Consular processing is a path to the green card used by foreign nationals when they file their green card applications from outside the U.S. So, in limited circumstances, the immigrant petitioners can use direct consular filing.

What is Direct Consular Filing?

A direct consular filing is when sponsoring spouse (U.S. citizen of green card holder) files Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative outside the U.S. The form I-130 has to be filed with a U.S. Department of State or U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Usually, the processing time of applications filed using direct consular filing is much shorter than for those petitioners who file green card applications with a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lockbox facility from within the U.S.

Also, by using direct consular filing and applying while you are outside the United States you can avoid paying fees to the National Visa Center (NVC).

However, direct consular filing has its restrictions, and to find out more you can contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country.

But, here are two main:

  • Not everyone can use it;
  • U.S. citizens can only sponsor immediate relatives (spouse, unmarried child) who are outside the U.S.

Who Can Use The Direct Consular Processing To Get The An Immigrant Visa?

Direct consular processing can be used only by sponsoring U.S. citizens or green card holders who temporarily live outside the United States and meet other requirements.

Remember, the direct consular processing won’t speed up handling other visa paperwork.

You still need to file and wait for the approval of your DS-260, the online immigrant visa application, and I-864 Form, the financial support form.

Requirements For Direct consular filing

Direct consular filing is only available if petitioners meet other requirements while married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and seeking a green card.

  1. The U.S. citizen spouse or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) currently resides outside the U.S. or has been outside the country for an extended period.
  2. The sponsoring spouse can deomonstrate that he or she is temporarily in a foreign country.
  3. The sponsoring spouse considers a permanent home in the U.S., or there is a plan to be in the U.S.
  4. The foreign or sponsoring spouse has exceptional circumstances (This requirement does not apply if there is an USCIS office in the country where the sponsor currently lives.

Exceptional circumstance

To establish exceptional circumstances, one of the listed cases should apply:

  • A military deployment – if the military service members stationed abroad received far less notice than usual.
  • An imminent threat to personal safety– the sponsoring spouse or the spouse seeking a green card has reasonable fears about their security.
  • An urgent medical emergency– the U.S. citizen spouse or the spouse seeking to adjust status require urgent travel due to emergency assistance or medical emergencies.
  • A change of the employer or the job position within the same employer of a sponsoring spouse who is a U.S. citizen living outside the United States and whose work or offered position requires position relocation to the U.S. on short notice.
  • Close to aging out: When the foreign national is within a few months of aging out of eligibility.
  • The green card applicants have recently naturalized: the foreign spouse and family have traveled for the visa interview with consular officers, but the petitioner has naturalized. In this case, the family member requires a new, stand-alone petition.
  • Adoption of a child abroad: If the petitioner has adopted a child but needs to depart the country. Two more requirements need to be met: the child has been in the applicant’s legal custody for at least two years, and the visa seeker has a final adoption decree on behalf of the child.
  • Short notice of relocation: A U.S. citizen petitioner, who is abroad but does not fall under the military blanket authorization for U.S. service members, living and working in a foreign country receives a job relocation within the same company or subsidiary to the U.S.; or an offer of a new job in the U.S. with very little notice.

Step By Step Through Direct Consular Filing

Your actions will depend on whether exceptional circumstances apply to your case.

Having Exceptional Circumstances

1# Contact consulate or embassy 

Local U.S. consulate or embassy will give you more information on whether you can use direct filing.

Also, they will tell you to which government agency you should file the Form I-130 Petition for Immediate Relative: the U.S. embassy or consulate or an international USCIS field office.

2# Submit The Form I-130, Petition for Immediate Relative 

File the form I-130 along with evidence of the residency of a U.S. citizen or a green card holder sponsoring the petition in the U.S. embassy, consulate, or international USCIS field office’s jurisdiction.

3# Pay the filing fee and prepare other supporting documents.

Check with your U.S. embassy or consulate what documentation you should submit. The filing fee is $535.

Not having exceptional circumstances

1# Check whether the current country has a USCIS field office.

If a USCIS field office exists in your current country, you can file the form I-130 with evidence of the sponsoring spouse’s residency in the country where you apply. If your embassy or consulate does not have an international USCIS office, you can file your petition by mail with the USCIS Chicago Lockbox.

Also, you will have to pay the $535 fee at this point, as well, and prepare other supporting documents.

Direct Consular Filing Processing Time At The U.S. Citizenship and immigration services USCIS office

Depending on your situation, USCIS may need months or even years before it approves your petition.

The wait time at many international USCIS field offices is less than a month, compared with an average of 7–15 months at a USCIS field office in the U.S.

You can check the trend of the processing time at your current country’s international USCIS field office and see how long you will wait for your Form I-130 to be approved.

Remember that USCIS processing times change depending on the workload, but available resources at each facility can also affect the needed time to approve the green card applications.

Where To Direct-File Immigrant Visas?

Sponsoring spouses can file the Form I-130 with one of the following options:

  1. A U.S. consulate or the embassy or
  2. An international USCIS office if it is available in their country.

The right place to file also depends on whether or not you have exceptional circumstances that qualify you for direct filing:

1# Having exceptional circumstances

2# Not having exceptional circumstances

  • Use direct filing only if your current country has a USCIS field office.


We already mentioned limitations to direct consular filing considering who can apply for it. Here we will mentioned some more, regarding other eligibility requirements.

1# Residence

The U.S. citizen or permanent resident must provide documents such as visas, residence permits, or leases from the country where the form I-130 will be filed.

2# Financial support 

Prepare supporting documents to show that the sponsoring spouse assume the U.S. as the primary residence and will be able to file Form I-864 (financial support form).

3# Exceptions

There are groups of sponsors that are excepted from the rule that must be domiciled in the U.S.:

  • U.S. citizens employed overseas by the government, religious, research or international organizations;
  • Permanent residents employed by groups noted above and have filed a Form N-470.
  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents planning to be domiciled in the United States before or together withe their foreign spouses when they move to the U.S.

While you have a pending I-130 petition, you may be able to travel to the U.S. on a B visa (or the Visa Waiver Program).

How Can An Immigration Attorney Help You Become A Lawful Permanent Resident?

Understanding U.S. immigration law can bring benefits and help you avoid common problems in the direct consular processing. It is essential to have the correct information and guidelines from the beginning of the green card process so that you don’t make any mistakes in that way. Filing insufficient evidence or missing the deadline can cost you losing the opportunity to get a green card.

If you need help to prepare Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, get the green card and register for permanent residence, seek help from an experienced immigration lawyer.

Hiring an experienced attorney can benefit you more than just getting a green card. More importantly, we can help you uncover the winning strategy.

The Herman Legal Group law firm has more than 25 years of experience working with USCIS and other government agencies and helping foreign citizens file immigrant visa petitions to obtain permanent residence status. We can also help you prepare for the immigrant visa interview with the consular officer.

At Herman Legal Group, Your Future Matters Most
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