“Consular processing” is the term for what happens when you live outside the U.S. and you apply to come to this country and be admitted as a permanent resident. You’ll file your forms and have your interview at a U.S. Department of State consulate office in the country where you reside. If you live outside the U.S. at the time of filing, consular processing is your only path for immigrating to the U.S.
Does this sound like your situation? Keep reading!
Step 1: Determine your eligibility to immigrate
The first step is to determine if you’re eligible to apply for a green card. To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:
1. You must belong to one of the following immigrant categories:
- Family-based. You may qualify for a green card if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, a family member of a lawful permanent resident, or a family member of a U.S. citizen. Certain members of other special categories may also be eligible to get a family-based green card.
- Job or employment-based. You may qualify for legal permanent residency based on an offer of employment or your plans to invest in the U.S. economy and create jobs. This category includes sponsorship through an employer, through investment or entrepreneurship, or through other special categories of jobs.
- Based on refugee or asylum status. You may be able to get a green card through your status as a refugee or asylee.
2. You must have an immigrant petition filed on your behalf.
The petition is what establishes the basis for your immigration and the immigrant category to which you belong.
- If you plan on immigrating based on family relationships, your petitioner files the Petition for Alien Relative – Form I-130
- If you plan on immigrating based on a job offer or employment, your petitioner files the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker – Form I-140
It should be noted that most people who seek to come to the U.S. based on their status as a refugee or asylum-seeker are exempt from the petition requirement.
3. An immigrant visa must be available for you. Visas are always available for immediate family of U.S. citizens, but Congress limits the number of other visas it grants each year.
4. You must be admissible to the United States. Everyone who seeks an immigrant visa must prove that they are eligible for admission to the United States. Congress sets the grounds of inadmissibility; reasons you could be found inadmissible include financial reasons, health reasons, an unfavorable immigration history or a prior criminal history.
Step 2: Await the decision on your immigrant petition
Once the appropriate person has filed the correct petition on your behalf — Form I-130 for family-based cases and Form I-140 for cases based on employment — the next step is to wait for USCIS’s decision.
- If you are approved and you reside outside the United States: USCIS will send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center. The petition will remain there until an immigrant visa number is available for you.
- If you are denied: You may appeal the decision.
Step 3: Go to your interview
The National Visa Center will notify you and your petitioner of three things:
- When they’ve received your visa petition
- When a visa is about to become available
- When and where to submit your immigrant visa processing fees and supporting documentation
This is also when you should file Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. And in most cases, USCIS will also require the petitioner to file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The affidavit is the petitioner’s promise to support you financially if you cannot support yourself.
Once those things happen, the consular office will schedule your interview, during which a consular official will review your case and decide if you are eligible for an immigrant visa.
Common Consular Processing Interview Tips
- DO NOT BE LATE.
- Dress well, but not overdressed -> business casual.
- Try to appear calm, confident, organized, and friendly. You don’t want to appear nervous or scared.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, do not lie. Say, “I don’t know the answer to that at this time.” or “I do not remember.”.
Bring the following items to your interview:
- Birth Certificate
- Marriage Documents
- Copies of divorce records (if any)
- Passport (with an expiration date no earlier than 6 months)
- Police Certificate
- Fingerprints (Consulate should give you instructions on how to do this)
- Passport type photos of each of you
You’ll swear an oath to tell the truth, after which the official will likely:
- Verify the contents of your application.
- Check your medical, criminal and financial records to ensure you’re admissible.
- If you’re applying based on marriage, he or she will have an opportunity to ask personal questions regarding your marriage.
In some consular offices, you may get approved at the interview itself; in other cases, you will be asked to return to pick up your paperwork if you’ve been granted a green card. It depends on the policy of your local office.
You must contact the National Visa Center if any of the following happens at any time during this process:
- You change your address.
- You turn 21 years old.
- You get married or your marital status changes.
Visit the National Visa Center Contact Information page to learn how to contact the center.
Step 4: Once your visa is granted
Once you are notified that your visa has been granted, two things will happen:
The consular officer will give you the following:
- Your “A-Number” (the letter “A” followed by 8 or 9 numbers).
- DOS Case ID (3 letters followed by 9 or 10 numbers).
- Immigrant Data Summary.
- A packet of information known as a “visa packet.” DO NOT OPEN THIS PACKET.
You will need to pay the USCIS immigrant fee. Unless you are among the exemptions below, this fee must be paid; you will not be granted a green card without paying it. Payment may be made with a credit card, debit card, pre-paid debit card, or a U.S. bank account. If you can’t afford the fee, a family member, friend, employer, lawyer or accredited representative can pay on your behalf. Groups exempted from paying the immigration fee are:
- Children who come to the U.S. as part of the orphan or Hague adoption programs.
- K Non-Immigrants.
- Returning lawful permanent residents (also known as “SB-1s”).
- Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants.
Step 5: When you arrive in the U.S.
When you arrive in the United States, give your Visa Packet to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry. This officer will determine whether to admit you into the United States. If the officer admits you, you have been granted lawful permanent resident status and you may legally live and work in the United States. You should receive your green card within 45 days of your arrival.