When applying for a green card while living abroad, the application method you will use is consular processing. While many people applying for a green card do so from within the United States, various circumstances result in applicants needing to file their paperwork from outside the country.
A green card serves as proof of your lawful permanent residence within the United States. Obtaining a green card is a complicated process, and the steps you need to take are different when applying through consular processing than if you were applying from within the country. An immigration services company can help you prepare your application and avoid mistakes.
What Is Consular Processing?
Consular processing is the means by which a person can apply a green card from outside the United States. In consular processing, your application will be submitted to and managed by your local U.S. embassy or consulate. During consular processing, you will submit the necessary forms and documents, undergo a medical exam, and attend an interview.
Consular processing differs from Adjustment of Status, which is the green card process used by those applying from within the United States. While there are many differences in the way a green card application is handled through consular processing versus Adjustment of Status, the eligibility requirements are the same.
Who Is Eligible for Consular Processing?
In order to apply for a green card through consular processing, you must first qualify for a green card through marriage, family, employment, or by other means. Then, you must file the relevant petition. In most cases, this petition will be filed by your sponsor spouse, relative, or employer. Although there are certain situations in which you may be able to self-petition.
You will not be eligible to begin consular processing until your petition has been approved and a visa is available. It can take quite some time to become eligible to file as aside from marriage-based visas, the wait time to receive your visa can be significant.
In addition to waiting until your petition has been accepted and a visa is available, you will only be filing through consular processing if you are outside the United States. Green card applicants within the country will instead apply for an Adjustment of Status.
Documents Required for Consular Processing
There are several documents you will need when applying for a green card through consular processing. The first paperwork that will need to be completed and filed will be the petition filed by your sponsor. If applying through family or marriage, this will be Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative, while an employer must submit Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
After your petition has been approved, you will need to file Form DS-260: Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and Form DS-261: Online Choice of Address and Agent. Next, your sponsor will need to submit Form I-864: Affidavit of Support. Once all these forms have been submitted and reviewed, consular processing will begin.
During consular processing, you will be required to provide a number of other documents. The specific documents you will need to submit vary based on your specific permanent residency case. The embassy or consulate will inform you about the supporting documents you need to provide.
Steps Involved in Consular Processing
There are several steps that must be taken before you can obtain a green card through consular processing. After ensuring that you meet the eligibility requirements, you will be ready to begin the application process. It is critical that you follow all steps of this process carefully, as mistakes can lead to significant delays in receiving your green card.
File the Immigration Petition
Once you have verified that you are eligible to receive a green card, a petition must be submitted. The petition process varies depending on the basis under which you are applying for a green card. In most cases, another party will need to file the immigrant petition on your behalf. However, under certain circumstances, you will be able to self-petition.
Family-Based Immigrant Petition
When applying for a family-based green card, a family member must file Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf. Your sponsor relative must be either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.
While the initial petition is generally filed directly with USCIS, under certain circumstances, your sponsor can request to submit their petition at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
Employment-Based Immigrant Petition
When applying for an employment-based green card to live and work in the United States, your employer will have to file Form I-140: Petition for Alien work with USCIS.
If instead applying as an investor in a U.S. business, you will need to personally file Form I-526: Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur.
The filing fee for Form I-140 will be paid by your employer. However, if submitting Form I-526, you will have to pay the fee yourself.
If applying for a green card as a special immigrant, you will need to file Form I-360: Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), and Special Immigrant. You may file this petition yourself or have someone else file it on your behalf.
When applying for a green card as part of a humanitarian program, you likely will not need to submit a petition before you apply. However, you may need to ensure that other criteria are met. There are a wide variety of humanitarian programs that provide a pass to obtaining permanent residency in the United States, the most common of which are for refugees and asylum seekers.
Since you likely will not have to file a petition to begin the green card process, obtaining a green card through a humanitarian process can be significantly cheaper than other methods. Furthermore, you might qualify for an exemption from other filing fees, including your green card application.
