Green Card Process – Consular Processing

What is Consular Processing?

This is the final step in the green card process. Consular Processing requires an individual to apply to receive an immigrant visa (green card) from a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in his/her home country or country of last permanent residence.

What are the requirements?

The individual must be immediately eligible to receive a green card which means that the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin must be consulted. The Visa Bulletin is released monthly and controls immigrant visa availability for family-based, employment-based and diversity lottery categories. A link to the Visa Bulletin is available at www.larrabee.com/links.aspx. For further discussion on this topic, please refer to the Green Card Quota Backlog FAQ. The individual must have an approved Immigrant Petition that is designated for Consular Processing at a specific U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. In addition to the above, the individual must be admissible to the U.S. or, if there is an admissibility issue, be eligible to apply a waiver.

Is my case hopeless if my background is not pristine?

Not necessarily. It is essential that an individual seeking to immigrate to the U.S. fully disclose their background to their legal counsel. Depending on the issue, it may be possible to seek a waiver from the immigration authorities. Each individual’s situation is different and only after reviewing all of the facts of an individual’s case is it possible to determine how to proceed.

What are the advantages of pursuing Consular Processing?

If dependents (spouse and children) reside outside of the U.S., it is often advantageous for the entire family to process their immigrant visa applications together at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate abroad. Otherwise, the family must wait for the primary applicant to receive approval of an Adjustment of Status application (receive the green card) before they can be granted their immigrant visas. This can result in significant delays for the dependents to join the primary applicant in the U.S.

What are the disadvantages of pursuing Consular Processing?

The potential disadvantages include: 1) Required to travel to one’s home country on short notice in order to complete an interview at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate; 2) Need for police clearances from each country lived in for six months or more since turning 16 years of age (for a limited number of countries this is waived); 3) Completion of a medical exam in the home country and potential delays encountered in waiting for those results to be transmitted to the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate; 4) No right to legal counsel at the interview at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate and limited opportunity to challenge a denial; 5) Applicants cannot secure an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or an Advance Parole (AP) document while waiting in the U.S. to complete the green card process; and Applicants cannot benefit from AC-21 portability in the event his or her position, job location or employer changes.

What about my family?

Dependents, defined as a spouse and children under the age of 21, may immigrate to the U.S. along with the principal applicant.

Can I continue to travel internationally?

International travel to and from the U.S. may be possible. However, this answer to this question depends upon a variety of factors and consultation with an attorney prior to any international travel to and from the U.S. will be required.

How do I file an Immigrant Petition to request that the remainder of the green card case be completed through Consular Processing?

When the petitioner (e.g., a family member or employer) files an Immigrant Petition on behalf of an individual, the petitioner designates whether that individual will complete the green card process through an Adjustment of Status application or through Consular Processing. If Consular Processing is designated, the USCIS will send the approved Immigrant Petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in New Hampshire. The National Visa Center will open a Consular Processing case and begin the process. Please note that if the individual is the U.S., he or she may always opt to seek Adjustment of Status if they meet the requirements of that filing.

What if my Immigrant Petition did not indicate that I wanted to pursue Consular Processing?

An application must be filed with the USCIS to request that the approved Immigrant Petition be sent to the National Visa Center to begin the Consular Processing of the immigrant visa. Processing times for the application vary depending on the current workload of the USCIS but it is likely that it will take several months for this application to be approved.

How long does it take to complete Consular Processing?

This process varies depending on the workload at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. Some cases can be completed in as little as 4 months while others can take as long as 12 months (or longer) to complete. Please keep in mind that an immigrant visa number must be immediately available throughout this process.

How do I pay the immigrant visa processing fees to National Visa Center?

Individuals have the choice between submitting payment online via the Consular Electronic Application Center’s (CEAC) Immigrant Visa Invoice Payment Center or by mail. In order to pay online a checking or savings account held at a United States financial institution is required. If paying by mail, a cashier’s check or money order drawn on a U.S. financial institution and made payable to “Department of State” is required.

What can I expect to happen after I pay the immigrant visa processing fees?

After the immigrant visa processing fees are submitted, our firm will prepare the immigrant visa applications for the applicant and any accompanying family members. Our firm will provide guidance on the supporting documentation that will be required of each applicant. Once all of the required documentation is received, our firm will file the immigrant visa application and supporting documentation with the National Visa Center. The National Visa Center will then complete all necessary pre-processing of the applications and any additional information or documentation required for the cases will be requested at that time.

Will the National Visa Center conduct background checks?

Yes, after the immigrant visa application and supporting documentation is filed with the National Visa Center, it begins the necessary steps to complete background checks from various government agencies. The purpose is to ensure that there is no record of any criminal, immoral, or subversive conduct, and that no prior immigration-related violations have occurred. These checks are handled by various government agencies and it is difficult to predict how long the background checks will take to complete.

How will I know when my interview appointment will be scheduled with the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate?

The National Visa Center will send an appointment letter to all interested parties notifying them of the date, time, and location of the interview. Notices are generally received approximately one month prior to the interview date. When we receive notice of the interview date, our firm will prepare the materials the applicant will need to take to the interview at the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate abroad. Our firm will also provide guidance to the applicant(s) on scheduling and completing the required medical exam abroad by an authorized physician prior to the scheduled interview appointment.

Can I request a specific interview date at the consulate?

While we can note requests for interviews during certain time frames, most U.S. Embassies and U.S. Consulates cannot accommodate such requests. Please note that it is very difficult to re-schedule an interview date at a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. Furthermore, requesting re-scheduling may significantly delay your case. Barring a true emergency, it is best to take the initial interview date given to you by the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.

Must my minor children attend the interview?

Generally, each member of the family applying for an immigrant visa must attend the interview. The appearance of children under 14 may be waived, but the Consular Officer must grant permission prior to the interview.

When my case is approved, what happens next?

Upon approval, the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate will provide an immigrant visa package and an immigrant visa stamp in the applicant’s passport. The applicant must then enter the United States within 6 months. Upon entry to the U.S., the applicant will be admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. The officer at the port of entry (land border or airport) will place a stamp in the applicant’s passport which is valid for travel and employment in the U.S. The USCIS will then order the issuance of the green card which will be sent to the U.S. residential address of the applicant within approximately 3 – 4 weeks.

What happens if my case cannot be approved?

If there is a missing document, the Consular Officer will not deny the case; rather, he or she will ask that the document be obtained and the applicant will return to the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate at a later date to complete the processing of the case. However, if the case is denied, it is very important that the applicant reach out to his/her attorney for guidance on how to proceed. The U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate should issue a formal denial citing the basis for the decision. Only after review of this document, can guidance be provided on the next steps in the case.