K-1 Fiancée Visa Trends

In the past few months, we’ve noticed that the majority of the K-1 fiancée (Form I-129F) visa petitions have been assigned to the USCIS California Service Center (CSC). Even for cases in which the U.S. citizen petitioner lives on the East Coast, those cases have also been assigned to the CSC. The posted processing time for the CSC at www.uscis.gov is 5 months. However, all of our K-1 visa petitions have been approved within less than 2 months.

Although the CSC appears to be approving the K-1 visa petitions in record time, they are also issuing quite a few Request for Evidence (RFE) to applicants who have met on dating websites that USCIS suspects are international marriage brokers (IMB). Questions 34.a and 35 of Form I-129F asks to describe the circumstances under which the engaged couple met and whether they met through the services of an IMB. If the couple met through an IMB, the visa petition must include a copy of the signed, written consent the IMB should have obtained from the beneficiary, authorizing the release of the beneficiary’s contact information to the petitioner. Regardless of whether you checked YES or NO to Question 35 (Did you meet your fiancé(e) or spouse through the services of an international marriage broker?), USCIS appears to be requesting a copy of the signed consent form if the reviewing officer suspects that the dating website falls under the definition of an IMB or is requesting proof to establish that the dating website is not an IMB.

Confusingly, there isn’t an official published list of IMBs. The International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA) broadly defines an IMB as “a corporation, business, individual, or other legal entity, whether or not organized under any of the United States, that charges fees for providing dating, matrimonial, matchmaking services, or social referrals between United States clients and foreign national clients by providing personal contact information or otherwise facilitating communication between individuals from these respective groups.” An IMB does not include (1) a traditional matchmaking organization of a cultural or religious nature that operates on a nonprofit basis and otherwise operates in compliance with the laws of the countries in which it operates, including the laws of the United States, or (2) an entity that provides dating services between United States citizens or residents and other individuals who may be aliens, but does not do so as its principal business, and charges comparable rates to all individuals it serves regardless of the gender or country of citizenship or residence of the individual.

The signed consent form from the beneficiary is a requirement under IMBRA. However, USCIS did not start requesting copies of the signed consent form until mid-2013.

Since there isn’t an official published list of IMBs and many dating websites do not fully disclose their complete fee arrangements on their websites, it is difficult to determine whether a dating website is an IMB or whether it falls under an exception. Since mid-2013, we’ve been asking our clients to contact their respective dating websites and ask them to confirm whether they fall under the definition of an IMB or whether they falls under an exception. Some clients get verbal or written confirmation and some clients don’t get any response. All the dating websites which responded claim that they fall under an exception. For the dating websites that didn’t respond, we gathered as much information as we can from our clients and the webpages of the dating websites. If we conclude that the website appears to be an IMB, we would provide a written statement explaining that it appears that the website is an IMB, but that the beneficiary was never given any consent form. Also, we submitted any available evidence, such as a printout from the couple’s dating website account which may or may not make references to IMBRA. USCIS didn’t appear to have any issues with our method until about two month ago.

The CSC issued RFEs to two of our cases in which we explained that the websites appear to fall under the definition of an IMB, but the beneficiaries never received any signed consent form. In response to the RFEs, our clients contacted the dating websites and they provided written letters explaining how they fall under an exception of an IMB. USCIS approved one of the cases a week after receiving our response. The other case is pending. We also had a case in which the CSC did not issue a RFE for the beneficiary’s written consent when we indicated that the dating website appears to fall under the definition of an IMB. Thus, the CSC isn’t being consistent in handling this issue regarding the signed consent form. Currently, we are advising our clients that if they met on any dating website, then there is the possibility of a RFE for the consent form.