Consular Processing

The immigration lawyers at the Murphy Law Firm can assist in bringing foreign nationals to the United States through Consular Processing, which is a primary way a foreign national may obtain permanent resident status (a green card) for either family based or employments based applicants.

“Consular Processing” is the process where an individual who is the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition and has an immigrant visa number immediately available, applies at a U.S. Department of State Embassy or Consulate abroad for an immigrant visa in order to come to the United States and be admitted as a permanent resident.

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.

2. An Immigrant Petition is Filed on Your Behalf

The next step in consular processing involves filing a petition on your behalf. Family-based categories require that a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for you. Employment based categories most often require the intending U.S. employer to file a Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, for you.

Although immigrant petitions are filed with USCIS, 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. The Immigrant Petition is Approved

USCIS notifies the petitioner of a 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. Notification from the National Visa Center

The National Visa Center (NVC) is responsible for the collection of visa application fees and supporting documentation. The NVC will notify the petitioner and the beneficiary when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is about to become available. The NVC will also alert the petitioner and beneficiary when it is time for them to submit immigrant visa processing fees (commonly referred to as “fee bills”) and supporting documentation.

You do not need to contact the National Visa Center about your petition, they will contact you for the information they need.  You should, however, contact the NVC if there is a change in your personal situation or if you change your address. It is important to notify the NVC if you reach the age of 21 for a child or have a change in your marital status, as this may affect your eligibility or visa availability. Before you contact the NVC, it is important to consult with an immigration attorney to know all your options.

5. Schedule Your Consular Appointment, Fill out Forms and Pay Fees

Once a visa is available or a beneficiary’s priority date is current (the beneficiary’s petition has reached the top of the waiting list as discussed in the employment-based immigration section), the Consulate will schedule the applicant for an interview. Most interviews can be schedule via phone or online. The availability of appointments depends on the time of year and how many people are under the Consulate’s jurisdiction. For example, holidays and summers are very busy times for Consulates, and appointments may not be available for several weeks at these times. In addition, Consulates in popular destinations, like London, often have longer waits than consulates in less-popular destinations.

Once the appointment is scheduled, every member included in the petition will have to fill out a DS-160 Form electronically and pay the visa processing fees at a location required by the U.S. Consulate. Proof of filing the DS-160 and proof of payment must be brought to the interview, along with all other required documents, such as police clearance certificates, medical examinations, original birth certificates and marriage documents, and your passport.

At the interview, the consular officer will complete processing of the applicant’s case and decide if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa. The consular officer still has the discretion to deny the issuance of the visa, so it is important to be courteous to the officer, to answer all the questions, and to bring all the necessary documents requested with you to the interview.

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. Being a legal permanent resident gives you the authority to live and work in the United States permanently.

7. Receive Your Green Card

Once you enter the U.S., your green card will be mailed to you.  This can take anywhere from three to 8 weeks or longer to arrive, but if you have not received your permanent resident card after six weeks in the U.S., contact an immigration attorney to contact USCIS on your behalf to determine the status of your card.

Other Information

In order to obtain a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, a similar process is undertaken. A visa petition is typically filed with USCIS in the United States on your behalf. Upon successful adjudication of that petition, USCIS will send the Approval Notice to the foreign address you designated on the visa application form. Upon receipt of the Approval Notice, you can schedule your appointment with the Consulate. You will have to fill out the DS-160 forms, pay the visa processing fees, and bring proof of these to your appointment, along with other required documents. If you, or your U.S. employer or family member, are working with an immigration attorney, they will forward a packet of supporting documents that were used to apply for your visa. You should bring all of this information and originals of any documents, such as passports and birth certificates with you to your appointment. If you are not working with an immigration attorney, it is important to check the Consulate website to see what documents you are required to bring with you to the appointment, so that visa processing is not delayed.