Generally, there are two main paths to becoming a permanent resident (Green Card holder) of the United States – Consular Processing, and Adjustment of Status. While “adjustment of status” is the process through which people already inside the United States seek a Green Card, “consular processing” is how people who are currently outside the United States apply to become permanent residents.
Filing for Consular Processing
Before consular processing begins, you must be the beneficiary of an approved immigration petition—usually filed on your behalf by a U.S. family member or employer in the United States. If the USCIS approves the petition, it will notify you of the approval, and forward the petition to the National Visa Center. The NVC in turn will contact you when they receive the petition, and then again when a visa number becomes available. More information on the post-approval process is available here.
At this point, the National Visa Center will notify both the beneficiary of the petition and the petitioner to submit required visa processing fees (sometimes referred to as “fee bills”), affidavit of support (to prove financial support), visa application, and supporting documentation.
When the required documents and forms have been properly submitted, the National Visa Center will send a notice for scheduling the beneficiary for an interview, usually at the American Embassy or Consulate in the beneficiary’s home country, or the country where the beneficiary resides. It is very important to prepare for the interview according to the instructions for each post. Each country and each post has their own procedures, appointments, and documents required for the interview. You may need to have a medical exam done by a designated doctor, and most posts also require an appointment to have your fingerprints and biometrics taken before the interview. It is vital to have accurate information and to prepare accordingly in order to prevent delays or denials of your case.
The purpose of the interview is to review the petition and make sure that the beneficiary is eligible for a visa. There are a number of reasons that a person may not qualify for the permanent residency visa to be granted. Some issues may be overcome by submitting a waiver, or by the passage of time. If an issue comes up, the USCIS may be notified, or you will receive instructions after the interview if any additional information or processing is necessary.
Once a visa has been granted to the beneficiary, the NVC will send a packet of information known as a “visa packet,” which is NOT to be opened by the beneficiary. The beneficiary will hold onto the visa packet and provide it to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer for inspection upon arrival at the point of entry when entering the U.S. Also, before travelling to the U.S., there is one more fee to be paid – the USCIS Immigrant Fee.
A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to grant or deny admission. The officer will review the packet, and if found admissible, the beneficiary will be admitted as a permanent resident of the United States. As a permanent resident, the person will be permitted to work legally and live permanently in the United States. Finally, the actual green card will be received in the mail after entering in the U.S. as a permanent resident.
Confused yet? A good immigration lawyer can help you through the entire process while keeping you informed step by step. An immigration lawyer who can produce quality legal work as to how and when to prepare the forms, documents, and payments can make a big difference in how quickly and how smoothly your case is processed and approved. Don’t forget that making a good impression is also a big part of a successful case!