When you apply for a green card from outside the United States, your application will go through a process called consular processing. This process is also known as the CR-1 or IR-1 visa process.
Consular processing is different from an adjustment of status. The latter is a green card process for individuals who already reside in the United States.
In this article, we will cover some of the most important things you need to know about consular processing.
- Consular processing is the U.S. green card (immigrant visa) application process through a consulate in a foreign country or U.S. embassy.
- The consular process can take anywhere between 8-14 months if the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or 14-36 months if the sponsor is a green card holder. The timeline depends on government backlogs, your eligibility category, and the nature of your application.
- Immigrant visa processing fees vary depending on your eligibility category. The U.S. Department of State has a detailed guide to visa service fees based on different eligibility categories.
Introduction to Consular Processing
When you live outside the United States and intend to obtain a U.S. green card, consular processing allows you to apply for a green card via two main eligibility categories:
CR-1 and IR-1
The CR-1 visa is designed for a beneficiary who wants to apply for a green card through marriage but lives outside the United States.
The CR-1 visa, in particular, is meant for couples who have been married for less than two years at the time of green card approval. For this reason, this type of green card is considered a conditional green card, which lasts for only two years. The green card holder might be able to remove the conditions of the green card, usually 90 days before it expires.
After removing the conditions, the green card holder will obtain a 10-year green card.
On the other hand, the IR-1 visa is usually issued to couples who have been married for more than two years at the time of green card approval. As a result, the foreign spouse can bypass the requirement to remove conditions on the green card. This is because they will receive a 10-year green card if they have been married to a U.S. spouse for more than three years.
IR-2 Visa Explained
The IR-2 visa allows children of U.S. citizens to lawfully enter and live in the country. However, for this to work, the foreign child must not be older than 21 years old and must also be unmarried.
Here’s a summary of the IR-2 visa requirements:
- The petitioner (sponsor) must be a citizen of the United States.
- The sponsor must have had legal custody of the intending immigrant (child) for at least two years.
- If the child has been adopted by a U.S. citizen, the adoption must have been finalized before the child’s 16th birthday.
- The sponsor must have shared the same residence with the child for at least two years. However, there are exceptions to this rule in the case of an adopted child.
- The child must not be older than 21.
- The child must not be married.
- If the child is a stepchild, their birth parent and stepparent must have been married before the child’s 18th birthday.
CR-2 Visa Explained
The CR-2 visa is designed for unmarried children of U.S. citizens who wish to enter the U.S. and remain in the country permanently with their U.S. citizen parent. This visa is only available for individuals under the age of 21.
To qualify, the individual must be the biological child, stepchild, or adopted child of a U.S. citizen. It is also important to note that the CR-2 visa category is designed for individuals whose parents have recently married. If approved for this visa, they are allowed to live in the United States after obtaining a conditional permanent resident card.
Now that you know the eligibility categories for a green card through consular processing, let’s discuss how this process works.
Consular Processing Explained
The first step of consular processing involves checking whether you are eligible for a green card via this route.
Filing a Visa Petition
Next, you will need to have the sponsor file the correct form to petition the USCIS to consider your application for a green card. For example, if you intend to immigrate to the United States to reunite with your U.S. spouse, they may need to file Form I-130, also known as a Petition for Alien Relative.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to filing Form I-130.
This form officially notifies the U.S. immigration officials of your spouse’s intention to reunite with you in the United States. The waiting time for this form varies depending on various factors, such as government backlogs, policy changes, political and diplomatic reasons, etc.
Determining Green Card Availability
After approval of the U.S. citizen’s petition, the next step is to determine whether a green card is available for the beneficiary. If you are the beneficiary, you can check for green card availability via the Visa Bulletin provided by the U.S. Department of State.
Every month, the U.S. Department of State updates its Visa Bulletin, showing the number of green card applications that can be processed. From the Visa Bulletin, you will also find out when to expect your green card if your petition is approved.
National Visa Center Processing
Once a visa becomes available, the USCIS forwards your petition to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is also an arm of the U.S. Department of State. The NVC handles green card petitions for individuals living outside of the U.S.
NVC Processing Fees
If the state’s National Visa Center decides to proceed with your immigrant visa application, you will need to pay the USCIS immigrant fee and provide the required information. Generally, you will need to file Form DS-260.
