How to Obtain a Green Card through Consular Processing
Consular processing is one of two paths for obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) to the United States. The other path being “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. Consular processing refers to the process of applying for a visa through the U.S. consulate in a foreign country. Because consular processing generally has a shorter processing time (about 4-6 months), it is 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. This means that it is a final decision.
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 person obtaining a green card:
Determine Your Eligibility
A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is eligible to petition for certain family members to live in the U.S. and receive green card. To obtain a green card based on a family relationship, you must be in either the immediate relative or family preference categories (explained in family-based visas).
Petition for the Relative
The process begins with the citizen or permanent resident sponsor filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The wait time is dependent on several factors which are covered in family-based immigrant visas. U.S. citizens may also bring a fiancé(e) as well as any children to the U.S. for marriage. This process begins with the citizen filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).
Wait for a Decision on the Petition
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 number is available. See the USCIS Visa Availability & Priority Dates page for more information.
Wait for 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 number is about to become available. They will also notify the petitioner and beneficiary of when they must submit immigrant visa processing fees and supporting documentation. Check the latest Visa Bulletin.
Attend Consular Appointment
Once a visa is available or a beneficiary’s priority date is current, 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.
Enter the United States
If you are granted an immigrant visa (green card), the consular officer will give you a packet of information. This packet is known as a “Visa 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.
Receive Your Green Card
You will be mailed your green card. If you do not receive your green card within 45 days of your arriving in the U.S., call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or visit your local office by making an InfoPass appointment.