Apply for Green Card through Consular Processing

Updated on 11/05/2023

If you live abroad, or you have a loved one who lives abroad, you might be wondering how to get a green card to live and work in the United States, when you live so far away from America. The answer is consular processing.

There are U.S. Embassies and Consulates all over the world. Moreover, the internet allows you to complete a great deal of the green card matters online. Although you do need to also correspond with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is located in the USA, you can also finish the most part of green card process by dealing with the National Visa Center (NVC) online.

1. Consular Processing Explained

If an eligible relative or a potential employee is located outside the United States, a U.S. citizen (USC) or lawful permanent resident (LPR) or U.S.-based organization can file an immigrant petition with the USCIS for them from within the United States. Common petitions in these categories include the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers.   Other certain green card petitions can be submitted to the USCIS from outside the United States, generally when a foreigner is self-petitioning a green card.

Regardless of where the initial green card petitions originates, after it is approved by the USCIS for someone who resides outside the United States, consular processing will become necessary for them to finally obtain an immigrant visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate. With an immigrant visa, they can be admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

2. Submit Immigrant Peition to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate

An immigrant petition can only be submitted through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, rather than the USCIS, under limited dire circumstances. Generally, military emergency and medical emergency can be  considered as exceptional situation.

If someone attempts to apply for a green card through an embassy or consulate, and the immigrant petition is denied, they will need to re-file with the USCIS. Once the permanent residency petition is approved, they can finish the green card process through consular processing.

3. National Visa Center (NVC) Processing

After the USCIS approves a green card petition for a foreigner who is living outside the United States, they will transfer the case to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will begin the consular processing by creating a case number for the applicant in their system.

1) Consular Electronic Application Center

After the case is created, the NVC will send a Welcome Letter that invites both the petitioner and the green card applicant (beneficiary) to log on to the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) using their assigned case number. The CEAC will serve as the central place for the petitioner and the beneficiary to complete immigrant visa application, upload documents, check their status, receive messages, and manage the case.

2) Green Card Consular Processing Fees

After receiving the Welcome Letter from the NVC and logging on with the case number, the next step is to pay the processing fees. These include the Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325 or $345 per applicant) and the Affidavit of Support Fee ($120 per case if applicable).

For certain categories of green card applications including F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4, most employment-based applications, NVC will not issue the fee bills for the Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee and the Affidavit of Support Fee until an immigrant visa number is available or close to be available.

3) Completing Affidavit of Support and DS-260

After NVC well receives the payment of processing fees a family-based petitioner may need to submit a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support and the relevant financial documents. Most employment-based applications will not need I-864 form.  

Meanwhile, the green card applicant can complete their DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application, and upload copies of their civil documents, such as their passport biographical page, U.S passport size photo, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, police clearance certificate, military record if applicable.

4) Forwarding the Case to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate

Once the green card process is complete with the National Visa Center, the NVC will forward the case to either a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the home country or the country where the principal applicant has permanent residence. At this time, the applicant should gather the originals of their forms and documents in preparation for their immigrant visa interview held at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Although the NVC compiles all of the applications and copies of the relevant documents, they do not officially process the green card application or determine the applicant’s eligibility to an immigrant visa. This will occur at the immigrant visa interview.

4. Immigrant Visa Interview

After the National Visa Center transfers the case to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, an immigrant visa interview will be scheduled with a visa officer. In most cases, green card applicants will receive the interview notice via email 3-6 weeks in advance. The applicant should prepare for the interview ahead of time.

The interview instructions for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate will differ from each other. The applicant can look up the instructions for the one where they will have the interview. Generally, the applicants should print out and bring their applications, their passport,  their original civil documents and original I-864 form if applicable.

The applicants should also obtain an immigration medical exam report prior to the immigrant visa interview. The immigration medical exam must be conducted by a doctor or hospital authorized by the U.S. embassy in that country. Click here to find the authorized doctor or hospital.

The interview notice about the immigrant visa appointment will indicate which persons are required to be at the interview. The green card sponsor or petitioner does not usually need to attend the visa interview. However, it is recommended to keep them reachable via phone call on the interview date.

The visa officer will be placing the applicants under oath, so the interviewee should be prepared to speak truthfully about their application, their documents, and their plans in the United States.

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5. What Happens after the Immigrant Visa Interview?

You will either find out that you will be granted an immigrant visa (see sample below) on the day of your interview, or soon after. Your passport will be taken away so that an immigrant visa can be printed on the passport. Generally, you will retrieve your passport within 2-4 weeks and a file package (if any, sealed or not sealed, if sealed, do not open it) upon the grant of the immigrant visa.

Immigrant visa
Immigration Visa

After you obtain an immigrant visa, do not forgot to pay an immigrant fee so that a lawful permanent residency card (green card) can be mailed to you after you land on the United States with the immigrant visa.

With the immigrant visa on your passport, you can enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident. It is important to present the immigrant visa and file package to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. The immigrant visa is valid for 6 or 3 months from the issuance date of your medical exam report. You must land on the United States before its expiration. If you fail to do so, you should contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate which issued the immigrant visa for further instruction.

You will be stamped an I-551 as a lawful permanent resident upon entry to the United States. The I-551 stamp on your passport is valid for 1 year so that you can enter and exit the USA during that period without a physical green card at hand.

After entry, the USCIS will then mail the physical green card to the address that is listed on your DS-260 form. You can update the address through USCIS’s online change of address after you pay the immigrant fee. If you also request a Social Security Number (SSN) in your DS-260 form, the SSN will also be mailed to the address that is listed on your DS-260 form. You will then be free to live and work in the U.S., and you can eventually pursue naturalization after 5 years (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen) so that you can become a U.S. citizen if you would like.

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