Wait for the Notification of Your Petition
Once your petition has been filed, you will need to wait for a response from USCIS regarding their decision about your petition.
If your petition gets approved and you are applying for a green card through consular processing, you will receive notice of the approval. The USCIS will forward your approved application to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where your application will remain until a visa number is available for you.
Alternatively, if your application gets denied, the notice will include the reason for this decision. The notice will also include the steps you will need to take to appeal this decision should you choose to do so.
Notification From the National Visa Center
Once the NVC has received your application, they will notify both the petitioner and applicant of when the petition will be reviewed and when a visa number will become available. Then, NVC will also notify you when you need to send payments for the immigrant visa procedures and when additional documents must be submitted.
Once you receive this notification, you will need to file Forms DS-260, DS-261, I-864, and any other requested forms and documents. After your visa application has been approved by the NVC, they will notify you of their decision, and your case will advance to consular processing. You will then need to submit supporting documents and receive a medical examination.
Inform NVC of any Changes to Your Application
While your application is being processed, it is critical that you notify NVC of any significant changes that may affect your eligibility. Information you should provide includes when you:
- Change your marital status
- Change your address or phone number
- Turn 21
Going through these changes without notifying the NVC could affect your eligibility for permanent residency or the availability of an immigrant visa. It is always important to let NVC know about any changes as soon as possible to avoid potential complications.
Attend the Interview
You will then receive receipt notification from your local U.S. embassy or consulate scheduling your green card interview. The embassy or consulate will handle the final steps of the application process, where a decision will be made on whether or not to grant you permanent residency.
At the interview, you will need to bring along all your supporting documents and be prepared to answer any questions posed by the consulate officer. All your supporting documents will be reviewed, including all financial, medical, and criminal records.
After the interview, you will await a decision regarding your application. In some cases, you may be informed of the decision immediately after your interview concludes. Otherwise, you will have to wait to receive a notification in the mail at a later date.
Obtain a Visa
If your application is approved, you will need to visit the consular office to receive your immigration visa and your visa packet, which must be submitted to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when you enter the United States. It is critical that you do not open your visa packet for any reason. It must remain sealed until handed over to the Customs officer.
After you receive your visa packet, you will need to pay a USCIS Immigrant Fee. You can pay this fee online after you receive your visa packet but before you travel to the United States. After you hand over the visa packet, you will go through a final evaluation from the CBP officer before being admitted to the U.S., where you will be able to live and work permanently.
Receive Your Green Card
After you arrive in the U.S., you should receive your green card in the mail within a couple of weeks. If you have not received your green card within 45 days, you will need to contact customer service at USCIS.
Once you have your green card, you will have all the rights of a lawful permanent resident. Additionally, you will have a path toward obtaining citizenship should you so desire. Unless you have received a conditional green card, your green card will be valid for ten years and can be renewed indefinitely as long as you do not do anything to cause your eligibility to be revoked.
What Is the Consular Processing Timeline?
The timeline for consular processing can vary depending on a variety of factors. The quickest way to get a green card through consular processing is if you marry a United States citizen. There are no limits on the number of visas available each year for those applying for a green card through marriage to a citizen spouse.
However, even when applying in this manner, you can expect the whole process to take somewhere between seven and 14 months. The workload at the embassy where you apply will also be a significant factor in how long it takes you to get your green card. Furthermore, any errors on your application can add significant time to the process.
When applying through other methods where you have to wait for a visa to become available, it can take years to get your green card. Applying from a country with high immigration to the U.S. as a non-immediate family member can take an exceptionally long time, with applicants sometimes having to wait for over a decade for a visa to become available.
What Are the Consular Processing Fees?
Consular processing fees will vary depending on the means by which you are seeking to obtain a green card. If you are applying for a marriage or family-based green card, you will need to pay a fee of $535 to file Form I-130, along with a $325 processing fee for Form DS-260 and $120 to submit Form I-864. That will put your total cost for filing at $980.
