The USCIS provides a step by step guide on how to navigate consular processing, which we have outlined and expanded upon below. For more information on consular processing, please visit the USCIS web page.
Step 1: Determine Your Basis to Immigrate
Before consular processing can begin, you must determine which specific immigrant category you fit into. Most immigrants immigrate through a petition filed on their behalf by a family member, employer, or by himself/herself. Thus, most of what is discussed on this page refers to the family based and employment based green cards. However, you can also become a permanent resident through first obtaining refugee or asylum status, or through a number of other special provisions. The USCIS outlines these processes and many other topics related to green cards here.
For information on employment based immigration, please click here.
For information on family based immigration, please click here.
Step 2: File the Immigrant Petition
Once you know which immigration category best fits your situation, you may file the immigration petition or have one filed on your behalf.
Family based immigration mostly refers to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other close family members of U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 who can immigrate to the United States if their U.S. citizen immediately family member petitions on their behalf. Other close family members are subject to a numerical limit on immigrant visas and separated into several groups called “preferences.” Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who wish to immigrate are not subject to any sort of cap limit. Family based categories require that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative file a Form 1-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to the USCIS for you.
Employment based immigration petitions in most cases are filed by an employer on behalf of their employee. Sometimes, the immigration petition may be filed by an alien, as is the case in EB-1(a), NIW, and EB-5 petitions. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas yearly. These available visas are divided among five preference categories. Employment based categories most often require the intending U.S. employer to file a Form I-140 (Petition for an Alien Worker) for you.
Step 3: Wait for a Decision on Your Petition
The USCIS will consider your immigration petition and notify the petitioner (depending on the petition, this may the employer or the alien’s U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member) of the decision. If the petition is approved and if you are living outside of the United States (or living in the United States but chose to apply for your visa through consular processing), the USCIS will then send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). It will remain at the NVC until an immigrant visa number is available. The wait time for an immigrant visa number varies based on your home country and which visa you are applying for. For information on visa availability, please visit the Visa Bulletin at Hooyou.com.
Step 4: Wait for Notification from the National Visa Center
National Visa Center
32 Rochester Avenue Suite 200
Rochester, New Hampshire
The NVC 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 when supporting documentation must be submitted.
The usual documentary requirements for an immigrant visa through consular processing are as follows:
The original I-797 approval notice for immigration petition (I-130, 1-140, etc)
A copy of the immigration petition as-filed
The receipt notice for Form I-824, if applicable
A valid unexpired passport or other suitable travel document
A police certificate from a local police authority if:
The applicant has been living in his/her country of nationality at his/her current residence for more than 6 months AND is 16 years old or older
The applicant has lived in a different part of his/her country of nationality for more than 6 months AND was 16 years old or older at that time
The applicant lived in a different country for more than 12 months AND was 16 years old or older at that time
The applicant was arrested for any reason, at any age
Certified copies of prison records and military records if applicable
Certified copy of a birth record
Documents establishing relationship to spouse and children, if applicable
Identity of documents and visa classification with respect to visa eligibility
Any document required must be translated into English.
Once the fees have been paid, the NVC sends a packet of forms and instructions to the petitioner, including the DS-230 (Application for an Immigrant Visa) and the I-864 (Affidavit of Financial Support). The NVC will also send a Form DS-3032 to allow the applicant to designate a representative if no attorney has been previously designated. Once the case is complete and a visa number becomes available, the NVC will forward the file to appropriate consular post and will send the beneficiary an appointment letter. The appointment letter will provide the date the applicant is to appear at the consulate and instructions for the medical exam.
Step 5: Go to Your Appointment
Once a visa is available, the consular office will schedule an interview with the applicant. Usually, the designated consulate is in the beneficiary’s last place of residence abroad, not country of nationality. The consular office will complete processing of the applicant’s case and decide if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa. The consular office’s job is to review - not re-adjudicate - the petition. If a consular office feels it necessary, they may return the petition to the USCIS to request reconsideration and revocation.
Step 6: 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 any information they may need. You should, however, contact the NVC if there is a change in your personal situation or if you change your address. 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.
Step 7: After your Visa is Granted
If you are granted an immigrant visa, the consular office will send you a packet of information known as a “Visa Packet.” You SHOULD NOT open this packet. Upon 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 who has the authority to deny you entry into the United States. If you are found admissible, you will be admitted as a permanent resident of the United States. This gives you authority to live and work in the United States permanently. The USCIS will mail you your Green Card within three months of your arrival in the United States.
Applying to immigrate through a U.S. consulate can be a complex process, which is why we recommend you seek the advice of an experienced attorney.
For other information about Consular Processing, please click on one of the following topics below: