When applying for a green card, you will either adjust status or obtain the green card through Consular processing. If you are in the United States, you will normally apply by filing an I-485 petition with USCIS to adjust your status from your non-immigrant visa to a green card. For example, one may enter on a B-2 tourist visa, get married and then decide to stay in the United States. If this were to be the case, the applicant could adjust status from a B-2 visa to a green card.
If you are out of the United States when you receive an approved immigrant petition (eg. I-130 – Family Based, I-140 – Employment Based or I-526 – Investor Based) you will obtain the green card through a process called Consular processing. Consular processing involves two different government entities: the National Visa Center & a Consular Office in the applicant’s home country. The process is started only after the underlying immigration petition is approved by USCIS and the green card category is “current” such that there is a green card available for the applicant.
Generally speaking though from the perspective of the applicant the process is similar to filing an I-485. One big difference between adjustment of status and Consular processing is that the applicant is required to attend an interview when Consular processing is conducted. If your green card is approved, you will be given a visa to enter the U.S. and you will also be given a package that you will hand to a border officer when you enter the U.S.. You will then get a green card mailed to you. The specific steps for Consular
Processing are as follows:
1. File the Immigrant Petition (eg. I-130 if you marry a U.S. citizen, I-526 for an Investor Visa, etc.) with USCIS
2. If approved, USCIS will send the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC)
3. NVC will notify the applicant when the petition is received and when an immigrant visa number becomes current. NVC will also tell the applicant what information is required
4. NVC will send forms that need to be completed and you will have to get a medical exam
5. A security check is conducted on the applicant
6. Once the case is complete and a visa number becomes available, the NVC will forward the file to Consulate in the home country and will set up an interview for the applicant
7. The applicant goes to the interview and is interviewed by a consular officer and biometrics information is also collected (fingerprints, etc.)
8. If a change occurs, the applicant would notify the Consulate and the NVC (eg. change of address)
9. If you are granted the green card, the Officer will give you a package called a “Visa Packet” and he/she will instruct you not to open the package
10. You will enter the U.S. and the Border official will take the package and you should be mailed the green card in around 3 months
This process can take 6 months to a year and could even be longer in some situations. Generally speaking it may be difficult for you to enter the U.S. while you have an immigrant petition outstanding and this is particularly the case if the underlying petition (eg. I-130) has already been granted.
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