A Guide to Consular Processing
Consular processing can be a stressful and complicated process. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney for more information.
What Is Consular Processing?
For individuals from diverse backgrounds, relocating to the United States is a lifelong aspiration. Assistance from family members who have already established themselves in the country or obtaining employment that qualifies them for employment-based green cards has made this dream a reality for many.
Suppose you desire to relocate permanently to the U.S. from your home country and are eligible to become a lawful permanent resident. In that case, you’re well on reaching your immigration goals. But you’ll need to apply to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country and obtain permission to enter the U.S. legally. This phase of the immigration process is known as consular processing.
Understandably, the concept of consular processing might be unfamiliar to you. The information provided here can help you change that and make the immigration process easier. So, keep reading to learn more about how consular processing works and how immigration attorneys can help you through this phase of the immigration process.
How Does Consular Processing Work?
Consular processing is the final stage of obtaining an immigrant visa. All applicants must have a valid passport and submit various required documents to the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.
Once the consular office approves the application, the foreign national is issued an immigrant visa. After this, they can enter the U.S. and adjust their status to that of a permanent resident.
It’s important to note that the approval of your immigrant visa does not guarantee admission into the U.S. When you arrive at a port of entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will review your documents and decide whether you can enter the country.
Consular processing is a complex process that requires you to complete various steps with accuracy and attention to detail. You must provide proof of an approved petition, evidence that you’re eligible for immigration, and have your fingerprints taken.
Below is a brief overview of the steps involved in consular processing.
Before You Begin Consular Processing
You need to fulfill several conditions before you begin consular processing. They include the following:
Determine Your Green Card Eligibility
Since obtaining a green card is the goal of consular processing, only those who belong to any of the green card eligibility categories can go through this procedure.
You are eligible for a green card if:
- You are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives here include spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, or parents of an adult U.S. citizen.
- You belong to any of the family-based preference categories.
- You are the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen.
- You belong to any of the employment-based preference categories.
- You qualify as a special immigrant.
- You have been granted refugee or asylum status.
- You qualify based on any other humanitarian grounds.
If you’re unsure of your eligibility, you can contact a skilled immigration attorney to assess your case and help determine your qualification.
File Your Immigrant Petition
Once you have determined your eligibility for a green card, you’ll need to file your immigrant petition or have one filed on your behalf, depending on your eligibility category.
If your green card eligibility is family or employment-based, your sponsoring family member in the U.S. or employer would need to file the immigrant petition on your behalf. This is done by completing and filing USCIS forms I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, respectively.
In other circumstances, such as where you’re the widow or widower of a deceased U.S. citizen, you can file your immigrant petition yourself.
The Procedure for Consular Processing
Once your immigrant visa petition has been approved, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will forward the approved immigrant petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) for pre-processing. The department will notify you when this happens.
The NVC will hold your application until the immigrant visa number is available in your immigration category and will notify you once that happens. When you receive the notification, you’ll need to pay the immigrant visa processing fees (fee bills) and submit the required documents, such as the affidavit of support and financial statements from your sponsor (if your immigration is family based).
You’ll also need to complete the online application for your immigrant visa by filing Form DS-260. Remember to print out the confirmation page for this form after submitting it online. You’ll need it for later.
Once you have paid the necessary fees and submitted the required documents, the NVC will notify you and work with the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country or near you to schedule you for an interview.
Preparing for the Consular Interview
Once you are notified of your scheduled interview, you will need to take the following essential steps before the interview date:
- Carefully review your scheduling information and the location of your immigrant visa interview
- Prepare all the required documents
- Ensure that all documents are valid and certified
- Review the U.S. embassy or consulate interview instructions
- Schedule and complete a medical examination along with the mandatory vaccinations
- Arrive at the interview appointment at least 15 minutes before the time of the interview.
The government uses the interview as an opportunity to verify the contents of your application, confirm your financial records, and check your health status. If you’re applying based on marriage, the consular officers will also ask personal questions to determine whether your marriage is genuine.
Your sponsor does not need to attend the consular interview. Still, attendance is mandatory for you and your dependents unless they intend to travel at a later date.
Documents You Need for Your Interview
The specific documents you require for your interview vary depending on your green card category but generally include the following:
- A copy of the immigration petition (as filed)
- A printed copy of your appointment letter
- Birth certificate
- Form DS 260 confirmation page
- Divorce decree (if applicable)
- Document showing work experience (if applicable)
- Marriage certificates (if applicable)
- Medical examination
- Military records (if applicable)
- Police certificates from every country where you’ve lived for up to a year since you were 16.
- Two identical photographs (that meet immigration photograph guidelines)
- University certificates (if necessary)
- Valid passport
If you fail to provide the necessary documents, your application may be delayed or denied. To avoid such issues, you can contact a skilled immigration lawyer to help clarify the requirements so you don’t miss anything.
At the Consular Interview
At the interview, you will be asked to answer questions from the consular officer concerning your application documents and other matters. You should answer the questions truthfully and honestly.
If the consular officer finds your documents and answers satisfactory, they’ll inform you that you’ve been approved. Your visa will then be printed and attached to your passport. Once you receive the visa, you can travel to the U.S.
If the consular officer has doubts or concerns about your application, they may ask for additional documents or refer your case to their supervisors.
The consular officer may also deny your application if they find out you’re inadmissible or ineligible for visa issuance. Reasons for inadmissibility include fraudulent behavior, health-related issues, a criminal record, and more.
If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision or reapply if you’ve addressed all the grounds for inadmissibility. It’s a good idea to contact an immigration attorney to help you understand the reasons for the denial and advise on your next steps.
The Aftermath of Consular Processing
Upon receiving your immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you an information packet called the “Visa Packet,” which must not be opened.
When you arrive in the United States, you must present the Visa Packet to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who will inspect you. Once you have been found admissible, you will become a permanent resident of the United States.
A CBP officer will likely stamp your passport with an “I-551 stamp”. You can use this temporary stamp as a green card while you wait for your actual green card to arrive. In most cases, the USCIS sends the green card within 45 days of your arrival in the country.
If your application is denied, the consular officer will let you know the reason for the denial and inform you if there are steps you could take to rectify the situation. You can also contact an experienced immigration lawyer for help and possible solutions if you’ve received a visa denial.
How Do I Process My Green Card if I am Already in the U.S.?
If you are already in the United States via a temporary or non-immigrant visa, you do not need to go through consular processing. You can process your green card without returning to your home country through a procedure known as adjustment of status.
The USCIS handles this procedure and allows you to change your immigration status and receive your green card once you fulfill the requirements.
Get Help With Consular Processing at The Law Offices of Christopher Chaney
If you need further information on the requirements for consular processing or whether you’re eligible for the procedure, you can contact the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney for help. With our experience with U.S. immigration law, we can guide you through the process.
Our Los Angeles immigration lawyer can offer personalized legal advice and help you find alternative immigration pathways (where possible) if consular processing fails. Reach out to us as soon as possible to get started.