Consular Processing

Consular processing is one of the pathways to permanent resident status (obtaining a green card). Usually, an individual who entered the United States without permission but has an approved immigrant petition and an immigrant visa number immediately available, must apply at a U.S. Department of State consulate or Embassy abroad for an immigrant visa in order to return to the United States and be admitted as a lawful permanent resident.

The first step in consular processing is to figure out which immigrant category you fit into. There are many different ways to attain permanent residence status, including through family, a job or refugee or asylee status. Once you determine which category applies to your situation, an immigrant petition needs to be filed on your behalf. For example, if you are seeking a green card through family, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative must file a Petition for Alien Relative for you. If you have a job lined up, the U.S. employer files a Petition for Alien Worker for you. Each immigration category has its own forms and requirements. If the petition is denied, reasons will be given in the notice along with any information about rights to appeal the decision.

If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves the petition, it is sent to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where it waits for an immigrant visa number. The NVC is responsible for collecting visa application fees and supporting documentation; they will notify you and the petitioner when your approved petition is received, and again when an immigrant visa number is about to become available. It is important to notify the NVC if there is a change in your personal situation, such as a change of address or marital status.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets the number of immigrant visas that may be issued each year. In certain categories, the demand is higher than the supply of visas, and there is a waiting list. The length of your wait for a visa depends on this demand and supply, as well as limitations on how many visas per country and category. Immigrant visas available to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (parents, spouses and unmarried children of U.S. citizens) are unlimited, so these are always available.

If the applicant will be subject to the unlawful presence grounds of inadmissibility, he or she must file a waiver. If the waiver is filed before leaving the United States it is called a Provisional Waiver, and it will take effect upon the applicant's departure from the United States. The waiver may also be filed after leaving the United States and attending the immigrant visa interview at the U.S. consulate or Embassy.

Once a visa is available, and the provisional waiver has been approved if filed within the United States, the consular office will schedule an interview for the applicant and complete processing of the case. If the consular officer decides that you are eligible for an immigrant visa, you are given a packet of information called a “Visa Packet.” You should not open this packet. Instead, you give the Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Protection officer upon your arrival to the United States. If you are found admissible after inspection by the officer, you will be admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the United States and your green card will be mailed to you.

If you are considering consular processing as a pathway to permanent resident status (a green card), you should discuss your situation with an experienced immigration attorney. Contact our office today for a consultation regarding consular processing or any other immigration matter.

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