Fiance Visa Problems
In the wake of the tragic terrorist incident in San Bernardino, public scrutiny regarding the K-1 visa, commonly referred to as the “fiancée visa,” has intensified.
Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the attack, entered the United States in 2014 through a K-1 Fiance Visa sponsored by her husband, the other perpetrator in the incident. Lawmakers have responded by questioning the validity of the background checks and screening process that occurs before individuals are allowed into the United States, in an attempt to understand how Malik was allowed entry into the United States in spite of inconsistencies in her immigration petition and her background. Much attention has been given to the fact that Malik offered an invalid overseas address on the application, something that critics of current immigration policy say should have immediately disqualified her from entry.
In response to a Senate panel hearing, Edward Ramotowski, the United States State Department’s deputy assistant for visa services, confirmed that, “All applicable security checks were done for that individual, Ms. Malik… That includes an immigrant visa interview, it includes facial recognition screening, it includes interagency counterterrorism screening, it included a review by the visa security unit of immigration and customs enforcement, which as a detachment in Islamabad in our embassy there and it included the full biometric fingerprint checks and in all cases, the results of those checks were clear.”
With 14 dead in the San Bernardino attack, the debate over visa security has intensified as lawmakers attempt to determine whether the screening process can be improved to prevent future incidents. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the Obama administration is already in the process of reviewing the K-1 program and process.
However, a look at the current screening process reveals a through and arduous process that requires the submission of key identification documents that include a birth certificate, evidence of financial support, and a police statement of clear criminal record, among others. The average processing time for a K-1 visa takes between 6 to 12 months before an individual is allowed to enter the United States, and the K-1 visa has historically garnered a reputation as one of the most strictly screened visas, even before Malik somehow found her way through the system.
Also important to note is that Malik is the only person in the history of the K-1 visa program to take advantage of the program to enter the United States to commit a terrorist act. Indeed, 9 of the top 10 countries from which K-1 visa applicants originate are not included on the list of countries designated as “particularly terror-prone.”
It seems more likely than not, though, that some changes in the screening process for fiancée visas will come in the future. Buda Law Group anticipates that the timeline for securing a K-1 visa in the future will be extended even further from its current average, as more thorough security checks are implemented in the future. Typically, once a K-1 applicant completes the overseas consular interview and enters the United States, no follow-up visits or interviews are conducted by USCIS officers within U.S. borders. This policy could potentially be amended to require additional follow-ups from the USCIS after entry into the U.S.
One final issue of note is the fact that USCIS is already struggling to process the number of visa applications of all kinds that are currently filed. Any change that will require additional screening and review of cases currently pending could potentially have adverse effects on the amount of immigrant petitions of all types that USCIS is able to process each year.
John B. Buda, Esq.
1201 W. Huntington Dr. Suite 209
Arcadia, CA 91007