Consular Processing for a Green Card (Immigrant Visa)
What is Consular Processing?
Consular processing refers to the steps needed to get an immigrant visa (green card) at a United States consulate or embassy abroad. The process is complex, as it involves dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the National Visa Center (NVC) in the United States, as well as a consulate or an embassy in the applicant’s home country. Processing times can also be lengthy, as a result of consulate and embassy closures during the 2020 global coronavirus pandemic, related staff shortages, and limited visa services.
People who cannot do adjustment of status in the United States may not have any other option besides leaving the country to consular process from abroad to return to the United States lawfully. If you have been present in the United States without any lawful status, or have a previous deportation or removal order, leaving the country to go abroad to consular process may trigger the need for inadmissibility waivers, so it is important you consult with an experienced immigration attorney before departing the United States to consular process!
Eligibility for an Immigrant Visa
A foreign national is eligible to receive an immigrant visa if:
- He or she is the beneficiary of an approved visa petition, which grants family-based immediate relative or preference classification, or employment-based preference classification; or
- The foreign national is a derivative family member (that is, a spouse or an unmarried minor child of preference foreign national(s)).
Majority of applicants consular process through family petitions, such as from a U.S. citizen spouse or a U.S. citizen son, daughter, or a sibling.
WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO CONSULAR PROCESSING?
Step One: File a visa petition for your relative abroad
Usually a U.S. citizen files a visa petition for their relative abroad, so that the family member living abroad can lawfully immigrate to the United States. The petition must be filed with USCIS with the appropriate filing fee.
Step Two: Pay the required filing fees to the State Department
Once USCIS approves the visa petition, it sends it to the NVC, where it is assigned a case number. The Petitioner, the immigrant visa applicant, and the attorney (if there was an attorney involved in the filing of the visa petition), are then notified that the NVC has created the case. When NVC opens up a case, it sends fee bills to the Petitioner, applicant, and the attorney (if any), notifying them the fees for the immigrant visa and the affidavit of support must be paid. You cannot begin the immigrant visa application until the filing fees have been paid electronically and processed by NVC. It usually takes NVC between 3-5 days to process the fees.
Step Three: Complete the immigrant visa application
After the filing fees have been paid, the immigrant visa application must be completed online through the U.S. Department of State’s website. The applicant (or the lawyer) must fully and accurately complete the application. The applicant must then electronically sign and submit the application.
Step Four: Petitioner must complete the Affidavit of Support
After the immigrant visa application is submitted, the Petitioner (who filed the visa petition for the relative abroad), must complete and electronically submit an affidavit of support through the U.S. State Department’s website. If the Petitioner’s income is insufficient under the existing poverty guidelines, a joint sponsor may be required to submit an affidavit of support as well.
Step Five: Submit civil and financial documents
The immigrant visa applicant will be asked to electronically submit relevant civil documents for his or her case, which may also include documents relating to any previous deportation or removal order from the United States, disposition or judgment if there is any criminal history, as well as other documents, such as police clearance certificate(s) and identity documents. The Petitioner must also submit his or her financial documents in support of the affidavit of support, such as tax returns or IRS transcripts and W-2 or 1099 forms. If a joint sponsor is needed, he or she will also need to submit their financial documents as requested by NVC.
Step Six: NVC reviews the application and documents
Once the immigrant visa application has been submitted, the applicant has provided requested civil documents, and the Petitioner has submitted the affidavit of support with required financial documents (and a joint sponsor has also submitted the documents, if required), the NVC will review the applications and supporting documents to see whether they are sufficient. If something is missing, NVC will notify the applicant, Petitioner, and the attorney (if any), of what is missing or needs be submitted again. The case will remain on “hold” until the insufficiency is addressed.
Step Seven: Case is Documentarily Qualified
Once NVC finds that the submitted documents are sufficient, it will inform all parties that the case has been “documentarily qualified” and that the case is placed in a queue at the consulate or embassy for an interview. Consulate or embassy will notify the NVC when they have interview time slots available. Until the interview is scheduled, NVC “holds on” to the case. Due to worldwide closures during the global coronavirus pandemic, expect delays, depending on the consulate/embassy.
