Green Card Through Consular Processing
Consular processing is the procedure of applying for an immigrant visa (green card) through a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country. It is also one of two paths for obtaining an immigrant visa to the United States through family-based immigration. The second path is adjustment of status. If the applicant is outside the U.S., the only path for immigrating to the U.S. is to use consular processing.
The following describes in general terms the process for obtaining a family-based green card through consular processing. In this process, the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and the beneficiary is the foreign national seeking a green card. If you’re ready to get started, skip to how CitizenPath can help.
Establish Eligibility to Apply for a Green Card
A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may petition certain family members to live in the U.S. and receive green card. The entire process begins when the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of the beneficiary (intending immigrant). To obtain a green card based on a family relationship, the beneficiary must be in either the immediate relative or family preference categories. The purpose of Form I-130 is to establish a qualifying relationship so that the relative may apply for a green card.
A similar process is available to U.S. citizens that want to bring a fiancé (as well as any children of the fiancé) to the U.S. for marriage. This process begins with the U.S. citizen filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). This path is not available to the fiancés of lawful permanent residents. Learn more in the K-1 Visa Overview.
Get Approval on the I-130 Petition
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will notify the petitioner of a decision. 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, USCIS will send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where it will remain until an immigrant visa is available. USCIS will also mail an approval notice to the beneficiary. The I-130 approval notice will arrive by mail as Form I-797, Notice of Action. It will look similar to the approval notice pictured below.
Get a Visa Number from NVC
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 is about to become available. For immediate relative categories, there is an unlimited number of visas available. As a result, the process is relatively quick. For immediate relatives, it may take approximately one month for USCIS to transition the case and receive invitation to submit additional documents from NVC. For family preference categories however, there’s a numerical limit on visas available each year. As a result, there is generally a wait associated with family-preference immigrant visas, and you’ll need to understand how to read the visa bulletin.
The beneficiary can apply for a green card through consular processing once USCIS approves the I-130 petition and a visa is available. For a more complete explanation of this process, begin reading at Family-Based Immigration. For an approximate timeline, view What Happens After Filing Form I-130.
Submit the Application for Immigrant Visa
The NVC will also notify the petitioner and beneficiary when the beneficiary must submit immigrant visa processing fees, the visa application and supporting documentation. At this time, the beneficiary and each qualified family member immigrating with the beneficiary must complete the Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (Form DS-260).
In most cases, the NVC requires the U.S. petitioner to submit a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The affidavit of support is a legal contract between the sponsor (petitioner) of an immigrant visa applicant and the U.S. government. It’s a promise to support the beneficiary if the person does not have the means to support him or herself.
For petitioners without significant income, there are options at this point to also use a joint sponsor.
Attend Appointment for Consular Processing
Once a visa is available and the NVC has received the DS-260 and all supporting documents, the consular office will schedule the beneficiary 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.
If the beneficiary is granted an immigrant visa (green card), the consular officer will give him or her a packet of information. This packet is known as a “Visa Packet.”
Enter the United States
Upon arrival to the United States, the beneficiary will give the Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. The beneficiary will be inspected by a CBP officer. If found admissible, the new immigrant will be admitted as a permanent resident of the United States. This status gives him or her the authorization to live and work in the United States permanently.
The CBP officer will likely provide the new immigrant with an “I-551 stamp” in his or her passport. This temporary stamp may be used like a green card until the actual card arrives.
USCIS will mail a green card to the beneficiary once he or she is inside the United States. If the green card is not received within 45 days of arriving in the U.S., call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.
Pros and Cons of Consular Processing
Consular processing takes approximately 6 to 14 months for immediate relatives. This timeline includes I-130 processing through the consular interview. Due to the wait for a visa to become available, the process will likely take much longer for family-preference immigrants. Because consular processing generally has a shorter processing time, it’s preferred by some applicants over adjustment of status. What’s more, consular processing has a lower risk of refusal. Unlike USCIS officers, consular officers cannot refuse to issue a visa based on discretion. This means that the consular officer must have specific, factual evidence for denying an application. However, cases that are denied are generally non-reviewable. In other words, it’s a final decision.
For a more detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of consular processing versus adjustment of status, read this comparison. For detailed, step-by-step instructions through the consular processing path, visit the U.S. Department of State’s website.
CitizenPath’s self-directed service makes preparing Form I-130 easy. Designed by lawyers, our platform will help you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. The low-cost service also provides alerts if you answer a question in a way that might be a problem. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll be able to file Form I-130 to help a relative immigrate to the United States.
It’s a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we’ve got your back — CitizenPath guarantees that USCIS will approve your petition.
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