After filing the DS-260, the NVC will forward your application to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for processing. The U.S. embassy or consulate will then schedule an in-person interview with you. The purpose of the interview is to ensure that you have a legitimate reason to immigrate to the United States.
How to Prepare for a Consular Interview
Although the U.S. embassy will inform you about the requirements for attending the interview, you must know what to expect. Here’s an overview of what happens:
You will need a medical exam conducted by a USCIS-approved doctor. This is because the U.S. government does not approve green card application for individuals with certain communicable diseases. Also, certain mental or physical disorders, especially those that might harm you and others, may disqualify you from being admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
The exact documents you are required to bring with you to the interview will depend on the nature of your application. For example, if you are applying based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will need to provide satisfactory evidence of the marriage, including but not limited to your marriage certificate, wedding photos, honeymoon receipts, etc.
You will also need to bring your original documents, including travel documents such as your passport. After verifying your documents, the interviewing officer will ask several questions about your reason for immigrating to the United States.
After the interview, the consular officer will let you know whether you have been approved to travel to the United States. In other cases, you will be notified later, usually within a week. This mostly happens if immigration officials need to scrutinize your application further.
If approved, you will be granted a visa. The visa allows you to enter the United States legally. It is also crucial that you note the key dates on the visa. You are required to travel within the provided time frame, usually six months from the date of your medical examination.
Once you travel to the United States, you will hand over the files from the U.S. embassy in your country to the U.S. border official. After verifying the information in the file, the border official will process a new visa for you, usually valid for up to 12 months. The USCIS will also mail your green card to your U.S. address.
How Long Does Consular Processing Take?
The exact timeline for consular processing depends on various factors. In most cases, it will depend on whether the sponsor is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder). If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen, you should expect the process to take anywhere between eight to 14 months.
On the other hand, if the sponsor is a green card holder, this process could take anywhere between 14 to 36 months. It is also important to note that these timelines are subject to change due to government backlogs, policy changes, and other reasons.
How Much Does Consular Processing Cost?
The cost of consular processing will depend on the type of green card you intend to apply for. For example, if applying based on your eligibility as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you will need to pay $535 as a filing fee for Form I-130 and an additional $325 as the processing fee (DS-260).
Here’s a breakdown of consular processing fees based on different eligibility categories.
What to Do After Entering the U.S. With Immigrant Visa?
If granted an immigrant visa, you will need to pay the USCIS immigrant visa fee. The consular officials will then present you with a sealed envelope, also known as the visa packet. Do not open this envelope; you will need to hand it over to the U.S. customs and border official when you arrive at the point of entry in the U.S.
The border official will review the details and hand you a visa, usually valid for 12 months. You will then receive your green card at your U.S. address within two weeks.
Can You Enter the U.S. While Consular Processing Is Pending?
It is difficult to enter the U.S. with a pending consular process. This applies even if you have a valid visa. Contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consular office to learn more about your options.
Can Consular Processing Be Denied?
Yes, consular processing can be denied. This happens if the immigration officials determine that you do not meet the eligibility requirements or your reason for traveling to the U.S. is not good enough. If your immigrant petition is denied, the USCIS will provide you with reasons for the denial.
What Documents Do I Need for Consular Processing?
The documents you will need will depend on the specifics of your application. In most cases, you will need the following:
- A copy of your birth certificate
- A copy of your passport
- Two passport-style photographs
- Copy of a Police Certificate from the country you have lived for more than a year
- Other supporting documents may be required by U.S. immigration officials
What is a Police Certificate?
A Police Certificate, also known as a Certificate of Good Conduct in some countries, is an official document issued by the country’s police department, certifying that the individual does not have any criminal records. If the individual has a criminal record, the certificate might briefly discuss the nature of the crime(s).
Consular Processing Vs Adjustment of Status: What’s the Difference?
The key difference between consular processing and adjustment of status is that consular processing is designed for individuals applying for a green card from outside the United States. On the other hand, when you apply for an adjustment of status, you must do so only if you are already living in the U.S.
What Is the Difference Between Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Visas?
Immigrant visas are visas awarded to individuals who intend to live permanently in the United States. For example, if you are a foreign national and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you can apply for an immigrant visa, allowing you to immigrate to the United States and join your spouse.
On the other hand, a non-immigrant visa is usually awarded to individuals who want to travel to the United States temporarily. Examples of reasons for obtaining a non-immigrant visa include tourism, business trips, medical treatment, temporary work, etc.