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 will attend the green interview there.
Consular processing is one of two procedures for obtaining a green card through family-based immigration.
The other path is known as adjustment of status.
If the immigrant lives outside the U.S., consular processing is the only path for immigrating to the United States.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a consular processing flow chart for an immigrant spouse:
- 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 requests 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 where the beneficiary resides and where the interview will be scheduled
- At the interview, and the immigrant visa is approved, the spouse beneficiary will be able to enter the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident
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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