Comparing K-1 (Fiancé) Visas in 2015 and 2018: How Has the Trump Administration Changed Love?

I. Introduction

TLC tapped into America’s interest in 2014 when it premiered the hit reality show, 90 Day Fiancé. Since the first season many things have changed: Alan and Kirlyam welcomed a son, Chelsea and Yamir filed for divorce, TLC introduced two television spinoffs, 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After?, and 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, as well as one web series, 90 Day Fiancé: What Now?.[2] But perhaps the change that most impacted America and immigration in general is the 2016 Presidential Election. Donald Trump ran on slogans that, at the very least, were unfavorable to immigrants. “America First” speaks to isolationism from the world stage, and “Build the Wall” is a catchy, chant-able way to say, “we don’t want immigrants in our country.” Donald Trump has broadly transformed immigration in the two years since his inauguration.

II. K-1 Visa

A K-1 visa is for the foreign-citizen fiancé of a United States citizen. This allows the foreign-citizen fiancé to travel to the United States. The foreign-citizen must marry their US citizen fiancé within 90 days of their arrival in the US. If the two do not marry, the foreign-citizen will then be forced to leave the United States.

The K-1 Visa is an interesting tool to measure sentiment about the United States. For a couple to apply for a K-1 visa, the citizen must be open to marrying a non-citizen. It is unlikely that a person with strong anti-immigrant feelings would apply for a K-1 visa. Also, a non-citizen is unlikely to want to immigrate to the United States if they sense animosity towards immigrants. This paper uses the K-1 visa as a rough thermometer on Americans’ feelings towards immigrants and as non-citizens’ perception of America’s welcome and openness.

    •  a. Process and Cost

When two people fall in love, government forms must be filled out. At least, that is the case when one of those people is an American citizen and the other is not. The American must first fill out Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).[3] Both the sponsor (the American) and the fiancé must be free to marry and qualify under the laws of the state in which the marriage will take place. The American must fill out the form in America, at the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in their area. That means no finding a nice French fiancé and bringing him home after your trip. The two must effectively spend time apart in order for this form to be filled out. USCIS will often require that the two have met in person within two years in order to approve the petition. Exceptions may be granted if it defies cultural norms to meet, however, this is only in cases of “extreme hardship.”[4]

Once the USCIS has approved the form, they will send it to the National Visa Center which will assign a case number and send the application to the U.S. embassy in the country where the fiancé lives. At this stage, the American can petition for their fiancé’s children to obtain a K-2 visa. This is a visa for an eligible child (under 21 years of age) of a K-1 visa applicant.[5]

The embassy will then ask the fiancé for medical examinations, evidence of vaccinations, birth certificate, divorce or death certificate of any previous spouse, passport style photos, and evidence of a fiancé relationship. There are also a few requirements that are country specific such as police certificates from all localities the fiancé resided in from the age of 16.[6]

After considering the application, interviewing the fiancé, and obtaining the fees, the officer will hopefully approve the visa. If the officer denies, there is no right for appeal and the couple must reapply.[7]

Finally, the fiancé may enter the United States. Upon entry, the fiancé must present their K-1 visa. If the borders agent finds that the fiancé was not eligible and erroneously granted the visa, the agent may turn the fiancé away at the border.[8]

After all of this, the couple may then marry. They must do so in 90 days, but the sooner the better. The fiancé needs a marriage certificate in order to apply for a green card to more permanently reside in the United States.[9]

This process is not cheap either. The filing fee for the Form I-129F is $535.[10] That fee is only paid once regardless of the number of people filing. For example, if a citizen is filing to bring his fiancée and her two children, the citizen need only pay $535.[11] The next form filed is a Form DS-160 which totes a processing fee of $265.[12] This form is different from the I-129F because this fee must be paid for each person.[13] The citizen from our previous example must now pay $795 for this form. An immigration medical exam is required as well. The average cost is about $300 but varies greatly depending on the country.[14] This cost does not include any lawyers hired, traveling expenses, records requested or the cost to obtain the correct photos or translation. Once the couple is married, they must then file for permanent residence. That fee is $1,225.[15]

A wedding is already a large expense for a young couple averaging about $35,000 in the United States.[16] Adding the large cost of a visa and traveling onto that is probably very burdensome.

