If you are a U.S. citizen and your spouse is a foreign national living abroad, continue reading and learning how to get an immigrant visa through a marriage-based green card application process. The process of getting an immigrant visa for spouses of U.S. citizens who live in the United States and who live abroad differs. Here, we will talk about the scenario when spouses of U.S. citizens who want to file a green card application and become lawful permanent residents are already in the United States.
We Can Help!
Whatever case applies to you, the path to the immigrant visa, the marriage-based green card, can be challenging. Having an immigration attorney by your side can give you advantages in conducting the right strategy and avoid delays in the green card process. Use the online form or call us at (+1)(614) 300-1131 for a consultation and ensure you get your immigrant visa staying on the right course.
What is The Consular Processing?
Consular processing is one of two pathways that a spouse of a U.S. citizen can take to receive an immigrant visa, the green card.
Consular processing is intended for the immigrant outside the U.S. or for a spouse of the U.S. citizen living in the U.S., but who needs to leave before processing the petition.
Who Processes These Applications?
Using consular processing means that the immigrant’s application is processed at a State Department consulate or embassy, usually in the immigrant’s home country or country of origin.
Now, we will guide you through each milestone of obtaining a permanent residence status when your spouse is outside the U.S.
Step 1: Sponsor Files the 130 Form, Petition for Alien Relative
The first step in getting the marriage-based green card and becoming a lawful permanent resident is filing Form I-130 (the “Petition for Alien Relative”) and additional documents. The sponsoring spouse, a sponsor, or a petitioner must file this petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to establish a valid marriage relationship between spouses.
The I-130 package includes two forms, which the U.S. citizen spouse must submit along with the supporting documents to the USCIS:
Government Forms and Fees
The required immigrant fee for the I-130 petition is $535.
Once you complete your I-130 filing package, you’ll mail your petition to the correct U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS address.
Next, you’ll get an official receipt notice in the mail from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS, usually within two weeks. If USCIS needs more information about your case, they will issue a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) within 2–3 months requiring you to file additional documents.
Once USCIS has everything they need, they typically decide on your sponsorship petition, within months.
Step 2: Apply for a Green Card
Since the spouse applying for a marriage based green card (a beneficiary seeking an immigrant visa) is living outside the United States, USCIS will transfer your case to the National Visa Center (NVC) to gather the necessary forms and documents.
Upon receiving the application package, NVC, run by the U.S. State Department, will assign a unique case number used to identify the case from that point onward and decide whether your spouse is ready for a marriage green card interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
This process is called “consular processing.” After 3-5 months, NVC will forward the case to a U.S. embassy or consulate in the applicant spouse’s country of origin.
Government Forms And Fees
When NVC assigns the number to your case, you will need to file the DS-261 form that states the U.S. State Department how to communicate with you. NVC takes up to three weeks to process the DS-261.
There is no fee for filing form, but you’ll need to pay a total of $445 online to cover the State Department’s application processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120). NVC can take up to a week to process your payment.
Filing The Visa Application
After payment processing, you can file the DS-260 (immigrant visa application). You will need your case number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number from the original notice that the NVC sent you. When you file the DS-260 online, don’t forget to print the confirmation page because you need to bring it to your visa interview.
After you file the DS-260, the NVC will send you a confirmation notice, usually on the same day (via mail or email).
To support your application, you will need to file additional documents to the NVC. These supporting documents include Form I-864 (“Affidavit of Support”) and Form DS-5540 (“Public Charge Questionnaire”).
The processing time of your Affidavit of Support will depend on which U.S. embassy or consulate is processing your visa application and if you submitted it online or with U.S. Consulate. You can check here which options you can use.
Although it’s highly advisable to double-check your visa application and f you forgot the submit some documents, or you weren’t aware that NVC would need it, don’t worry- the NVC will send you a checklist of missing documents. You can expect such a checklist, typically within 1–2 months after NVC receives your application.
Once the National Visa Center NVC completed your application, they will make a decision within 3-5 months.
Step 3: Pre-Visa Interview Requirements
When NVC decides on your green card application, it will transfer your files to the U.S. consulate in your spouse’s home country.
The spouse seeking a green card must visit a State Department-approved doctor to get a medical examination. Getting a medical examination is the obligatory step before attending the green card interview. The U.S. consulate sends a list of U.S. State Department-approved doctors along with your interview notice.
The cost of this exam varies, and it will depend on the country you take the medical examination, but it can go up to $200.
When you get the results of your examination and vaccination record, you can prepare it to bring it with you to the green card interview.
The next step the spouse who seeks a green card must do before the visa interview is to sign up online with an exact address. Have on your mind to provide the correct address because your passport will be returned after an approved visa stamp.
Therefore, it is helpful to follow instructions to sign up for passport delivery provided on each consulate’s website.
In most countries, the spouse seeking a green card must also sign up for a fingerprinting appointment. The fingerprinting appointment takes place at an immigrant visa application support center.
The U.S. government will take the applicant’s fingerprints to conduct background and security checks—these instructions you can also find on each consulate’s website.
Step 4: Interview and Approval
The Green Card Interview
The last step in the green card application process is the visa interview. You and your spouse both need to appear before the USCIS officer, who will ask a set of questions to assess whether your marriage is genuine.
Therefore, it can be the most stressful and intimidating part of the green card process application. Knowing what to expect, organizing your files, and practicing together can elevate the stress and enjoy the process.
Because the applicant is outside the United States, the spouse seeking a green card will receive the appointment notice with the exact time, date, and location to attend a visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the country of the origin. You, as the sponsoring spouse, do not attend this interview.
If the interviewing officer is sufficiently convinced that your marriage is not fraudulent, you may get the green card approval on the spot. Otherwise, your should wait and see whether the USCIS will deny your application, or you might receive RFE or NOID.
Getting the Stamp
If a green card application is approved, the spouse will receive a visa stamp in their passport, which will allow them to travel to the United States.
Paying the USCIS Immigrant Fee
USCIS’s immigration fee for producing and mailing the physical green card is $220, and you can pay it online here. Typically, USCIS takes 2–3 weeks after the foreign spouse arrives in the United States to deliver the physical green card to the couple’s U.S. address.
The whole green card process typically takes 11-17 months.
But note, there is a difference between the green cards issued to the spouses who were married for less than two years and those who are in marriage longer than that.
The spouse who has been married to a U.S citizen for less than two years and at the time of the immigrant visa approval will get the green card marked as “CR1” – “conditional green card.” Conditional green cards are valid for only two years. After this period, you must jointly file another petition to “remove the conditions.” USCIS will assess your documents once again, so this is a chance to prove to USCIS officers that your marriage is real and you get a permanent green card.
If you’ve been married for more than two years when your green card is approved, the green card will be labeled “IR1” for “immediate relative green card.” These green cards are valid for ten years, and renewal is typically a simple process.
How We Can Help You Get the Immigrant Visa?
We can help you correctly fill out your I-130 Petition and other immigration forms, advise you what supporting documents to include with it, and help you deal with a bunch of tedious paperwork. When you hire an experienced immigration lawyer, you ensure you get the right advice on acting through the green card process, from filing forms to attending the visa interview.
Richard Herman is a U.S. immigration attorney with more than 20 years of experience who has helped dozens of clients to bring their spouses and other family members to the United States and receive the immigrant visa and become permanent residents. Herman Legal Group law firm provides all legal immigration services.
If you want us to go through your background search, review the evidence you want to provide, and suggest how to act and what to say at the interview, call us at (+1)(614) 300-1131. Also, you can use the online form and book your consultation with Richard Herman to be a step closer to your immigrant visa and your permanent resident status.