When the foreign spouse, parent, employee, or other applicants do not live in the U.S. or have had issue(s) that prevented them from being able to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident or change to a different nonimmigrant category in the U.S., they have to appear before a consular officer at a U.S. embassy or consulate, usually in their home country or the country of their current lawful residence, before obtaining a visa or green card.
The consular process typically begins with the submission of a petition or application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the petition is approved, it is forwarded to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing or directly to the embassy abroad. For some cases (mostly for nonimmigrant workers), you need to proactively apply for a visa with the U.S. consular post after approval by USCIS.
Soon after USCIS approves the case, you will be notified to begin consular processing if this is a U.S. citizen spouse, minor child, or parent case. If this is a marriage case filed by the green card holder petitioner, employment-based, or family preference category case (like a sister or brother case), the NVC will begin the process once the case’s priority date is close to becoming current on the Visa Bulletin.
NVC usually sends the consular processing notification by email (it is called the “Welcome Letter”). It will include case login information where you can submit the fees (for family cases the current fees are $445 total for each applicant, for employment cases the fee is $345 for each), civil and financial documents, and complete Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application.
For cases where the NVC is involved, it plays a crucial role in the consular process by collecting and reviewing the required documents, fees, and supporting evidence. This may include financial documents (such as an affidavit of support, tax returns, evidence of domicile), civil documents (such as birth certificates and marriage certificates), police clearances, and military records, depending on the specific immigration category.
Most cases are now done by uploading documents online, as opposed to having documents mailed to the NVC. Some follow-to-join employment cases require documents to be provided by mail to the NVC or submitted directly to the embassy. For I-730 cases (families of asylees and refugees), all the documents will be submitted directly to the U.S. embassy or consulate.
Once the NVC determines that the applicant’s documents are complete and meet the necessary requirements, they will “documentarily complete” the case and put it in line for the visa interview with the particular U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The timeline of the visa interview after the case was documentarily completed with the NVC depends on the case category (generally, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens cases have the highest priority), the Visa Bulletin priority date (for employment and family preference categories), and how busy the U.S. consular post is.
If the NVC finds that the documents are incorrect or insufficient, they will notify the applicant. Oftentimes, the NVC does not provide specific information on what exactly is lacking, and the applicants have to figure it out on their own.
The NVC will coordinate with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of residence to schedule an interview. The interview is conducted by a consular officer who assesses the applicant’s eligibility and admissibility.
During the interview, the consular officer may ask questions to verify the information provided, review the applicant’s documents, and make a decision on whether to approve the visa or green card application. If approved, the applicant will receive their visa and, in some cases, a packet containing instructions on how to enter the United States and obtain their green card.
As you see, the consular process can vary depending on the specific immigration category. The policies of the U.S. embassy or consulate affect it as well. Additionally, certain applicants may be subject to additional security clearances or background checks, which can lengthen the overall processing time. This often refers to as the “administrative processing.”
Navigating the consular processing can be complex and overwhelming, which is why seeking the guidance of an experienced immigration attorney is crucial. The attorney can help ensure that all required documents are prepared accurately, thus saving time on resubmissions, provide guidance on the interview process, and assist with any challenges that may arise along the way.
If you need help with your consular processing case, contact us today! Our team of experienced immigration attorneys is here to guide you every step of the way, provide personalized attention and develop a customized strategy to achieve the best possible outcome for your particular case.