    • b. Statistics

In fiscal year 2015, the United States issued 35,559 Fiancé of U.S. Citizen visas.[17] The number was down from the previous year by 5,929.[18] However, the average of the fiscal years 2011 through 2015 was 33,701.[19] Therefore, 2015 was representative of those years.

In fiscal year 2018, the United States issued 28,662 Fiancé visas.[20] It was down 11,546 from the previous year. The average of the previous 5 years was 38,034.[21]

Table 1 shows the breakdown of K-1 visas granted by country and continent. The countries from each continent that were granted the most visas are highlighted in Table 1. It also has totals for each continent in 2015 and 2018. A more complete list can be found on the Department of State’s website.

Table 1 2015[22] 2018[23]
Ethiopia 236 198
Nigeria 564 613
Africa Total 2,781 2,474
China 1,604 837
India 683 517
Philippines 7,998 6,317
Vietnam 1,698 1,785
Asia Total 16,394 12,830
Great Britain 1,202 855
Russia 683 465
Ukraine 1,065 751
Europe Total 6,537 4,720
Canada 865 620
Dominican Republic 1,599 1,387
Mexico 1,676 1,392
North America Total 6,646 5,787
Australia 303 236
Oceania Total 404 320
Brazil 608 723
Colombia 1,131 869
South America Total 2,766 2,503

Table 2 shows the K-1 visas granted to the seven countries affected by President Trump’s Travel Ban. This ban was enacted through Executive Order 13769, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.[24] It was popularly referred to as the Muslim ban.

Table 2 2015[25] 2018[26]
Iraq 120 141
Syria 193 39
Iran 374 45
Libya 5 6
Somalia 31 17
Sudan 16 17
Yemen 21 9

  III. Discussion

                  a. Why The Decline in K-1 Visas?

This study just looks at two years and it’s difficult to know if the decline in K-1 visas was just coincidental or if it was related to current events. However, looking at previous years, there was a general upturn in K-1 visas preceding Donald Trump’s presidency and a decline after his election.

The upturn in fiancé visas can be attributed to internet dating. In 1998, only 12,968 fiancé visas were granted.[27] Since then, there has been a steady upturn in fiancée visas with the peak year being 2016 with 44,252. Internet dating began in 1995 with match.com becoming the first modern dating website, and in 2012 Tinder even further popularized it.[28] In fact, now the internet is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet and the most common way for homosexual couples to meet.[29]

The internet is more conducive to international relationships. People who would normally never meet are connected through the internet. There are dating websites for international dating as well. Popular sites like Match allow user to limit potential matches by zip code but also allow users to open their options up to any one of their 13.5 million users. Certain sites are country specific as well. As evidenced by Table 1, there is a disproportionately high number of K-1 Visas granted to Filipino fiancés. That is likely due to a “demand” for Filipino spouses. Filipino brides are particularly popular due to cultural values. Filipinos strongly value family and that is desirable to some American men seeking international wives.[30]

Despite the information technology age persisting throughout changes in American presidency, there was a noticeable decline of K-1 visas with the latest administration. It’s likely that this is attributable to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and demeanor. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Build a Wall” is deeply xenophobic. The travel ban mentioned earlier targeted Muslim majority countries and showcased Islamophobia.

Overall, K-1 visas had a 19.39% decline from 2015 to 2018. The continent that had the greatest decline was Asia, with a 21.7% decline in immigration. South America had the lowest decline with 9%. Africa had a 11% decline, North America had a 12.9% decline, and Oceania experienced 20.7% decline. The group of countries affected by the travel ban experienced much greater decline at 63.9%. The country hit the hardest was Iran with an 87.9% decline in K-1 visas from 2015 to 2018. Another noteworthy country is Mexico, because the President often speaks about Mexico and is focused on a wall on the Southern border. Mexico experienced a 16.9% decline, lower than the average but higher than the North American average.

