Before getting into the K-1 process I would always advise obtaining competent legal advice from a licensed American attorney. Thailand can be very difficult to start the process however thousands have completed the process without many problems.
THE K-1 PROCESS
Phase 1: Submitting your Thai Fiancée’s K-1 Visa Application to USCIS
After the US Citizen, or preferably his attorney, has completed the USCIS petition for a K-1 Visa for his Thai fiancée he will need to submit the petition to the correct USCIS Service Center. Depending upon where the US Citizen lives in the United States he will either submit the petition to the USCIS Service Center in either California or Vermont.
There is another option for the US Citizen residing in Thailand. If the US Citizen can prove that he has been a resident of Thailand for over one year then he can file the K-1 application in Thailand at the Bangkok USCIS office (example proof of residence: long term visa in Thailand, Thai work permit, etc.). This can be an advantage because the Bangkok USCIS office generally has a shorter processing time than the USCIS Service Centers in the United States. There are benefits to those with residence in Thailand wishing to bring a Thai loved one to the US.
Phase 2: USCIS’s response to your Thai fiancée’s K-1 Visa petition: Notice of Action 1
After USCIS has received the K-1 Visa petition for your Thai fiancée, they will send you a letter that essentially says, “we’ve received your petition and we will begin processing it.” This letter is called Notice of Action 1. If you are using a licensed US Attorney you will not receive this Notice of Action until after the Attorney has received it and forwarded it on to you. The reason for this is that the Attorney is USCIS’s point of contact because he is your appointed representative. THIS IS A GOOD WAY OF SEPARATING THOSE THAT ARE ACTUAL ATTORNEY’S FROM “VISA SERVICE PROVIDERS” WHO ARE NOT. IF YOU ARE DEALING WITH SOMEONE PURPORTING TO BE AN ATTORNEY AND YOU ARE RECEIVING NOTICE OF ACTION 1 BEFORE THIS PERSON(S), THEN IT IS LIKELY THAT THEY ARE NOT A LICENSED ATTORNEY.
After receiving Notice of Action 1 it is time to wait…
Phase 3: The interim between Notice of Action 1 & 2: USCIS Processes your Thai fiancée’s K-1 Visa Petition
One of the reasons it is important to have all of the documentation and forms in order is the long processing time of the USCIS. If some documentation is out of order then it is possible that this long process could be repeated again and your Thai fiancée would have to wait longer in Thailand. Hiring a competent attorney to file this petition can alleviate this problem since the attorney will fill out the forms and submit them correctly.
Phase 4: Notice of Action 2, your Thai fiancée’s first hurdle in the Visa process overcome
When USCIS approves a K-1 Visa petition they will send the US Citizen petitioner, or his attorney, a letter saying as much. This letter of K-1 petition approval is commonly called Notice of Action 2. Within this letter it will also state that your Thai fiancée’s petition is being forwarded on to the National Visa Center.
Phase 5: Your Thai Fiancée’s K-1 Visa petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center
The National Visa Center (NVC) is basically a place where they do a background check on your Thai fiancée. It usually takes about three of four weeks for your fiancée’s file to get processed through NVC. At which point the K-1 Visa petition is forwarded on to the US Embassy in Bangkok.
Phase 6: The US Embassy in Bangkok where your Thai fiancée does her visa interview
When the K-1 Visa petition gets to the US Embassy in Bangkok, your Thai fiancée will be notified of her interview date and the documentation she will need to provide in order to obtain the visa. The name for the letter the Thai fiancée will receive explaining this is called packet 3. At this point, your Thai fiancée or your attorney, if in Thailand which is a major plus, will need to gather the necessary documentation, get them translated into English from the original Thai, go over things like interview questions with the Thai fiancée, and just generally make sure everything is moving forward.
Generally where the K-1 process grinds to a halt at this phase is either due to the Thai fiancée’s lack of initiative or to problems getting the documentation required in a 221 (g). A 221 (g) is a request by the Embassy after the interview for more information from your Thai fiancée. A lawyer can essentially do all of this on her behalf.
Again, this is what separates the real attorneys from the people claiming to be lawyers because a real attorney can interact with the US Embassy in Thailand on behalf of your Thai fiancée where if a “fake” attorney goes to the Embassy the Embassy officials will ask for credentials and when none can be produced that person will be told to leave.
Phase 7 : Your Thai fiancée obtains the K-1 Visa after the interview and any 221 (g) requests for more information
After the interview at the US Embassy in Thailand and assuming the documentation is in order, the K-1 Visa will be granted and your Thai fiancée can go pick up her passport with the Visa in it. Success! She has finally gotten the visa. A good timeframe for the total amount of time this should take is 6 months from petitioning USCIS to actually getting the K-1 Visa.