What Is Consular Processing?
Consular processing is the legal mechanism for seeking permanent residence through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the immigrant’s home country.
Under the procedures for consulate processing, immigrants are required to submit forms and documents to the Embassy or Consulate, and attend the green card interview there.
What Are The Differences Between Consular Processing And Adjustment Of Status?
Consular processing is one of two procedures for obtaining a green card through family-based immigration.
If the immigrant lives outside the U.S., consular processing is the only path for immigrating to the United States.
The other path is known as adjustment of status.
To qualify for adjustment of status, the immigrant must be present in the United States and have been admitted through a lawful entry or legally equivalent inspection. Adjustment of status interviews take place at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office near the immigrant’s residence.
On the other hand, if the green card applicant is living in the U.S. but does not meet the requirements for adjustment of status, he or she must also process their paperwork and attend their interview via the consular processing requirements.
Few immigrants are eligible for both adjustment of status and consular processing.
Yet, even when green card applicants qualify under both procedures, they are not allowed to seek both consular processing and adjustment of status, and must choose one option.
How Does Consular Processing Work?
The most common consular processing cases involved marriage-based green card applications, in which a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent spouse has petitioned an immigrant spouse for an immigrant visa.
- Petitioner files an I-130 immigrant relative visa petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Upon approval of the petition, the file is transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC) to begin processing with the Department of State
- The NVC will hold the petition until an immigrant visa is available. This happens when the priority date becomes current.
For immigrants classified as immediate relatives, such as the husbands and wives of U.S. citizens, there are an unlimited number of visas. This means visas are available immediately. As a result, for immediate relatives, the process usually takes 1-2 months to move to the next stage.
However, for immigrants whose cases fall under the family preference categories, such as spouses of permanent residents, there are limits on visas available per year. Hence, there are long waits, often taking several years, before the priority date becomes current and an immigrant visa is made available.
- When an immigrant visa is about to become available, the NVC notifies the petitioner and requests the payment of government processing fees and the immigrant spouse beneficiary’s visa application with supporting documents
- The NVC requests the petitioner’s Affidavit of Support to demonstrate that he or she can financially support the immigrant beneficiary without the need for public benefits
- After the NVC file is completed, it is transferred to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest where the beneficiary resides and where the interview will be scheduled
- At the interview, if the immigrant visa is approved, the spouse beneficiary will be able to enter the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident
What Are The Differences Between A Visa And A Green Card (Permanent Residence)?
Here is an issue that often stumps individuals seeking legal status in the United States: the difference between visas and green cards.
A green card is a physical card that represents the holder’s right to permanently live and work within the United States.
Visas should be obtained before travel. They are what permit entry into the United States, and are typically a stamp in a passport.
There are two different types of visas. This contributes to confusion among immigrants and their relatives about the visa-green card distinction.
The first set are called non-immigrant visas. They do not allow for an open-ended stay.
Non-immigrant visas have a set duration of time, enabling immigrants to visit the United States for specific purposes, like tourism, education, employment. They do not allow the visa holder to permanently live in the U.S. When their time is up, these immigrants are required to leave the country.
The second set are called immigrant visas. These are the types of visas individuals often mistake for green cards.
Immigrant visas must be obtained prior to getting a green card. They allow an immigrant to enter and live permanently in the United States. Even though they start the process for green card status, they do not provide lawful permanent resident status.
Because they are part of the green card process, some immigrants and their families fail to grasp the visa – green card distinction.
What Are The Steps For A Green Card Marriage Through Consular Processing?
Here is a consular processing flow chart for an immigrant spouse:
When Do Consular Processing Applicants Need To File An I-601 Hardship Waiver?
As noted above, some permanent residence seekers, living in the U.S., are required to seek a green card through consular processing.
Generally, if immigrants have resided in the United States without permission for more than 180 days, they must utilize the consular processing path to obtain legal residency.
This means they must return home for their green card interview.
However, they will not be allowed to return to the U.S. unless they file for an I-601 family unity hardship waiver, which, if granted, enables them to legally reenter the United States.
This frequently happens when a United States citizen or permanent resident files for his or her spouse who entered the country without inspection and lacks valid permission to live here.
Because the stakes are so high in this situation, especially for married couples with minor children, organizing, preparing, and winning an I-601 waiver is crucial.
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