Since nothing has changed with internet dating and how international couples meet one another, this decline most likely can be contributed to anti-immigrant sentiments, people do not want to hold K-1 visas. It is likely that fewer Americans are seeking out or open to relationships with people from other countries. This could be for fear of stigma being attached to them or for fear of immigrants themselves. Another reason is foreign nationals do not feel welcome immigrating to America. Since the K-1 visa is more voluntary than other visas (a person can choose to not enter a relationship with an American, or not to marry an American, but other factors can sometimes force a person to relocate like jobs, family, etc.) it is better representative of the world’s feelings about America’s openness. Clearly, the world does not feel America is as open to immigrants as it used to be.

    • b. Looking Forward to 2020

America is unique in that it is a country largely built on immigrants. There are many pathways to immigration and the fiancé visa is one of the less popular ways, but it is an interesting tool to look at American perception of immigrants and the international community’s perception of America. As evidenced by the data, the perception is not good. Looking forward to the next Presidential election, hopefully some of the xenophobic feelings can be lessened and America can again be seen as open for immigrants. After all, is America not the country that proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? It is time to return to those values.

  1. 90 Day Fiancé, (Feb. 10, 2018), https://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/90-day-fiance/.
  2. Illona Bray, Steps to Get a K-1 Fiancé Visa (2019) available at https://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/steps-get-k-1-fiance-visa.html.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. Citizen Path How Much Does a K-1 Visa Cost? (2019) available at https://citizenpath.com/faq/k-1-visa-cost/.
  10. Id.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. Anna Bahney, Here’s what Americans are spending on weddings (January 16, 2018) available at https://money.cnn.com/2018/01/16/pf/wedding-cost/index.html.
  16. U.S. Department of State, Table XVI(A) Classes of Nonimmigrants Issues Visas (Including Border Crossing Cards) Fiscal Years 2011-2015 (2016) available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/AnnualReports/FY2015AnnualReport/FY15AnnualReport-TableXVIA.pdf.
  17. Id.
  18. Id. The number of K-1 visas granted in 2011-2014 are as follows: 29,016, 32,154, 30,290, and 41,488.
  19. U.S. Department of State, Table XVI(A) Classes of Nonimmigrants Issues Visas (Including Border Crossing Cards) Fiscal Years 2014-2018 (2019) available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/AnnualReports/FY2018AnnualReport/FY18AnnualReport%20-%20TableXVIA.pdf.
  20. Id. The number of K-1 visas granted in 2016 and 2017 were 44,252 and 40,208 respectively.
  21. U.S. Department of State, Table XVII (Part II) Nonimmigrant Visas Issued Fiscal Year 2015 (2016) available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/AnnualReports/FY2015AnnualReport/FY15AnnualReport-TableXVII.pdf.
  22. U.S. Department of State, Table XVII (Part II) Nonimmigrant Visas Issued Fiscal Year 2018 (2019) available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/AnnualReports/FY2018AnnualReport/FY18AnnualReport%20-%20TableXVII.pdf.
  23. Rick Gladstone, Trump Travel Ban: How it Affects the Countries, (June 26, 2018) available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/world/americas/trump-travel-ban-effects.html.
  24. Supra at 20.
  25. Supra at 21.
  26. U.S. Department of State Table XVI(B) Nonimmigrant Visas Issued by Classification (Continued) (Including Crewlist Visas and Border Crossing Cards) Fiscal Years 1998-2002 (2003) available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/FY2002%20table%20XVI.pdf.
  27. Hayley Matthews, The History of Online Dating—(A Timeline from Paper Ads to Websites) (Dec. 4, 2017) available at https://www.datingadvice.com/online-dating/history-of-online-dating.
  28. Emerging Technology, First Evidence That Online Dating is Changing the Nature of Society, (October 10, 2017) available at https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609091/first-evidence-that-online-dating-is-changing-the-nature-of-society/.
  29. Lourdes Santos Tancinco, Why PH is the world’s ‘US fiancé visa’ capital (July 5, 2015) available at https://globalnation.inquirer.net/125579/why-ph-is-the-worlds-us-fiance-visa-capital.

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