The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) offers an individual two primary paths to permanent resident status (a green card). An individual who is the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition and has an immigrant visa number immediately available may apply at a U.S. Department of State consulate abroad for an immigrant visa in order to come to the United States and be admitted as a permanent resident. This pathway is referred to as “consular processing.”
Adjustment of status is an alternate process by which an eligible person, who is already in the United States, can apply for permanent resident status without having to return to his/her home country to complete processing. Our office’s preferred method is adjustment of status, but due to where the family members are located, previous immigration status and other factors consular processing may be the best, or only option.
Steps for Consular Processing
1. Determine Your Basis to Immigrate
The first step in consular processing is to determine if you fit into a specific immigrant category. Most immigrants become eligible for a green card (permanent residence) through a petition filed on your behalf by a family member or employer. Others become permanent residents through first obtaining refugee or asylum status, or through a number of other special provisions. We will discuss all of your options with you and help you determine which category best meets your needs.
2. File the Immigrant Petition
Family based categories require that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you.
In some cases, an I-130 petition may be filed for an immediate relative (spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen) with a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Situations where this may be applicable include:
• If the U.S. citizen has been authorized to be continuously residing within the jurisdiction of the consular office for at least the previous 6 months
• Members of the military
• Emergency situations
• Situations involving the health or safety of the petitioner
• When in the national interests of the United States
3. Wait for a Decision on Your Petition
USCIS notifies our office and 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 and if you are the beneficiary of the petition and living outside the United States or living in the United States, but choose to apply for your immigrant visa abroad, USCIS will then 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.
4. Wait for Notification from the National Visa Center
The National Visa Center, which is responsible for the collection of visa application fees and supporting documentation, will notify our office when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is about to become available. When a visa is available, it will be time to submit immigrant visa processing fees (commonly referred to as “fee bills”) and once we have the receipts we will need to submit supporting documentation.
5. Go to Your Appointment
Once a visa is available or a beneficiary’s priority date is current (earlier than the cut-off date listed in the monthly Visa Bulletin),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.
6. After Your Visa is Granted
If you are granted an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you a packet of information. This packet is known as a “Visa Packet.” You should not open this 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. USCIS will then issue you your green card within 30 days of your entry to the United States.
Our office has helped many people obtain their green card through consular processing. Prior to hiring our office we draft a case plan that lays out the anticipated government processing times and provide you with a list of documents we will need. This allows you to have all required documents before they are requested and gives you the comfort knowing what the future holds.