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Ten Tips for the Chinese & American “K-1 Couple”

–By Brandon Gillin

You are probably reading this article because you are either (1) a U.S. citizen who has a fiancĂ©(e) who is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China and you want to bring him/her to the U.S., or (2) you are a U.S. citizen and you have a boyfriend or girlfriend who is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China and you are thinking about “popping the question” and eventually bringing your new fiancĂ©(e) to America. If either one of these scenarios sound familiar, then I hope these tips will help you along the way in your K-1 visa process.

1) Your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) does not have a birth certificate. This is a common predicament for many K-1 couples. Many Chinese citizens who were born either (1) in the Chinese countryside, or (2) before about 1990, do not have birth certificates. What can you do about this given that the U.S. State Department requires a copy of the birth certificate at the Consular Processing phase? Have your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) go to his/her local notarial office “Gong Zheng” in China. That office will likely be able to issue a “notarial birth certificate” to your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) so long as s/he presents proper identification.

2) The Notarial Office in China will not grant your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) a birth certificate. There may be several different reasons for this: (1) since each local government seems to operate differently, the notarial office may not know the procedure (although this is becoming less and less likely as time moves on); (2) the notarial official is corrupt; or (3) The notarial official is asking your fiancĂ©(e) for his/her parents’ marriage certificate. If (1), then ask the notarial official where birth certificates may be obtained, then go there. If (2), you may be forced to offer a monetary bribe. If (3), then you are not alone; this is a common requirement. Your fiancĂ©(e) will have to ask his/her parents to either present their marriage certificate, or, more likely, to go get a marriage certificate from the local department so that s/he may present it to the notarial office.

3) Your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) needs to obtain his/her criminal records in China, but does not know where to go. The police department in your fiancĂ©(e)’s hometown should be able to print out his/her police records. But remember, the U.S. State Department needs police records from every country your fiancĂ©(e) has lived for a year or more since reaching age 16.? All police records should be translated into English and certified by a translator.

4) Your Chinese fiancé(e) has been previously married. The divorce decree or death certificate must be produced for every prior marriage. Notarial offices will issue notarial divorce certificates based upon extant records to confirm either a court-decreed or uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, a couple can obtain a divorce certificate from the marriage registration office in the neighborhood where they reside. In a contested divorce, both parties will receive a copy of the formal divorce decree from the court at the time the divorce is approved. If the original decree is lost, the same court will often issue a duplicate, but these various decrees or certificates should not be accepted in lieu of the notarial certificates. If your fiancé(e) is a widow(er), s/he should obtain the death certificate of his/her former spouse at the local health department. All documents must be translated into English by a certified translator.

5) All of your Chinese fiancĂ©(e)’s legal documents are written in Chinese. All documents written in a language other than English must be translated into English by a certified translator before submitting them to USCIS and the U.S. State Department.

6) Your Chinese fiancé(e) speaks barely any English at all. If this is the case, going through the K-1 visa process will be even more difficult since it is likely your Chinese fiancé(e) will not be aware of the requirements needed for the Form I-129F petition or how to prepare for the interview at the U.S. consulate in China. Fortunately, the U.S. Embassy provides instructions in Chinese. The Department of Homeland Security, however, does not. You may consider hiring a lawyer whose office can provide English-Chinese interpretation services.

7) Your Chinese fiancĂ©(e) is a member of the Communist Party of China. If your fiancĂ©(e) is a member of the Communist Part of China (CPC), s/he may face difficulties at the K-1 interview at the U.S. consulate in China. This is an antiquated issue, but the visa officer will most likely inquire about your fiancĂ©(e)’s ties to the CPC if s/he indicates that s/he is a member or even has worked for the government in some capacity. For this reason, many K-1 visa applicants from China have been refused visas. Fortunately, there is a waiver available to your K-1 fiancĂ©(e) in the event that s/he is found inadmissible due to her membership in the CPC.

8) You have not visited your Chinese fiancé(e) in over two years. A baseline requirement for the K-1 visa petition is that you have visited your Chinese fiancé(e) at least once in the two years preceding your filing of the I-129F. For that reason, make a trip to China to visit your fiancé(e). Make two or three trips even. In each trip, take copious amounts of photos together, both just the two of you, and also with his/her family members. Show USCIS and the State Department that your relationship is bona fide and genuinely loving. The government is adept at sniffing out fraudulent marriages.

9) Your fiancĂ©(e) is worried about the interview at the U.S. consulate. S/he should have nothing to worry about as long as the relationship is real. Presumably, in a real relationship, your fiancĂ©(e) will know basic things about you. S/he will know details about your relationship, how you met, your family situation, and where you work. S/he should be prepared to answer these types of questions and perhaps more at the visa interview at the U.S. consulate. Historically, Chinese citizens have faced tougher scrutiny at visa interviews than some other countries’ citizens. This is so because there has been a history of fraudulent marriages originating with Chinese citizens. The U.S. consulate is well aware of these fraudulent marriages, so it takes painstaking efforts to uncover them at the visa interview.

10) Your fianc?(e) insists on hiring an agency in China to handle the U.S. immigration paperwork. Although such agencies do exist in China, it is generally a mistake to allow non-U.S. immigration lawyers to handle your U.S. immigration matters. In matters as sensitive as family-based immigration visas, it is always advisable to have a licensed U.S. immigration lawyer prepare the petition and advise you accordingly.

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