The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) offers an individual two primary paths to permanent resident status and a green card in the United States. One such path available for individuals who are located outside of the U.S., or who will be leaving the U.S. is called “consular processing.” Consular processing may be the best option for you if you are the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition and have an immigrant visa number immediately available. If this is the case, you may apply at a U.S. Department of State consulate abroad for an immigrant visa in order to come to the United States and be admitted as a permanent resident.
How do I know if I am eligible for Consular Processing of my Immigrant Visa?
Consular processing is available when your immigration petition is approved by USCIS and there are visa numbers available for prospective immigrants. If you are located outside of the U.S., you may apply at the National Visa Center and at a U.S. Consular Office in their home country or country of permanent residence. If you are in the U.S., you may choose to immigrate via consular processing abroad or through Adjustment of Status.
Why should I choose Consular Processing over AOS?
The main benefit of consular processing is that it may be a more expeditious process than AOS. The time frame for consular processing on average is between 6 and 12 months, whereas AOS can take an average of 1 to 2 years. Adjustment of status is an alternate process by which you can apply for permanent resident status from the United States without having to return to your home country to complete processing. Of course, you will still be subject to USCIS eligibility requirements. Read here for additional information on the adjustment of status to permanent resident application.
How do I apply for Consular Processing?
Determine Your Basis to Immigrate
The first step in consular processing is to determine if you fit into a specific immigrant category. Most immigrants become eligible for a green card (permanent residence) through a petition filed on your behalf by a family member or employer. Others become permanent residents through first obtaining refugee or asylum status, or through a number of other special provisions.
File the Immigrant Petition
When you know what category you believe best fits your situation, generally you will need to have an immigrant petition filed on your behalf. For assistance in assessing your circumstances and finding the best category for you, please contact our experienced immigration attorneys.
Family based categories require that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative file a Petition for Alien Relative, for you. For more information, please read our section on family-based immigration.
Employment based categories most often require the intending U.S. employer to file a Petition for Alien Worker, for you. Entrepreneurs who intend to invest significant amounts of capital into a business venture in the United States may file an Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur on their own behalf. Please read our section on employment-based immigration.
Special Classes of Immigrants
In some cases, certain immigrants may file a Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), and Special Immigrant, or have one filed on their behalf.
Most humanitarian programs do not require an underlying petition, although individuals may need to meet additional requirements before they can adjust status.
What happens after I submit my immigrant visa application?
You will have to wait for a decision on your petition. USCIS notifies you of a decision once the process is completed. If the petition is denied, the notice will include the reasons for denying the petition and any rights to appeal the decision. If the petition is approved and if you are the beneficiary of the petition and living outside the United States or living in the United States, but choose to apply for your immigrant visa abroad, USCIS will then send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available.
How will I know if there is a visa number available for me to immigrate to the United States?
You will have to wait for Notification from the National Visa Center. The National Visa Center, which is responsible for the collection of visa application fees and supporting documentation, will notify the petitioner and beneficiary when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is about to become available. They will also notify the petitioner and beneficiary of when they must submit immigrant visa processing fees (commonly referred to as “fee bills”) and when supporting documentation must be submitted.
Will I need to have an interview at the U.S. embassy?
Once a visa is available or a beneficiary’s priority date is current (earlier than the cut-off date listed in the monthly Visa Bulletin),the consular office will schedule the applicant for an interview. The consular office will complete processing of the applicant’s case and decide if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa.
Notify the National Visa Center of Any Changes
You do not need to contact the National Visa Center about your petition, they will contact you for the information they need. You should, however, contact the NVC if there is a change in your personal situation or if you change your address. For NVC contact information, see the “NVC Contact Information” link to the right. It is important to notify the NVC if you reach the age of 21 for a child or have a change in your marital status, as this may affect your eligibility or visa availability.
What should I expect after my visa is granted?
If you are granted an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you a packet of information. This packet is known as a “Visa Packet.” You should not open this packet.
Upon your arrival to the United States, you should give your Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry. You will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer and if found admissible, will be admitted as a permanent resident of the United States, which gives you the authority to live and work in the United States permanently.
When will I receive my U.S. Green Card?
You will be mailed your green card. If you do not receive your green card within 45 days of your arrival, please call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or visit your local office by making an InfoPass appointment. You can make an appointment by visiting the Infopass page.
Can my family members accompany me on my immigrant visa application?
Although immigrant petitions are filed with USCIS, in some cases, an application for alien relative may be filed for an immediate relative (spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen) with a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Situations where this may be applicable include:
If the U.S. citizen has been authorized to be continuously residing within the jurisdiction of the consular office for at least the previous 6 months
Members of the military
Situations involving the health or safety of the petitioner
When in the national interests of the United States