Consular processing

In our 2020 guide to the consular processing, we explain the process step by step. We also provide answers to frequently asked questions and others that may arise in the process.


Our immigration attorneys can help you with this process from wherever you are. Please review the article and if you have any questions feel free to contact our experts in a free consultation.

What is consular processing?

By consular processing we talk about the method immigrants use to obtain permanent residence from outside the United States. This method is also used when the immigrant is not eligible to use adjustment of status.

With the consular process the immigrant seeks to obtain permanent residence. To do this, you must first comply with the following:

  • Be a beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition.  
  • Have an immigrant visa number immediately available.

With these requirements fulfilled, you now have 2 main ways to obtain residency: adjustment of status or the consular process.

If you are outside the US, you must follow the consular processing, which we will see the step-by-step process below.

If you are already inside the USA please review our “Adjustment of Status” article . You can adjust your status without having to leave the country although, if you are not eligible, you must choose the consular procedure.

Consular processing step by step

After speaking with your expert immigration lawyer, follow the steps below recommended by USCIS.

If you need help at this point or any other, we are at your service.

consular processing procedural steps

 1. Make sure you are eligible to immigrate

Determining eligibility for legal immigration is the most important step. To be eligible you must have a petition from a family member or employer or process it through asylum, refuge and other exceptions.

To check if you are eligible, please review the eligibility categories in our article “How to get a Green Card“.

2. Submit the immigration petition

Once the previous step has been verified, in general, you should have a person to present the petition on your behalf.

Family-based immigrant petition

To apply for the family-based Green card, a relative (citizen or permanent resident) must endorse it. He will do so by filing it on his behalf using Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

In general, the Green Card application is made directly by the beneficiary through USCIS. However, and depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to petition for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent of a citizen) at the USCIS office, embassy, ​​or U.S. consulate in another country.

The law allows it in the following circumstances:

  • When the petitioner is a U.S. citizen.
  • When there is a USCIS office in the country where the petitioner resides or;
  • If there is no USCIS office where the petitioner is a resident and “exceptional circumstances” require that the petition is filed locally;
  • In certain emergency situations;
  • If you are a member of the militia;
  • In certain situations related to the petitioner’s safety or health;
  • When U,S. national interests are involved.
family based immigration

If you wish to address the issue in more detail, please review our article dedicated to family based immigration.

Employment-Based Immigrant Petition

The application for an employment-based Green card is processed by the US employer, by filing Form I-140 , Petition for Foreign Worker, in the name of the person you plan to hire.

When the immigrant is an investor and wants to establish a business in the US, he must handle the petition in his own name. It will do so by filing Form I-526 , Immigrant Petition for Foreign Entrepreneur.

Special immigrant classes

In other cases, the immigrant may file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow (er), and Special Immigrant, either by himself or someone on his behalf.

Humanitarian programs

Almost all humanitarian programs do not require the alien to make an immigrant petition. Although you must meet certain additional requirements to obtain the Green Card.

3. Wait for USCIS decision

When USCIS makes its decision it will notify the petitioner. When they deny it, the reasons for the denial will be notified too.

If this happens, you still have the possibility to appeal with the help of one of our immigration lawyers in Los Angeles.

After the petition is approved and USCIS notifies you of the decision, send the petition to the State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). It will remain there until a visa number is available to you.

4. Wait for notification from the National Visa Center

The NVC will notify the petitioner and the beneficiary (you) once the visa petition is received and the visa number is available. 

This agency is responsible for collecting the service fee for visa applications and other supporting documents. So, the NVC will also notify you when you should send the payments corresponding to the immigrant visa (fee bills) and other details.

5. Attend the appointment

Upon receiving notification that the visa is available or also that the priority date is in effect, the consular office will send you an appointment for the interview. 

The processing of the case will be completed by the consular office, which will decide if the beneficiary qualifies to obtain an immigrant visa.

6. Notification of changes to NVC

Any change of address, marital status or reaching the age of majority (21 years), must be reported to the National Visa Center. Remember that these changes may affect visa availability or beneficiary eligibility.

7. Obtaining the visa

When the beneficiary receives an immigrant visa, he will receive an information package (visa package) from the hands of a consular officer. This should not be open. The person must pay the USCIS Immigrant fee to generate the Green Card.

The recommendation is to pay the fee after receiving the visa package but before traveling to the United States. 

When you arrive to the U.S.A you must deliver the visa package to the CBP officer at the port of entry. This officer from the Customs and Border Protection Service will examine you and determine if you are admitted as a permanent resident in the United States. 

With this last step you will already obtain permanent resident status.

Note: Check your visa as soon as you receive it and write down the expiration date. You must enter the U.S.A before your visa and medical exam expires.

consular processing time

Can you visit the U.S. with a pending I-130 petition?

In this case it would be possible to do it through a B1 or B2 visa or through the visa exemption program. Spouses of US citizens can also apply for the K-3 visa.

There are many assumptions and it is best to speak to our attorneys.

On our website you will also find an index with all types of American visas with updated information.

