If you are a foreign national married to a U.S. citizen who wants to have lawful permanent residence in the U.S. but currently lives outside of the country, you must apply through consular processing for a Green Card.
Consular Processing for Green Card means that the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence will process your application rather than the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Below we discuss the most frequently asked questions about obtaining a green card through marriage-based consular processing. Please be advised, if you got married within the United States with a US citizen, then you don’t need to go back to your country of origin, follow this other process instead.
Who is eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card through consular processing?
You are generally eligible to apply for a green card through consular processing if you live outside the U.S. and are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
How do I begin the process?
Consular Processing for Green Card process begins with your spouse. Acting as your sponsor, your spouse (the “petitioner”) must submit a Form I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative) with USCIS. The purpose of Form I-130 is to demonstrate the existence of a valid marriage that would then entitle you to apply for a green card. If the USCIS approves the petition, you are officially eligible to apply.
Once the application is complete, the USCIS typically notifies the petitioner of their decision with 7 to 10 months. If the application is not complete, the agency will request more information or documents through a Request for Evidence (RFE). Usually, they will send an RFE within 2-3 months after the petitioner has submitted the application.
What happens after the USCIS approves the Form I-130 petition?
If the USCIS accepts the Form I-130 petition, they will send the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC), a State Department agency. The NVC will assign you an immigrant visa case number and invite you to apply for a green card.
If the USCIS denies the Form I-130 petition, they will explain the denial and inform the petitioner whether an appeal is possible.
How do I apply for the green card?
The first step is to submit your immigrant visa processing fee and complete and submit Form DS-261, in which you provide the address you will use throughout the process. Once the NVC has processed these, you must complete and submit Form DS-260 (immigrant visa application), and all supporting documents. The U.S. citizen spouse must also complete Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support, in which they vow to financially support their spouse if they do not have the means to support themselves.
Once the NVC has received all the necessary forms and documents, they will wait for the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence to give them interview appointment availability and will then schedule you for an interview.
What should I expect at the green-card interview?
The foreign spouse attends the interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate without the sponsoring spouse. You will need to bring your passport and any requested documentation. During the interview, the consular officer will ask you questions about your application and marriage to ensure that the marriage is not fraudulent and that you are properly eligible for a green card.
What happens after the interview?
The consular office may grant your application immediately. But they might take another week or so to issue the decision or request more information and verifications.
If I am approved, when can I enter the U.S.?
If the consular officer approves your application, they will give you a visa packet that will allow you to travel to the U.S. You must not open the visa packet, and you must travel to the U.S. within six months. Upon arrival in the U.S., you must present the visa packet to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who will examine the packet and decide whether to allow you to enter. If they grant you entry, you will enter as a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
When do I receive the green card?
If you have paid your USCIS immigrant fee, you will usually receive your green card within 45 days after arriving in the U.S.
How long does the entire process take?
It generally takes between 12 and 18 months to receive a marriage-based green card through consular processing, assuming you have not run into unexpected delays or have missing documents. Due to COVID-19, most consulates have not been processing visas for over a year, so there are additional and significant delays.
What happens if the consular office denies my application?
The consulate will explain the reason behind the denial. Often, the denial is due to an incomplete application. You will have one year to correct the application and reverse the denial. Having a knowledgeable immigration attorney to assist you with this process is essential.
If you have any further questions or need advice from our professional team, please don’t hesitate to reach us here.