Similar to filing for adjustment of status, consular processing is another way to become a legal permanent resident of the US. It is the final step before a green card is issued and can be used in both employment-based and family-based immigration processes. Consular processing requires an in-person interview at a US consulate overseas. An immigration petition (e.g. I-140) must have been approved, and a visa number must be available, before consular processing can take place.
Who Should Use Consular Processing?
- Foreign nationals who are outside the United States
- Foreign nationals who are already in the US but choose consular processing over adjustment of status
Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status
Whether one should choose consular processing (CP) or adjustment of status (AOS) depends on the case specifics. There are benefits and drawbacks of either approach:
- Consular processing potentially can be “faster” than adjustment of status. However, for a given case, it really can go either way. Since retrogression and security checks account for the majority of waiting time nowadays, the difference between CP and AOS is even less obvious: both processes have to go through the bottlenecks and as a result, both are slow.
- Consular processing must take place at a US consulate located at the applicant’s country of birth or last foreign residence. AOS, on the other hand, allows a person to remain in the US while the application is being processed.
- Consular processing doesn’t come with the benefit of EAD and AP, which are much needed by many AOS applicants and their derivative beneficiaries.
- Consular processing doesn’t allow 245i, a must-have for persons who have been out of status or otherwise are subject to reentry bar.
- Consular processing may incur higher costs due to travel and time needed for medical exam and immigration interview in another country.
- Consular processing is rarely denied but if it is, you are essentially out of options. A decision to reject your visa application cannot be appealed, and only under limited conditions may be reviewed by a higher ranked visa officer. On the other hand, if your i-485 is denied you may file for motion to reopen, appeal the decision, and in many case maintain your non-immigrant status such as H1B.
Most people, if eligible for both, choose to go with AOS for its many benefits. But you may find consular processing fit your particular situation better.
Can I Switch Between Consular Processing and Adjustment of Status?
Yes. If you initially selected AOS on your immigration petition, you can file form I-824 to switch to CP. If you specified CP, you may file i-485 to start adjustment of status, and notify the consulate and the National Visa Center of your decision to switch. You don’t need form I-824 to switch from consular processing to adjustment of status.
What is the Procedure for Consular Processing?
1. When your employer or family member submits an immigrant petition (Form I-140 or I-130) on your behalf, they need to fill out Section 4, Processing Information, to indicate that you will be applying for an immigrant visa at an American Embassy or Consulate.
2. After approving the immigrant petition, the USCIS sends an approval notice along with the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC), located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
3. The NVC uses an internal system to “estimate” when a visa number might be available to you, which is adjusted every month based on the visa bulletin. When your turns comes, the NVC will mail you a bill first, upon receipt of the fees, an instruction packet that also includes necessary forms.
4. You and your family members should complete the forms and return them along with all supporting documents to NVC.
5. The NVC will assign a case number to your application, scan your documents into a database, and store your case in a “waiting list” based on your priority date, country of birth, and other information. By now, everything should be ready and can proceed immediately once your priority date becomes current.
6. When an immigrant visa number becomes available, NVC will request allocation of visa numbers for you and forward your application to the American Embassy or Consulate designated on Form I-140 or I-130.
7. The consulate will review your application and either revoke it if errors are found, or schedule an interview appointment for you and any family members.
8. Before attending the interview, you must undergo a medical examination. Instructions on how to obtain a medical exam and details about qualified physicians (DOS approved) are included in the appointment notice.
9. You and your dependents must attend the interview, bringing passports and any original documents required by the consulate. A consular officer may ask questions about your employment history, your prior visits to the US, your H1 or F1 details, your finances (especially income from US source), etc., during the interview.
10. If all goes well, your consular processing case will be approved and you will be issued an immigrant visa. You may enter the US and become a permanent resident any time during your visa’s validity period, typically six months from the date of issuance.
11. When entering the U.S., hand the unopened “Visa Packet,” which was given to you when your immigrant visa was approved, to the CBP officer at the port of entry. After admission, you should expect to receive your green card in the mail within 30 days. If not, you should contact USCIS customer service or make an infopass appointment to check the status of your green card.