The consular interview and documentation

Keep in mind that before your interview they will take your fingerprints (biometric data) and do a medical exam.

We recommend that you plan your stay abroad for at least a couple of weeks. The embassy will inform you of the places where you can be fingerprinted and the doctor who will do your exam. Both must be sites validated by the embassy and hence we emphasize this.

At the interview the officer will review your documents and ask you questions regarding the application.

Documentation for the interview

You must appear at the interview with the following documents:

  • Appointment notification: This is the letter confirming your appointment from NVC.
  • DS-260 confirmation sheet.
  • Passport: Valid for 6 months after the expected date of entry to the USA.
  • Photographs: Two identical color photos that meet the general photo requirements in these documents.
  • Medical exam results: If you received sealed envelopes from the doctor, please do not open them. Other doctors or medical centers will send the results directly to the US consulate or embassy.
  • Original or supporting documentation: The original documents or their certified copies and a photocopy of each are required for you or any family member requesting the visa. The NVC will be the agency in charge of sending your application and the documents that you have sent there to the US embassy or consulate before your interview.
  • English translations: If you have not sent the documents that require translation to the NVC, you must bring them with you on the day of the interview.

Note: Passport and photographs are exempt from the photocopy requirement.

How to change the date and time of the consular interview

Maybe the US embassy or consulate have some guidelines to follow in this regard. If not, contact the consulate or embassy directly to reschedule the interview.

Medical exam

Remember that you should not take the exam until your interview has been scheduled. Please note that the results are valid for 6 months but in some medical conditions they may expire in 3.

If the medical results expire before your arrival in the US, you may be denied entry to the country.

The risk of leaving the U.S. in search of consular processing as an illegal

Unlawful presence in the U.S.A. for 180 days or more can be a serious matter. Instead of opting for a Green Card you can get a bar on your return.

Even if you otherwise qualify for a Green Card, the consulate has a legal to prohibit you from entering the U.S. for 3 years if it was between 180 days and 1 year. If your illegal stay was 1 year or more the punishment will be 10 years.

Consular processing with waiver

As of August 29, 2016, a new rule applies that allows certain undocumented immigrants (spouses / children of unmarried permanent residents and citizens) to apply for an I-601A waiver to leave the United States. 

So they can then carry out the consular process from their country of origin and then be able to return to the country and obtain the Green card.

The undocumented immigrant needs this immigration resource to be able to return to the United States without suffering the 3 and 10 year bars, which establishes sanctions of 3 to 10 years for illegal immigrants.

I-601 waiver

In our article “I-601 waiver ” you can read everything you need to know about this resource.

Advantages and disadvantages of the consular processing

The consular processing in the United States has the advantage of having a much shorter processing time, although some immigrants prefer adjustment of status. On the other hand, with the consular processing for residence the risk of being denied is significantly reduced.

Another advantage is that consular officers do not have the discretion to deny a visa, while USCIS officers do. To deny a request, the consular officer must justify it by means of objective and specific evidence. 

Of course, when the consular procedure is denied it is not subject to review, it is a final decision.

How long does the consular processing take?

On average, consular processing for residence can take from 6 to 12 months for immediate relatives; that is, the spouse and the sons and daughters. 

Currently, the procedure may take longer. It will also depend on the consulate or embassy where the foreigner carries out the procedure.

However, the waiting time for other family members classified in the different preference categories can be much longer. This is because they have to wait until a visa number is available. 

There may also be complications such as an administrative review that adds months to the process.

How much does consular processing cost in 2020?

The entire consular process, including applying for an immigrant visa, can cost around $ 1,200. This would be the breakdown:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative: $ 535.
  • DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application: $ 325.
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support: $ 120.
  • USCIS Immigrant Fee: $ 220.

Please note this is an estimate as there may be other associated costs. Here are some:

  • Medical examination that varies in cost depending on the country and the doctor.
  • Form I-693. 
  • Trips to the interview, exam and others.
  • Photos.
  • Police certificates.

Where to check the status of your request

For updates on your Green Card application, check USCIS website. You will find the number on any receipt or notice sent by USCIS.

As soon as you have sent your Green Card application to a U.S. consulate or embassy you can check the status of your case. To do this, visit the website of the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

What happens if they deny your request for consular processing?

Unlike adjustment of status, consular officers must follow strict guidelines and have little scope to reject on their own discretion. So there are fewer options to deny your request if things have been done right.

However, there is no appeal system for the consular processing, so you must ensure that you complete the process correctly. 

Contact our immigration attorneys specializing in immigration today so we can help you right now. The consultation is free and can save you real headaches.

What happens when I get the Green Card through the consular processing

If you have already obtained a Green Card and become a resident, you are free to work and live in the United States.

If everything follows its correct course, the next big step will be to become a U.S. citize . You can check our section on the web for more information.


For any case related to an immigration matter of you or a relative of yours, do not hesitate to contact. 

With over 50 years of combined experience, our immigration attorneys are trained to assist you in any situation.