Meanwhile, if you are applying for an employment-based green card, you can expect to pay a bit more, with Form I-140 costing $700 compared to the $535 for processing Form I-130. That means it will cost you $165 more to file for this type of green card, as opposed to a family-based card, putting your total at $1,145.
Additionally, you will face other costs associated with consular processing. For example, you will need to pay for your medical exam, the price of which will vary depending on your country and your doctor. Finally, if your green card application is approved, you will need to pay the USCIS Immigration Fee of $220.
How to Check the Status of Your Application
On any notice you receive from USCIS, you will be able to find your case number. You can use this number to check for updates regarding your green card application on the USCIS website. You can also check your case status on the Consular Electronic Application Center website after filing your application at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Through these methods, you can follow along with every stage of the application process to see the status of your application and when you can expect to receive your green card.
What if My Application Is Rejected?
As long as you meet all the eligibility requirements and file your application correctly, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting a denial of your green card application filed through consular processing.
Consular officers are bound by very strict guidelines, and there is not much room for them to use their own judgment when reviewing a green card application. This makes consular processing very different from filing an Adjustment of Status application within the United States, where USCIS officers are given plenty of leeway to make their own judgment in these cases.
However, Adjustment of Status applicants also have a strong appeal system that gives them a potential path for overturning the decision. Unfortunately, a similar system does not apply to those attempting to overturn a consular processing decision. Because of the difficulty of appealing, it is especially important that you fill out all forms correctly before you file.
Next Steps After Receiving Your Green Card
Once you have received your green card, you will be free to live and work anywhere in the United States. Having your green card in your hand can come as a huge relief after years of waiting to start the next chapter of your life.
If you obtain a standard green card, it will be valid for 10 years. If you don’t have a desire to pursue United States citizenship, you can simply renew your green card indefinitely every ten years for the rest of your life or until you someday move back out of the country.
See Also: The Benefits of having U.S. Green Card
If, on the other hand, you obtained your green card through marriage and have been married for less than two years when you enter the country, you will receive a conditional green card, which has a two-year validity. Once your marriage has reached the two-year mark, you can apply to have the conditions removed and acquire a standard green card with 10-year validity.
Those who have obtained a green card as an investor will also receive a conditional green card that they can later convert to a 10-year card. To get the conditions removed, the investor must show that they sustained their investment of the required capital throughout the conditional period and that the enterprise can be expected to create 10+ full-time positions for employees.
Applying for United States Citizenship
Once you have had your green card for five years (or three if you are the spouse of a United States citizen), you will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship as long as you have not taken any action to void your ability to apply, such as failing to pay your taxes, being convicted of certain crimes, or spending extended periods outside the United States.
While permanent residency grants you many rights and freedoms, there are several benefits you will not receive unless you become a full-fledged U.S. citizen. Those who obtain citizenship through naturalization have all the same rights as those citizens who were born in the United States (aside from the right to run for president).
Aside from the rights that you gain from obtaining citizenship, one of the best advantages of doing so is the protection it offers you. While there are many actions that could lead to potentially losing your right to permanent residency, citizenship can not be so easily revoked.
The only ways to lose your U.S. citizenship are if it was obtained through fraud, if you run for public office in a foreign country (in some cases), if you joined the armed forces of another nation (in certain instances), or if you willfully give up your right to citizenship to become a citizen of a country that does not allow for dual citizenship.
Get Help Filing Your Forms for Consular Processing Today
When filing for a green card through consular processing, it is critical that you file all your forms correctly and on time. The application process can be lengthy, and mistakes can cause significant delays. Obtaining a green card is a goal that can take years to reach for many applicants.
Applying for a green card through consular processing is the first step towards moving to the United States and gaining the right to live and work there on a permanent basis. Obtaining a green card also means that you have accomplished the first major step on the path to United States citizenship.
Consular processing can be tricky. The best way to ensure that you file all your forms correctly and meet all deadlines is by working with an immigration solutions company like ImmigrationDirect. Using one of these services can help you avoid mistakes and get your green card as quickly as possible.