Consular Processing Procedure

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides a step-by-step guide on how to navigate consular processing, which we have outlined and expanded upon below.

Step 1: Determine your basis to immigrate.

Before consular processing can begin, you must determine which specific immigrant category you fit into. The basis for most immigrants is a petition filed on their behalf by a family member, employer, or by themselves (i.e. EB-1 and NIW applications). In other words, these immigrants obtain lawful permanent resident status through family-based or employment-based green cards. Though these are the most common pathways to getting a green card, an alien can also become a permanent resident by way of first obtaining refugee or asylum status, or through a number of other special provisions (e.g., diversity visa).

For information on employment-based immigration, click here.

For information on family-based immigration, click here.

Step 2: File the immigration petition.

After determining your basis to become a green card holder, you will then need to be the beneficiary of an approved visa petition filed by either you or by an employer or relative.

Family-Based Petitions

The beneficiaries of family-based immigration are typically the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or other close family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens include parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21, all of whom are potentially eligible to immigrate to the United States if their U.S. citizen family member petitions on their behalf. Other close family members are subject to a numerical limit on immigrant visas and are separated into several groups called “preferences.”



Annual Numerical Limit

First Preference (F1)

Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children


Second Preference (F2)

Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and older)

114,200 (at least 75 percent of this limit is reserved for spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters)

Third Preference (F3)

Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children


Fourth Preference (F4)

Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old, and their spouses and minor children


Source: U.S. Department of State (DOS)

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who wish to immigrate are not subject to any sort of cap.

All family-based applications require a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS on your behalf as the prospective alien beneficiary.

Employment-Based Petitions

In most cases, employment-based immigrant petitions are filed by a U.S. employer on behalf of a prospective alien employee. In some cases, the petition may be filed by the alien him- or herself, as is the case for EB-1A, NIW, and EB-5 applications.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorizes the issuance of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas yearly. These available visas are divided among five preference categories.



Annual Numerical Limit


EB-1A: aliens of extraordinary ability
EB-1B: outstanding professors and researchers
EB-1C: manager or executive transferees



Alien workers with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities; National Interest Waivers

40,000, plus any unused EB-1 visas


Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers

40,000, plus any unused EB-1 and EB-2 visas, with a maximum of 10,000 visas for unskilled workers


“Special immigrants,” including religious workers, certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and Afghan and Iraqi translators



Immigrant investors


In most of the above visa categories, the sponsoring U.S. employer or alien him- or herself, if eligible, files a Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, with USCIS.

Step 3: Wait for a decision on your petition.

USCIS will adjudicate your immigration petition and, after reaching a decision, notify the petitioner; depending on the petition, this may an employer or the alien’s U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member. If the petition is approved and if you currently reside outside the United States (or are living in the U.S. but chose to apply for your visa through consular processing), USCIS will send your approved petition to the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). It will remain at the NVC until an immigrant visa number becomes available. The wait time for an immigrant visa number varies based on your home country and visa category. (For up-to-date information on visa number availability, click here.)

Step 4: Wait for notification from the National Visa Center.

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. NVC will also inform the petitioner and beneficiary as to when they must submit immigrant visa processing fees and supporting documentation.

General documentary requirements, all of which must be translated into English, for an immigrant visa through consular processing include:

  • The original I-797 approval notice for the immigration petition (i.e. for the 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 or her country of nationality at his or her current residence for more than six months and is 16 years old or older

    -The applicant has lived in a different part of his or her country of nationality for more than six 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 documents
  • Marriage certificate(s), if applicable
  • Past 10 years of employment history

The associated fee schedule is tabulated below:



Family-based petitions


Employment-based petitions


Other visa petitions, including Special Immigrants*


Diversity visa lottery


*Afghan and Iraqi translators who are the beneficiaries of an EB-4 petition are not charged a fee.
Source: U.S. Department of State (DOS)

Once the fees have been paid, NVC sends a list of forms and instructions to the petitioner. Paperwork to complete includes a Form DS-260, Application for an Immigrant Visa, which is submitted electronically, and a Form I-864, Affidavit of Financial Support, if required. NVC will also allow an applicant to designate a representative or attorney, if one has not already been listed.

After NVC receives all the forms and a visa number becomes available, an applicant’s file is forwarded to the appropriate consular post. The alien beneficiary will then receive an appointment letter, which informs him or her of the date and time he or she is to appear at the consulate, as well as instructions for the required medical exam.

Step 5: Go to your appointment.

In most cases, the designated consulate is located where the beneficiary’s last place of residence abroad was, and not in the country of nationality by default. The consular office will complete processing of the applicant’s case and decide if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa. A consular officer’s job is to review—not re-adjudicate—the petition. However, if a consular officer deems it necessary, it can return an applicant’s petition to USCIS to request reconsideration and revocation.

Step 6: Notify the National Visa Center of any changes.

You do not need to contact NVC about your petition, as the agency will contact you for any information it may need. You should, however, contact NVC if there is a change in your personal situation or if you have a change of address. It is important to notify NVC if you reach the age of 21 if you are a child beneficiary, or if your marital status has changed, as these may affect your eligibility or visa availability. (For more information on “aging out,” or turning 21 years old as a child beneficiary, click here.)

Step 7: Travel to the U.S. 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.” DO NOT OPEN THIS PACKET. Upon arrival at a U.S. port, you should give your Visa Packet to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. You will be inspected by a CBP officer, who has the authority to deny you entry into the United States. If you are found admissible, you will be admitted as a lawful permanent resident, which gives you authority to live and work in the United States permanently. Within the subsequent three months or so, USCIS will mail you your green card.

Our Firm is Here to Help

Applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing can be a complex process for most to handle on their own. This is why we recommend you seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney about your situation. At Zhang & Associates, our attorneys have decades of experience successfully facilitating consular processing for our foreign-based clients. One of our associates, Sechyi Laiu, spent several years as a consular officer at multiple U.S. diplomatic posts worldwide. Click here to contact our firm for a free consultation today.

For official news and updates on consular processing, click here.

For more detailed information on consular processing, refer to the following links:

Updated 07/31/2017