what is consular processing?
Consular processing involves applying for a green card (i.e. an immigrant visa) outside the U.S at the U.S. Department of State consulate or embassy abroad. In contrast, adjustment of status involves applying for a green card within the U.S. See this page for more information pursuing an adjustment of status within the U.S.
Most immigrants become eligible for consular processing by first having a petition filed on their behalf by a family member or employer. This petition is filed with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). If USCIS approves this petition and your priority date is almost current, then that approved petition will be sent to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC). Some petitions will take longer to approve than others because they are on a wait list. See this page for more information. The NVC performs more of a clerical function rather than adjudicatory; they collect visa application fees and supporting documentation. They do not decide who is eligible for a green card.
The NVC will finally forward information to the appropriate consular office abroad. At that time, the NVC will also notify the foreign national of when they must appear at the consular office for an interview. Some consulates, in addition to scheduling a consular interview, will also require that you attend a medical exam and fingerprint appointment. The particular requirements of each consulate vary by country. The consulate abroad will process the case and decide if the foreign national is eligible for an immigrant visa. If the individual is eligible and passes the interview, then s/he may lawfully enter, live, and work in the U.S. as a permanent resident.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A CONSULAR INTERVIEW?
At the consular interview, the government will verify the documentation you sent in the application and check all of your criminal, medical, and financial records to make sure there are no other problems. If you’re applying based on a familial relationship, the consular officer may also want to ask personal questions to determine if the claimed relationship is real.
i have been living here unlawfully for awhile. can i do consular processing?
This is a very risky situation. For foreign nationals who have lived unlawfully in the U.S. for more than 6 months (180 days), leaving the U.S. to pursue consular processing could trigger a bar on returning. In other words, by leaving the U.S., you are subjecting yourself to penalties for the unlawful lengthy stay, EVEN IF you would otherwise qualify for a green card. You should consult with an attorney before making any decisions to leave the U.S.
I’VE HEARD OF SOMETHING CALLED “DIRECT FILING.” CAN I DO THAT TO SPEED UP MY CASE?
As I said earlier, many foreign nationals have a family member or employer file a petition on their behalf with USCIS. However, direct consulate filing allows a U.S. citizen living overseas to file a petition for their foreign citizen spouse directly with the consulate or embassy in the foreign country. This saves time and money because the petition does not have to go through USCIS. The consulate or embassy handles the visa petition on their own. Direct filing may be faster, but it is by no means an instantaneous process. Furthermore, the situations in which it is allowed are limited. The foreign national still needs to go through the visa application process and submit appropriate documentation. Not every consulate does direct filing; it is more the exception than the rule.
Consular processing can be a very difficult and lengthy process. Please contact me to help represent you and get your loved one to the U.S. as soon as possible.