Consular Processing of Immigrant Visas
U.S. immigration law provides two procedures for applying for lawful permanent residency (also known as a “green card”). First, if you are currently located inside the United States, you may apply for lawful permanent residency without having to return to your home country. This option is known as Adjustment of Status. The second option, Consular Processing, allows you to apply for a lawful permanent residency at your local U.S. embassy or consulate outside of the United States.
While the green card eligibility requirements remain the same for both options, the forms, processes, documentation, and timeframes do vary.
This article, written by Seattle immigration lawyer Brandon Gillin, discusses the process of obtaining an immigrant visa from a U.S. consulate abroad.
Eligibility Requirements for Immigrant Visas
Before you may apply for lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) status, two conditions must be met:
- You must first be the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition, and
- There must be an immigrant visa number available for you.
There are multiple ways to become the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition. You may be eligible for a green card through several mechanisms, including:
If you are eligible for LPR status, a petition generally must then be filed to initiate the process of obtaining a green card.
- If you are applying for LPR status through the family-based immigration system, your qualifying U.S. citizen or LPR family member must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) on your behalf.
- If you are applying for LPR status based on your U.S. citizen fiancé, your U.S. citizen fiancé must file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with USCIS on your behalf.
- If you are applying for LPR status based on your employment status, your employer typically files Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with USCIS on your behalf.
You then must wait for USCIS to review, process, and approve your petition.
Once USCIS approves your petition, you will be notified through a Notice of Approval. USCIS then transfers your petition to the National Visa Center, an organization within the Department of State. The National Visa Center coordinates the remaining stages of consular processing.
The National Visa Center is the entity that informs you when a visa immigrant number is available for you. You should be aware that you may have to wait a significant period of time for a visa immigrant number to become available, especially if you are not applying as an immediate relative. If you are applying based on family preference categories or your employment status, you should refer to the visa bulletin for more information on when your visa number may be available.
Applying for an Immigrant Visa
When an immigrant visa number is available for you (or it anticipated to become available in the next few months), the National Visa Center will coordinate your payment of the required processing fees. You must pay the Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee and the Affidavit of Support Fee. The National Visa Center then collects your supporting evidence and communicates with the appropriate consulate to schedule your interview.
The required supporting evidence may vary from case-to-case. However, the supporting evidence to be submitted to the National Visa Center generally includes:
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, filed by your sponsor. This form legally obligates your sponsor to accept financial responsibility for you until you become a U.S. citizen or have worked for approximately ten years in the United States.
- Documents related to your sponsor’s finances. These documents may include your sponsor’s IRS Tax Transcript, proof of income and assets, proof of relationship to you, proof of U.S. citizenship or LPR status, proof of domicile, and Social Security Administration Earnings Statement.
- Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. This Form must be filed online by you and each qualified family member that intends to immigrate with you.
- Civil documents from your home country. The list of relevant civil documents can be extensive, and may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, court records, police reports, military records, and a copy of a valid passport.
Interview and Medical Examination
As soon as your visa is available, the closest U.S. embassy or consulate will schedule a date for an interview.
In the weeks leading up to your consular interview, you must undergo a full medical examination by an authorized doctor and receive any necessary vaccinations. This medical exam should take place in the same country as where you will be interviewed.
When the date of your interview arrives, you should bring the following documents to your interview:
- Appointment letter
- Specified Photographs
- DS-260 confirmation page
- Copies of all your civil documents submitted to the National Visa Center.
You do not need to bring copies of your Affidavit of Support or your sponsor’s financial evidence.
After the interview, the consular office will determine if you qualify for an immigrant visa.
Result of Consular Processing
If the consular officer approves your visa, you will receive an immigrant visa that will be attached to your passport. You will also receive a sealed packet known as the “Visa Packet” and will be permitted to travel to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States, you should apply for admission as an LPR and provide the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) official with your still sealed Visa Packet. You will have a six-month timeframe to travel to the United States on your approved immigrant visa before it expires. Once admitted, you must pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee. You will then receive a physical green card in the mail.
If the consular officer denies your visa, they will tell you why you were not eligible for an immigrant visa. Unfortunately, unlike with Adjustment of Status, there is no appeals process if the consular officer rejects your application. However, consular officers have less discretion than the USCIS officers who determine adjustment of status cases. Therefore, it is more challenging for consular officers to use their discretion and refuse to issue an immigrant visa without adequate rationale.
There is also a possibility that your application may require administrative processing. If the consular officer informs you that this is the case, it means that they will continue to review and process your application. You may need to submit supplemental documentation.
Resources on Immigrant Visas
We provide the following resources on Consular Processing of Immigrant Visas
I’ve always known Mr. Gillin to be nothing less than intelligent, honest, and diligent in his craft. I refer all of my clients in need of immigration services to him with confidence, and I have heard nothing but good things. You’re in good hands here.
— Jeffrey K. Traylor, Attorney at Law