not forget that to even get said examination, you must arrive early at St. Lukes and take a number; Janet arrived at 2:30 AM. Is this all still sounding easy?

But wait there’s more: the Philippines requires the prospective émigré to take a class and get interviewed by the CFO. This interview is often tougher than the embassy interview. After all, the U.S. embassy mostly wants to ensure that everything is legal and on the up and up. The CFO tells the girls about all the terrible things that can happen abroad and the interviewer questions why the girl wants to go. In our case, after the CFO interview, Janet contacted me panicked because she hadn’t yet been approved. The CFO Officer had doubts and wanted to see Janet again. Why? Because Janet was young and pretty and marrying old codger, Dave. How to prove to the officer that our relationship was legitimate? Janet left her tons of photos of the two of us together, email and text correspondence and was simply told to come back and the officer would decide.

Still sound easy? Janet and I practiced her potential answers to whatever questions she might be asked. She was scared and when Janet gets scared she stops speaking or speaks in mono-syllables. There were a lot of “I don’t knows” and “you knows” in her practice answers. I tried to calmly explain that when the officer asked her why she wanted to marry Dave, answering “You know,” or “I don’t know,” might not be the best response.

In the end Janet got through the Visa process! I promised I would fly in and take her home with me. What I hadn’t considered was, would the actual physical Visa be ready by the time we were ready to fly out. Janet arranged for the Visa to be shipped to a To Go location, sort of like Fed-Ex in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they failed to contact her when the visa arrived and it sat for days. Finally they contacted her and told her that if she didn’t pick it up by the next day it would be sent back to Manila. So Janet and her sister hopped on a bus for the leisurely, fun-filled 3 hour bus ride from Alcoy to Cebu, got the Visa and returned by bus to Alcoy. Easy and stress free – right?

But now comes the truly easy part – we’ve finally arrived in the U.S. for 90 days of fun and sun. There’s even a reality show currently running, “90 Day Visa,” all about the thrilling escapades of these wacky couples. The show, like most reality TV, is entertaining bullshit.

Now I tend to be a planner; I’m older and allegedly mature. Before Janet arrived, I tried to project a budget for everything I could think of; the wedding; clothes she would need (no fleece jackets are needed in the Philippines); and just daily life changes.

Here’s what Janet (with my assistance) had to do in those 90 days: get used to a brand new city; check out the malls, public transportation (yes, of course, all Filipinos know how to use light rail); grocery shopping; finding the best local Asian stores; finding lechon; finding a Filipino restaurant; getting used to a new, and badly organized house; getting used to an old, and badly aging husband to be. Also, those 90 days gave me the opportunity to leisurely explain to Janet how everything works in the United States. And let’s not forget language. Despite the fact that Janet’s English is very good, speaking American English 24-hours a day is exhausting and her nose was bleeding constantly.

Which reminds me – I wanted to find her friends. So, before she arrived I hooked up with a Fil-Am group whose events we began to attend, which not only helped her make friends, it gave us a support system for the wedding.

Oh, that’s right – the wedding. That has to happen in those 90 days too. I had planned to have it in our backyard, which is a good sized space. Before Janet arrived I spent weeks cleaning out the yard and trying to get things semi-ready. It was a losing proposition. Finally, one day my neighbor (who has the showplace yard of the neighborhood) leaned over our fence and asked me how the wedding preparations were going – and most importantly, “Hey, would you like to use our yard for the wedding?” I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Also, understand that women are women all over the world, which meant that when Janet arrived she needed to choose rings, flowers, food, a cake, decorate the house, etc. The day of our outdoor wedding, September 22nd, it rained. Hell, it’s Oregon; of course it rained. But Janet was determined. We got a ten minute break in the weather and did the wedding then. Afterwards, the reception, which was also supposed to be outdoors, was crammed into our home.

In the end it all happened, it all worked, and Janet and I survived it. It’s a story to tell – well maybe not to the grandkids – but to all of you. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – with Janet that is.

