Applicants for immigrant visas who reside outside the U.S. must apply for a consular visa at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. This process is referred to as “consular processing.” Consular processing is also an alternative to adjustment of status for applicants for immigrant visas currently residing in the U.S. Consular processing requires the applicant (and accompanying family members) to process for the immigrant visa (“green card”) at the U.S. Consulate in the country where he or she last resided before coming to the U.S. or in his or her country of citizenship. For applicants currently in the U.S., consular processing will require at least one trip back to this U.S. Consulate.
Applicants who must or wish to obtain their green cards by consular processing should indicate the consulate they wish to process at on the immigrant visa petition (Form I-140 or Form I-130). When the USCIS approves the immigrant visa petition, the file will automatically be forwarded to the National Visa Center (“NVC”) to initiate consular processing at the U.S. Consulate designated on the form.
When the priority date is current, the NVC will send the applicant (or applicant’s attorneys of record) a packet of forms to complete and return along with a fee request form. In most cases, the applicant will need to obtain police certificates from every country where he or she has lived for at least six months since reaching the age of 16 (See the Department of State’s Reciprocity Schedules for information on how to obtain police certificates). When the forms are returned to the U.S. Consulate overseas, the applicant (and his or her family, if applicable) will be scheduled for an interview. The U.S. Consulate will also require a medical examination by a consular-designated physician immediately before the interview. Depending on the backlog for medical appointments at the designated medical facility, the applicant would need to go abroad a few days to a week prior to the interview to receive the medical exam. Normally, the Consulate will send instructions and a list of approved physicians with the interview notice and packet. Consulates set their own interview policies and procedures regarding the medical exam. Be sure to check the consulate’s website for their specific instructions.
An interview will take place with a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate. The interview will include a review of all of the documents submitted to the U.S. Consulate and a discussion of the applicant’s familial relationship to the Petitioner or employment position in the United States. Upon approval, the applicant will be issued an immigrant visa in a sealed envelope, for submission to the Immigration Inspector at the time of entering the United States. Upon admission to the U.S. pursuant to the immigrant visa, he or she would be a permanent resident of the U.S.
The time frame for consular processing varies for each U.S. Consulate. Typically, it takes approximately six to twelve months after approval of the immigrant visa petition. There can also be delays when submitting the paperwork to the NVC. If any of the documents are missing or the forms are deficient, the NVC will send the paperwork back to be corrected. This can take add several weeks to the process just in U.S. mail time alone.
The U.S. Consulates exercise complete discretion when reviewing applications and their decision is not appealable. Meaning, there is no judicial review of the decision. In addition, there is no right to attorney representation. If there is anything unusual about an applicant’s background or immigration history (e.g., past criminal record, entering on a B-1 to work in the U.S., medical problem etc.), he or she should consult with an immigration attorney prior to deciding to consular process.
Additionally, in the event that an issue arises at the interview which causes the U.S. Consulate not to approve an applicant’s status to that of permanent resident, he or she may not be able to return to the United States unless the issue can be resolved.
Please note that if the applicant is married before issuance of the immigrant visa or final adjustment of status, his or her spouse will be able to also apply for permanent residence. If the marriage occurs after the issuance of the immigrant visa (or approval of the adjustment of status), the permanent resident must “sponsor” his or her spouse by filing the USCIS Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Spouses of permanent residents fall into the family-based “Second Preference A” category, which is currently backlogged many years. Thus, if an individual marries AFTER becoming a permanent resident, the individual’s spouse typically would NOT be able join him or her in the U.S. for five years or more.