Consular processing is the immigration process of becoming a lawful permanent resident from outside the United States. This article explains the part of the process that takes place after the I-130 family-based petition has already been filed and approved, including:
- Submitting the visa application and documents to the National Visa Center;
- Preparing for the visa interview abroad (biometrics and medical exam);
- The visa interview; and
- What happens after the interview.
Not yet filed the I-130 application? Watch this video to learn about the family-based petition.
WARNING! Leaving the US Can Have Serious Consequences
If you are applying for a visa through consular processing because you entered the country illegally, there are serious consequences if you travel abroad. Once you leave the United States you will likely trigger a 10-year bar on reentry, meaning you will be unable to return to the U.S. for at least 10 years. The bar is standard for people who entered the U.S. without inspection and lived here without legal status for more than 1 year. For people who have been undocumented for more than 6 months but less than 1 year there is a 3 year bar. I strongly suggest that you speak with an immigration attorney before travelling abroad to avoid this penalty.
An attorney can not only help you determine if you have or will trigger a bar from reentry, but can also help you file for a Waiver of Inadmissibility. Waivers are complex and hard to win. This is a request to waive the wrongdoing of an undocumented entry and presence. If approved, you will take the waiver to your visa interview abroad.
Consular Processing Step by Step
After the I-130 petition has been approved, you will follow the steps outlined below to complete the visa process and receive your US green card.
Step 1: Submit Documents and Visa Application to the National Visa Center (NVC)
The National Visa Center is the middleman between you and the embassy that will ultimately decide your case. The NVC checks your visa application to make sure everything is in order, then submits it to the embassy.
Once your I-130 petition is approved, you will receive an email notification or letter from the NVC. It will include a case number and an invoice ID number which will allow you to login to the visa application portal and begin the DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application. Note that while most countries accept the online application, there are some countries that still require a paper application.
You will complete the DS-260 application, submit fees, and submit documents. In some cases, the documents will need to be mailed. Do NOT mail any original documents; only send copies. Bring originals with you to the visa interview.
You will also be required to submit an Affidavit of Support, which will be completed by your I-130 petitioner. This document promises that there is a U.S. permanent resident or citizen who is able to financially provide for you in a time of need. The sponsor will have to make a minimum yearly income. If their income doesn’t qualify, you can request another person to sponsor you (a “joint sponsor”), who will complete a separate affidavit.
Step 2: Preparing for the visa interview abroad (biometrics and medical exam)
When planning your travel, make sure that you leave enough time to complete your biometrics appointment and medical exam before you interview. Generally, it’s a good idea to plan to spend a few weeks abroad.
Before the interview, you're going to have your fingerprints taken (biometrics) and have a medical exam. The embassy that is handling your case will inform you of acceptable places to have this done. The fingerprinting office and the administering physician must be approved by the embassy or the results will not qualify.
Step 3: The Visa Interview
At the interview, the officer will review your documents and ask you questions regarding your application. You are required to bring the following documents to the interview:
- Appointment Letter – The interview appointment letter you received from the NVC
- Passport – For each applicant, an unexpired passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States
- Photographs – Two identical color photographs for each applicant, which must meet the general Photograph Requirements
- Medical Exam Results – If the panel physician gave you sealed envelopes containing each applicant’s medical examination results, please bring those unopened envelopes. Some physicians send the medical examination results directly to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- Original and Supporting Documents – Original documents (or certified copies) and a photocopy of each document (with the exception of your passport and photographs) are required for you and each family member applying for a visa. The NVC will forward your application and any other documents you sent to the NVC to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate prior to your interview.
Step 4: Return to the US and Receive Your Visa
If your interview goes well and you are approved for a visa, you will receive a sealed visa packet. Do not open it! It is for the U.S. Customs officer who inspects you upon your return to the United States.
Once you return to the U.S., the information in the packet will be reviewed and, finally, it's when the officer approves and stamps your passport that you are officially a lawful permanent resident.
Immigration Help: Consular Processing
If you have any questions about your immigrant visa application , I'd be happy to help. I’m a dedicated and passionate immigration attorney, fluent in English and Spanish, located in the Los Angeles area. Call (310) 803-3040 or visit https://abaudlegal.com/appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
I also suggest that you download my FREE ebook that explains different routes of immigration. Note that this ebook is not an alternative to seeking legal advice, but simply a resource to help you understand what immigration options are available to you.
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