Step Eight: Applicant attends the interview
When an interview is scheduled, all parties are notified of the interview and consulate-specific instructions must be reviewed to prepare for the interview, including obtaining the medical exam from an authorized medical provider. Even if submitted electronically to the NVC, the applicant must take certain original documents to the interview. Some of the important original documents to take to the interview usually include:
- Birth certificate of the Petitioner or Certificate of Citizenship (family-based only);
- Marriage certificate of Petitioner and Beneficiary, and, if applicable, divorce judgment(s) from each spouse;
- Marriage certificate of the parents of the Petitioner and the Beneficiary, if the petition is for a brother or a sister (fourth preference category);
- Birth certificate of the applicant Beneficiary, with certified translation into English, if necessary;
- Children’s birth certificate(s) (if applicable)
- One photograph of the applicant Beneficiary (passport style);
- Valid passport of the applicant Beneficiary;
- Medical exam of the applicant from a qualified medical clinic/doctor; and
- Police clearance letter
Depending on the consulate or embassy, additional documents may also be required, such as latest tax return or transcript from the Petitioner (and joint sponsor, if applicable).
Step Nine: Immigrant visa is issued (or refused)
If all goes well and there are no issues related to inadmissibility, the applicant is issued the immigrant visa to enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident. The visa will be issued in the applicant’s valid passport. The applicant must also pay a separate green card fee online to USCIS prior to entering the United States. That triggers the production of the physical green card, which will arrive at the applicant’s U.S. address.
If the immigrant visa is refused, there may be several reasons for the refusal. Most common reasons involve grounds of inadmissibility that makes the applicant ineligible to enter the United States. Usually, these grounds are related to previous unlawful presence in the United States, fraud or misrepresentation to obtain an immigration benefit, a criminal conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude or drug offense, or even a previous deportation or removal order.
If the applicant is found ineligible to receive the immigrant visa following an interview, the consulate or embassy usually issues a notice indicating on what ground the applicant is found to be inadmissible and will notify the applicant whether he or she can seek a waiver of inadmissibility (either I-212 waiver, I-601 waiver, or sometimes, both). The applicant will not be issued the immigrant visa until the ground of inadmissibility is removed through an approval of the needed waiver(s). Sometimes, consular officers make mistakes on the notice by indicating an incorrect inadmissibility ground or indicating no waiver is available. This is why it is extremely important to consult with an immigration attorney experienced in dealing with waivers to see whether the visa refusal was correct and whether the officer made a mistake and waiver is available despite what the refusal notice indicates.
Step Ten: (only applies to certain applicants) File the needed inadmissibility waiver(s) if required (only applies to certain applicants)
If a waiver of inadmissibility is needed, it must be filed after the immigrant visa interview and visa refusal. Even if the applicant is aware that he or she may need a certain waiver before even starting the consular process, the waiver(s) cannot be filed until the consulate or embassy makes the inadmissibility finding! Waivers are filed with USCIS in the United States and the applicant must wait for USCIS to adjudicate the waiver(s). Processing of the waiver(s) can take up to a year or even longer.
Step Eleven: Enter the United States
If and when the immigrant visa is issued (either following an interview or after approval of required waiver(s)), the applicant has a specific time by which he or she must entered the United States to complete the consular process!
Step Twelve: Receive your green card
Once the new immigrant has arrived in the United States, USCIS will mail the green card to the U.S. address (after the fee for the green card has been paid online)!
DO I NEED A LAWYER FOR CONSULAR PROCESSING?
Guidance and representation from an immigration attorney can provide peace of mind during this complex and lengthy process, as delays can be significant due to errors, communication issues with government agencies, technology problems, or failing to file a waiver if one is needed.
If you are considering consular processing, are in the middle of it and have become frustrated with the process, or have been asked to submit a waiver, I can help you and your relatives with all of your consular processing needs!