Immigrant Visa Processing at a U.S. Consulate Abroad

Many foreign nationals become lawful permanent residents by applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. This pathway to a green card is called “consular processing” and it requires a personal interview before a consular officer before the applicant can obtain an immigrant visa.

Consular processing is available in both family-based and employment-based immigration cases. Generally, petitioners filing I-130 and I-140 petitions will choose whether visa processing will take place in the United States through what is called adjustment of status, or at a U.S. consulate abroad. If consular processing is chosen, the USCIS will forward the approved I-130 or I-140 petition to the National Visa Center.

Each approved immigrant visa petition will be assigned an NVC case number. The first three letters of the case number designate the U.S. consulate, followed by the year the petition was received by the NVC. The case number applies to the entire family but each family member must submit an individual immigrant visa application and civil documents and pay the required fees.

The NVC then sends a fee bill to the visa applicant or to the attorney of record, if any. For family-based cases, there is a separate fee for the review of the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. Fees may be paid online through electronic fund transfer or by mail with a cashier’s check or money order.

After fees are paid, the NVC will send visa application instructions to the applicant. Documents to be submitted generally include the Form DS-230 Parts I and II, copy of the passport, two passport-style photos, original or certified copy of birth certificate, and an original or certified copy of a police certificate from each country where the applicant resided for 6 months or longer after age 16.

In family-based cases, the applicant must also submit a Form I-864 signed by the sponsor, along with supporting documents such as tax returns, W-2 form and a letter of employment. This requirement ensures that the applicant will not become a public charge. In employment-based cases, the applicant should submit a letter from the petitioning employer confirming the employment.

When all required documents have been submitted, the NVC will schedule the interview and send instructions to the applicant. The instructions will tell the applicant if any documents must be brought to the appointment, which will depend on the type of the application and on the circumstances of the applicant. The notice will also have a list of physicians who may conduct the required physical examination which will screen for relevant medical conditions. After the appointment is scheduled and instructions are sent, the file is transferred from the NVC to the consulate.

Visa applicants must appear personally at the interview. They should be prepared to respond to questions pertaining to their eligibility for the visa, including questions on prior U.S. immigration history and any criminal history. Marriage-based visa applicants should expect to be asked about their marital relationship. Employment-based applicants must be prepared to discuss their work history and answer questions regarding the proposed employment. The types of questions will vary from one applicant to another, especially since consular officers have wide discretion when it comes to questions to be asked.

If the applicant is found to be inadmissible to the U.S. and therefore ineligible for an immigrant visa, he/she may be able to apply for a waiver of the ground/s of inadmissibility. Many visa applicants get denied because of prior unlawful presence, misrepresentation, or criminal convictions.

If the visa application is approved, the consular officer issues the visa and stamps the applicant’s passport. The visa will be valid for travel to the U.S. within 6 months of issuance. The applicant will also be given a sealed envelope which he/she must give the officer at the port of entry. Finally, the new immigrant’s green card will be produced by the USCIS and mailed to the address provided in the visa application.