Consular Processing Overview
Consular processing refers to the process by which one acquires legal status in the United States through an immigrant visa petition handled by your local embassy or consulate overseas. The eligibility requirements are the same as for those who apply from within the United States. However, timing, forms and fees differ significantly. You will remain in your home country until the last step, an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This article will generally describe the process and explain the steps and supporting evidence.
Determine the Family Relationship and Process you are Eligible For
It is generally the case that applicants who are residing overseas must consular process. This allows you to remain in your home country, maintain your work and home life and prepare for ultimately immigrating to the United States.
Most applicants obtain a green card through a family relationship. One must submit the required forms, fees and relevant evidence to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to start the process. USCIS currently charges a filing fee of $535 for Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, the first form.
Although one can also obtain lawful permanent residency through employment, certain special categories, or certain humanitarian options, this article will focus on family-based green card applications.
Petition Approval and Next Steps
Once this petition has been approved and a visa is available for you, your application will be forwarded to the Department of State’s National Visa Center. The National Visa Center (NVC) handles green card applications for applicants who reside outside the United States. Please note that approval at this point means that you have submitted the correct forms and fee, as well as proved the family relationship with the relevant biographic documents.
Due to annual quotas, one might wait several months at this point before receiving notice that an immigrant visa is available. There are certain countries that have a greater number of applicants to the United States than we have visas. Also, immigrant visas are not always immediately available in certain categories of applications and you may be placed on a waiting list.
The NVC will let you know when a visa is available. They will request submission of Form DS-260, certain evidence regarding finances and immigrant visa processing fees. The fees are broken down into an Affidavit of Support fee ($120) and Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325).
The Work Permit Application Process
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, is the relevant form to apply for a work permit. As of this writing, the fee is currently $410 but may be waived in certain categories or by filing simultaneously with particular applications. Filing Form I-765 with an I-485 Adjustment of Status application would be one example where the filing fee would be waived.
You must determine the category under which you are applying to completely fill out this form. Again, this is a reference to the category you are filing under (i.e fiancée, DACA, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), or Asylee).
As part of the work permit application, you should plan on including all required supporting documentation upon filing. Since the work permit application is commonly submitted with an accompanying application, evidence showing that the other pending application is relevant.
After receipt of your application, fees and supporting documentation, you will receive a receipt notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Soon after, you will receive a biometrics appointment scheduling you to be fingerprinted. This is required in order to do background and security checks on your behalf. It is possible that you will be asked to appear for an interview, but not likely.
Finally, the work permit will arrive by mail at the address you indicated on Form I-765. It will have your photograph and biographic information. Please check it for accuracy in a timely manner. If there are errors that are not your fault, the work permit must be promptly returned and the errors explained. You will not be required to pay a new fee if the error is the fault of USCIS. A corrected Employment Authorization Document, or work permit, will arrive by mail.
The National Visa Center will then forward your application and supporting documentation to the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate that handles immigrant visas in your home country. You will receive notice of a date and time for your Embassy appointment. This embassy appointment may require travel to another city in your country.
You will be required to have a medical exam between two and three days prior to this appointment. The doctor must be one authorized by the Embassy to provide this service for immigration purposes. You will be asked to pay for this exam in the moment. Fees are variable, depending on doctor and the country’s healthcare system.
The interviewing officer will have your complete file and medical exam in his possession at the time of your interview. You will be responsible for bringing your valid passport and original biographic documentation, such as your birth or marriage certificates.
The consular officer will make the decision as to whether your application is approved and whether a visa to enter the United States will be granted. It is possible that you will not be told of the officer’s decision at the time of the interview. You will likely be asked to submit your passport at this time.
If approved, you will receive a sealed envelope (the “visa packet”) containing your valid passport with a visa authorizing entry to the United States. This will arrive approximately one week after the interview. This visa will be valid for six months and is the period in which you are authorized to enter the United States. It is important to not open the visa packet prior to presenting yourself at the border. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official will open it at an official port of entry and decide whether to admit you as a lawful permanent resident.
After entry to the United States, you will have to pay a U.S. immigrant fee ($220), which serves to generate issuance of the actual green card. It will be mailed to the United States address you provided at the time of your interview at the foreign embassy. If you do not pay this fee, you will not receive your green card.
The timing of a consular processing case can vary, particularly in light of different country conditions, staffing, wait lists and other current events. Currently, COVID-19 is one hurdle that has delayed many applications in the recent past. After petition approval and issuance of a visa number, consular processing may take about six months.
Consular processing is the method by which an immigrant visa applicant residing overseas can acquire their green card status through either a family-based, employment-based or some other specific application process. It requires the applicant to remain in their home country while submitting forms, fees and supporting evidence and until an interview is authorized at a local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Determining eligibility is an important first step and is best done with assistance from an experienced immigration attorney. We would be happy to help in this regard.
Please note this article is intended as an overview and does not attempt to discuss all possible variations in circumstances, possibilities for immigration or other unique considerations. In addition, all government filing fees referenced herein are subject to change.
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