What is consular processing?

If you are a person outside the U.S. who hopes to immigrate, you may have heard the phrase “consular processing” and wondered what it refers to.

To help you better understand what consular processing is, this post will give you a quick definition of the process and a high-level overview of the five main steps involved.

What is consular processing?

Consular processing is one of two pathways an immigrant can take to receive a green card which will allow them to reside and work within the U.S.

Unlike an adjustment of status, consular processing is used when the immigrant is currently outside the U.S. or will need to leave the U.S. before their application can be pushed through.

In such cases, the immigrant’s application is processed at a State Department consulate or embassy, usually in the immigrant’s home country or country of origin.

There are 5 main steps to consular processing.

1. Determine your eligibility and file your petition

First, an individual must determine their eligibility for a green card. USCIS recognizes eight green card eligibility categories, the most common being through family and employment.

Once eligibility is determined, a separate party must file the proper petition for your category. The most common are Form I-130 for a family petition and Form I-140 for an employment petition.

2. Wait on approval from USCIS and then NVC

Once your petition is submitted, USCIS will either approve or deny it. There is no set time for how long this process will take.

If USCIS approves your petition, they will send it to the NVC (National Visa Center). The NVC collects your application fees and supporting documents required by your application, and will then process the application.

They will then send it to the appropriate embassy to schedule your interview.

3. Attend your immigration interview

After your application is processed by the NVC and a visa is available, you will be contacted by the NVC to attend your interview at the appropriate embassy. During the interview your petition is again reviewed by the consular officer.

You must attend this interview to receive your visa.

4. Your application is approved and visa granted

At the end of your interview, if the consular officer approves your application, they will give you a “Visa Packet,” which you should not open. This packet contains all the documents you will need when you arrive in the U.S.

After leaving the interview, you must pay the USCIS immigrant fee, which USCIS encourages you to pay online. You cannot receive your legal permanent resident card (green card) if you do not pay this fee.

Once you arrive in the U.S. at a port of entry (i.e. airport, boat dock, border post, etc.), give your unopened Visa Packet to the CBP (Custom’s and Border Patrol) officer. The CBP officer will inspect you one last time and determine whether to admit you into the U.S.

Important: Admittance into the U.S. is not guaranteed even if you have an approved Visa Packet.

5. Receive your green card from USCIS

Once you are admitted into the U.S., if your immigrant fee is paid, USCIS will mail your new green card to you. You will now be able to live and work in the U.S.!

Further Reading

The USCIS website is the best source of information for all immigration matters.

For specifics on consular processing, visit the following pages for more information.

USCIS page on consular processing
USCIS page on green card eligibility
USCIS page on the immigrant fee
The Visa Bulletin website
State Department’s page for consulates and embassies around the world
State Department website for the NVC

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Disclaimer: Nothing in relation to the enclosed information should be construed and or considered as legal advice for any individual, entity, case, or situation. The following information is prepared for advertisement use only. The information is intended ONLY to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice on your specific situation, we encourage you to consult an attorney experienced in the area of Immigration Law.