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What is Consular Processing?

Updated: March 31, 2020

“Consular processing” is the term used when applying for an immigrant visa from outside the U.S. You will be working with both U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security as you finish your green card application. If you live outside the U.S. at the time of filing, consular processing may be your only path for immigrating to the U.S.

We are happy to help you through any step of this process. Finishing the whole green card process can be stressful and overwhelming. Don’t worry though, contact us and we will be with you every step of the way.

Step 1: Determine your eligibility to immigrate and submit a petition

To get started, you need to determine if you’re eligible to apply for a green card. Use our Eligibility Quiz to find if you are eligible to become a permanent resident of the United States. The petition that you file will be determined by the type of eligibility – most common petitions are the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and the I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. The petition at this point in the process will be sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Step 2: Await the decision on your immigrant petition

Once the appropriate person has filed the correct petition on your behalf, 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. For some cases, such as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, there are immigrant visa numbers immediately available.

Step 3: Submit with the National Visa Center

The National Visa Center (NVC) will notify you and your petitioner of three things:

  • When they’ve received your visa petition
  • When a visa is about to become available (if applicable)
  • When and where to submit your immigrant visa processing fees and supporting documentation

The NVC will give you directions to set up an account where you can submit your fees and submit your application. 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.

The NVC is also collecting information on Public Charge. Certain applicants may be asked to present or complete a Form DS-5540 at the visa interview. Immigrant visa applicants are encouraged to complete the DS-5540 in advance. The USCIS will review all paperwork and request any additional evidence needed. If they request more evidence this can lengthen your processing time. In order to avoid this, it is important to be thorough in your initial submission.

Step 4: Go to your interview

Once those things happen, the consular office will schedule your interview.

When an appointment becomes available, the NVC will send an interview letter with information on the medical exam and a list of the required documents for the interview. During your interview a consular official will review your case and decide if you are eligible for an immigrant visa.

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.

Step 5: Once your visa is granted

Once you are notified that your visa has been granted, you will be given a packet of information known as a “visa packet”. DO NOT OPEN THIS PACKET.

You will now 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.

Step 6: 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.

Note: If the applicant does not enter within the six months allotted on the visa they may not be allowed into the country without further processing at the Consulate.

Welcome to America!

Updated on May 5, 2021

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