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Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

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  • Writer's pictureParviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

How to Get a Green Card By Consular Processing

Updated: May 31, 2023

The physical green card, as shown above, comes after the immigrant enters the U.S.

Obtaining a green card, which is proof of permanent residency in the United States is generally achieved through one of two methods - adjustment of status or consular processing.

Consular processing involves applying for a green card from outside the United States or applying from within the United States but attending an interview at a foreign consular post (a consulate or embassy) outside of the United States.

Article Outline:

This article will shed light on the stages involved in consular processing for family-based cases, providing an overview of the timeline and requirements for obtaining a green card through this method.

Stage 1: Filing I-130 Petition

"First things, first" as they say.

The first stage in family-based consular processing is the preparation and submission of the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 is filled out and signed by the petitioner, not the person seeking the green card.

This petition requests information to establish the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary-applicant before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"). The I-130 can be filed either online or on paper, with online filing being the preferred method for many.

Note: at Malakouti Law, we generally prefer an online submission for I-130s when doing consular processing.

Along with the petition, supporting documentation in the specified format must be provided. Such supporting documentation can include

  • a) proof of citizenship or legal permanent residence of the petitioner

  • b) passport sized photos of the petitioner, and

  • c) proof of relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary, especially in marriage-based cases

Following submission of the I-130 (and I-130A in the case of a marriage-based case), USCIS will adjudicate the I-130, a process that can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on the case facts, and your location as petitioner in the United States.

Stage 2: National Visa Center (NVC)

Once the I-130 petition is approved, the case is automatically forwarded by USCIS to the National Visa Center (NVC). This marks the second stage of applying for legal permanent residence through consular processing.

The NVC creates an online account with login information (NVC case number and invoice number) at CEAC and emails the petitioner and beneficiary-applicant (and lawyer if there is one) from requesting additional information on behalf of the applicant.

This stage involves the submission of various documents of the beneficiary-applicant, including police reports, personal information, and an affidavit of support (I-864) from the petition sponsor, obligating him or her financially. After the NVC has received, reviewed, and approved all the necessary documents, the case will be documentarily qualified, and move on to the next stage below.

Note: if a document is rejected by NVC, the petitioner and beneficiary-applicant will be notified by email and given an opportunity to replace or correct the deficient document.

Stage 3: Consular Interview

The third stage in consular processing involves the scheduling of an interview and the actual interview itself at a consular post.

Once the NVC has received all the required documents and the case is deemed documentarily qualified, it is forwarded to the relevant consulate. In most cases, the consulate will be located in the applicant's home country.

However, there are exceptions where the interview may be conducted at a consulate in a different country. For instance, if the applicant is a resident of a country other than their home country, the interview may take place at the consulate in their country of residence. Additionally, individuals from countries with no diplomatic relations with the United States, such as Iran, may need to interview at consulates in alternative locations like Armenia, Turkey, or the United Arab Emirates.

The skyline of Abu Dhabi - where many Iranians interview for a U.S. immigrant visa

Once the consulate has the case, it will usually email the petitioner and beneficiary-applicant with additional instructions related to attendance at the interview and the documents that must be brought.

During the consular interview, the applicant must bring all original documentation previously submitted to the National Visa Center. Additionally, a qualified medical report obtained from a civil surgeon approved by the USCIS is required. It is essential for the applicant to thoroughly prepare for the interview, ensuring they have no grounds of inadmissibility or other potential issues. Preparation for the visa interview is one of the many areas in which a skilled immigration lawyer can be of great benefit.

If the consular officer approves the applicant, they will be granted an immigrant visa, but not not a physical green card. In some cases, the applicant will also be given an unopened envelope that the beneficiary-applicant must present to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon arrival to a U.S. port of entry (typically an airport).

After being admitted to the United States on the immigrant visa, the beneficiary applicant’s physical green card will be mailed to the applicant's designated address. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it typically took around three to four weeks for the green card to arrive by mail, but there may be additional delays in recent times. Legally, a beneficiary-applicant becomes a U.S. permanent resident when they are admitted to the U.S. on the immigrant visa, even before receipt of their green card.

At this point, the next step in the green card holder’s immigration journey will usually be either applying for naturalization or applying for removal of conditions (for some marriage-based cases). Generally, individuals with a green card can apply for naturalization after five years of becoming a legal permanent resident, while those married to U.S. citizens may be eligible to apply after three years of obtaining their green card.

It is important to note that the consular processing timeline and requirements may vary based on individual circumstances and changes in immigration policies.

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Request a Consultation with Malakouti Law

Consular processing is a pathway to obtain a green card for individuals who are either outside the United States or must travel abroad for an interview at a consular post. By following the three stages of consular processing - filing the I-130 petition, progressing through the National Visa Center, and attending the consular interview - applicants can navigate the process and, upon approval, become legal permanent residents of the United States.

The specific timeline for each stage can vary depending on individual circumstances. For more detailed information and personalized guidance, it is advisable to consult with a skilled immigration law firm, such as Malakouti Law. Book a consultation here.

Each immigration and citizenship case is particular and you should consult with a qualified immigration and citizenship lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing.

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