Upon an approved immigration petition and the receipt of an immigration visa number, you now have two ways to apply for a legal lawful permanent residence in the United States (Green Card). If you are applying for a Green Card and are currently located outside of the U.S., you should apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Department of State consulate abroad in your home country. This pathway to permanent residence in the U.S. is known as consular processing.
Conversely, if you are applying for a Green Card and are already located in the U.S., you need not return to your home country or go through consular processing. Instead, you will need to go through a process known as adjustment of status.
Step-by-Step Breakdown of Consular Processing
Here is the seven-step process to obtaining a Green Card through consular processing. For more helpful information, check out the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) page on consular processing.
1. Find out if you’re eligible to immigrate to the U.S.
The very first thing to do in seeking lawful permanent resident status is to determine if you are, in fact, eligible under provisions in the law. For all the different ways to get a Green Card, check out the USCIS Green Card Eligibility Categories page.
2. File your immigrant petition (or get someone to file for you).
After you find the appropriate eligibility category, generally you need someone to file an immigration petition on your behalf. For any family-based immigration petitions, you’ll need a family member to file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). For employment-based immigration, a U.S. employer must file a Form I-140 (Petition for Alien Worker) on your behalf. If you will be investing significant capital ($500,000 or $1 million at least) into a business venture inside the U.S., you may file Form I-526 (Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur) by yourself. There are other options as well, so it is recommended that you check with the consulate before submitting any immigrant petition.
3. Awaiting notification from USCIS and/or the National Visa Center.
If your petition is denied by USCIS, you will receive written notice for the reasons as well as whether or not you can appeal the decisions. If you are approved and applied outside of the U.S., USCIS will send your approved petition to the National Visa Center, which is responsible for collecting visa application fees and supporting documentation, until an immigrant visa number is available for you. The National Visa Center will notify you and the petitioner who filed on your behalf when the petition is received, when an immigrant visa number is about to become available, and when to submit any immigrant visa processing fees and/or supporting documentation.
4. Attend your scheduled consular office appointment.
The U.S. consular office will schedule you for an interview once a visa is available or your priority date is current. Afterward, the consular office will process your petition and determine your eligibility for an immigrant visa.
5. Notify the National Visa Center of any of the following changes, which may affect eligibility.
- You change your address.
- You were under 21 when applying but are now 21.
- You change your marital status.
6. Receive (but do not open) your visa packet.
The consular office will send you a packet of information, known as a Visa Packet, if you are granted an immigrant visa. Make sure that you do NOT open it. Instead, you will give it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection when you arrive in the U.S. If the officer admits you then you will then secure lawful permanent resident status, and you will be able to legally live and work in the United States permanently. You will also need to make sure you pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee.
7. Receive your Green Card.
Once the USCIS Immigrant Fee is paid and you arrive in the U.S., you will receive your Green Card in the mail. If you did not pay the fee before arrival in the U.S. then you will need to do so before USCIS will send you your Green Card.