The K-3 spouse visa was an invention by Congress to speed the immigration process to bring an American Citizen's foreign born spouse to the USA for permanent residency. While it served its original purpose 15 years ago reducing processing time from 2 to 1 year, it is no longer a popular choice as regular CR1 and IR1 spouse visas now enjoy processing speeds themselves of 1 year.
In order to bring one's foreign-born spouse to the USA the American citizen or Lawful permanent resident applies for a spouse visa.
Originally two different spouse visas were available the IR-1 Visa if the marriage had lasted over 2 years, and the CR1 Visa if the marriage was less than two years old.
Around 2001 it came to the attention of Congress that while married couples had to wait for 2 years to get permission to start their lives together in the USA, couples that were not yet married, who only INTENDED to marry, were able to receive their visas much faster.
It seemed to Congress that Americans who had made solid marriage commitments were being penalized, having to wait so much longer than what the fiance visa process offered. Congress suggested a solution, this was a hybrid Visa that was half fiance visa and half spouse visa.
This became the K-3 spouse visa. At that time while regular IR1 and CR1 spouse visas were taking 2 years, the K3 cut the waiting time in half, to about a single year.
The process to obtain a K-3 visa, combined the steps needed to apply for a regular spouse visa AND the steps needed to apply for a fiance visa. Actually, it doubled the work for the applying couple.
First a couple applies for a spouse visa following all of the regular procedures one would use to apply using the I-130 form. They wait until receiving confirmation from USCIS that the I-130 is in process, then submit a second petition this time using the I-129F form which is normally used exclusively for fiance visas. Now two separate but fairly identical petitions have been submitted and are in process at USCIS.
If the two petitions were submitted close upon the heels of each other the I-129f petition would be approved first then passed on to the National Visa center and arrive at the consulate for issuance of the K-3 Visa about a full year faster than a CR1 or IR1 visa. The K-3 visa when issued would allow the foreign spouse to enter and exit the USA for up to two years, and permit the spouse within those two years to apply to adjust status and obtain permanent residency.
The K-3 was a stopgap method that doubled the work, but halved the waiting time.
It became a popular choice.
Fast forward to about 2013.
By 2013 US immigration was doing a much better job in processing regular IR-1 and CR-1 spouse visas. No longer was it taking 2 long years. Instead processing times were reduced to about only 1 year.
And one year, is about the same amount of time that was needed for the hybrid K-3 Visa..
The K3 was invented to compensate for slow processing times of the regular spouse visas. By 2013 the original problem was apparently solved. Regular spouse visas are now being processed in a reasonable time frame of about a year. The K-3 no longer has a speed advantage. In essence that means the K-3 no longer is needed. Basically "Problem solved".
But, the K-3 visa is still on the books. The Department of State has not removed it as an option from the list of available visas, And who knows, it might be needed later, in case regular spouse visa processing slows down again.
In the mean time, the Department of State doesn't want to process them, and in 2013 announced an official policy that serves to make the K-3 Visa almost impossible to get.
As described earlier, the K-3 application process requires two petitions submitted to USCIS. Previously the I-129F K-3 petition had a speed advantage over the regular I-130. But no that is no longer the case.
Now both petitions are being processed just as quickly. Department of State's new policy is they would only process whichever approval was granted first. If I-130 was approved first, then the IR-1 or CR-1 visa would be processed. If the I-129F was approved first then the K-3 would be processed.
But the race is fixed. The new more efficient USCIS processing, virtually always approves the I-130 first, or both, on the same day. And I-130 first or ties result in the regular spouse visa being processed, and the K-3 request being ignored..
This has caused a huge decrease in the number of K-3 visas actually issued. Three years after creation, by 2004, almost 14,000 K-3 visas were issued compared to 44,000 IR-1 and CR-1 visas. In 2015 there were approximately 108,000 regular IR1 or CR1 spouse visas approved, compared to only 182 K3 Visas.
While a handful of K3 visas are still being issued, for most it's hardly worth the extra effort and cost to apply for the K-3 knowing that the chances of it being eventually issued, are miniscule compared to simply applying for the regular spouse visa.
By Fred Wahl