The consular process is when the beneficiary of an immigration petition, for example, a foreign relative whom you sponsor to come to the United States, applies for a U.S. immigrant visa at a United States consulate or embassy in the country where he or she lives.
A person who wishes to immigrate to the United States essentially has two ways to obtain a green card:
The first step in the consular process is for the applicant to file for a visa with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and then wait for it to be approved. For immediate relative petitions, an I-130 is filed. The I-130 approval process has different processing times depending on the type of family relationship. For the spouse of a U.S. citizen, the processing times for the I-130 can take 6 to 13 months, depending on several factors, including the workload that the USCIS is experiencing at the time the petition is filed.
Once the USCIS has approved the I-130, the case will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) where the case will be pre-processed.
At this time, the applicant will be required to submit a number of supporting documents to the NVC, including:
Once the National Visa Center has completed the pre-processing and a visa interview is available, the case will be transferred to the U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. It will be reviewed and an interview will be scheduled. This process can take another 90 days or more. Most recently, the waiting time has significantly increased and many people have been waiting well over a year for their interview abroad.
If everything goes well at the interview, the immigrant visa petition will be approved.
After this, the applicant will be required to leave their passport at the U.S. embassy or consulate for their immigrant visa to be placed inside it.
Finally, once the applicant goes to collect their passport, they will be given a sealed envelope that must be delivered this way to the customs officer so that the individual can be admitted to the U.S.
Once the applicant has been admitted to the U.S. with a visa and the visa is stopped by immigration, the person is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. (a green card holder). The physical green card later arrives in the mail (after the green card fees are paid).