Easy peasy, right?

15 thoughts on “The K-1 Visa & the 90-Day No Fault Marriage”

    1. Pete:

      The memories are good – just intense. I mostly wrote the piece cause there is someone I know online who seems to think it’s a walk in the park and he’ll have 90 whole days to know his fiancé before he marries her. And in a way he is right – you will get to know your fiancé – and see her under the most intense pressure!

  1. You left out the fact that for many Filipino parents the American wedding ‘doesn’t count’. You get to do it twice!

  2. Now that I have re-read my piece I really want to add that the purpose of the piece was not in any way to discourage anyone. On the contrary. Going through this process is one of the greatest things I have ever done in life.

    I wanted to address the reality, that like most things in life worth having, it’s difficult and stressful. Those who look at Fil-Am couples and wonder about the legitimacy of their relationship ought to know how hard it was to get together. And those who are considering doing the same K-1 process ought to know it’s damn hard and to be prepared for what you are going to go through.

    But thanks everyone for reading and commenting.

  3. I remember my wife’s sister who lives in Marivelles, Bataan applied for a tourist visa about 6 years ago to visit us in the U.S. Now, she is married with two beautiful girls – 15 and 11 yo – a great husband, two thriving peanut operation businesses with multiple stores, a four bedroom, well above average middle class home (with a yard), three servants, and no apparrent shortage of money. Two consular interviews later…and twice denied. After the first denial, I wrote my congresssman and his office intervened only to get her a second denial. I told my wife to tell her sister to forget the process, it was only a waste of time and money. She never did get to visit us. She would no more as flee the Philippines as Donald Trump would flee America. The young consulate employees (about middle twenties) have their marching orders…and quotas to fill. If you don’t fit, you won’t git… to come to America! The deck is stacked against you unless you are famous or in politics.

    1. Good example, Randy. Yep, coming to America just doesn’t happen very often. Sounds like your sister in law has a great life in the Philippines though.

  4. Dave, my girl and I are talking about doing it this way instead of getting married in Phil. I’ve seen adverts for companies who say they will walk you through the process. Did you use one of them or do it all yourself? I really about her holding it together through all of the hoops she’s going to have to jump through so anything to ease the process could be a good possibility.

    1. Hi Robert – No I didn’t use a company or lawyer, nor did most of the guys I know. While there is plenty of paperwork and the process is stressful, IMO you don’t need to spend the money. Besides, you would still have to provide any such company with all the information anyway. If you go to VisaJourney.com, you will see all the information (and sample forms) you need to successfully do the paperwork and survive the process. Good luck and ask more questions if you have them.

  5. Am in the middle of the K-1 process, approaching her Manila interviews. We did hire a paperwork agent. That part has been smooth, and everything else has been a challenge, such as my long visit to Philippines to be near her, and making a transition from chatting/talking on phones every single day into real life interaction. Can only imagine the 90-day leave back in the States… There is useful know-how in here. Thanks for this site.

  6. Easy peasy for my visa journey indeed except when I was about to board the plane. I’m always telling myself, “Relax, Marie. You can do this.” Didn’ t do any good at all. That was a nightmare. Everytime I am reminded of that, I just smile and tell myself, “All is well that ends well. ”

    The CFO part was the easy thing. I was herded, along with a bunch of ladies who were all there to get-this-over-and- be-done-with-it so-we-can-go-back-to work, to a room that is big enough and looked like a classroom to me. That CFO person that I had a one-on-one with only asked me two questions: How many brothers and sisters does my husband have, and what was his mom’s last name before she and his dad got married. The first question was easy, to say the least; On the next one, I had to call Bill on my cellphone and ask him that million dollar question which he easily answered and spelled out for me.

    I think they only wanted the money and then they put that big stamp on your passport. I didn’t like the waiting time. I started early and finished a little over at 3 in the afternoon. I wasn’ t able to go back to work that day. But I got the stamp on my passport. I’m all set.

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