You’ve worked so hard to obtain a US green card, and now you’re a lawful permanent resident, living and working in the United States. You’re married, but your spouse lives abroad, and now you’d want them to also come and live in the US on permanent residence status. In that case, your foreign spouse can only apply for their marriage green card through consular process. That means they need to apply for their green card with the US Embassy or Consulate in their home country to become a legally recognized permanent resident in the United States.
This post provides insights into consular processing, the eligibility requirements, step-by-step application process, including the timelines in each step of the application process.
What is Consular Processing?
Consular processing is the application process for a US green card that foreign spouses of US permanent residents must go through. The application process varies, based on whether you’re living abroad or in your home country. If you’re applying outside the US, you’ll file a CR-1 or IR-1 visa application. With this approach, you’ll need to apply with the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country. That’s what consular processing is.
It differs from Adjustment of Status (AOS), which is the application for permanent residence status while inside the United States. If you opt for consular processing, you’ll have to wait to obtain green card approval in your country of residence before you can enter the US. The processing time can take several months, but it’s usually shorter than AOS, which means you can continue your employment as you wait.
Who Can Apply for a Marriage Green Card through Consular Process?
Consular processing is an immigration process that deals with two types of visas:
- CR-1/IR-1 spouse or CR-2/IR-2 child when the sponsor is a US citizen
- F-21 spouse; F-22 when the sponsor is a legally recognized US permanent resident (i.e. green card holder)
Only individuals who are eligible for a US green card through their status (such as marriage, employment, or other means) can file a Form I-130 petition for marriage green cards to acquire permanent residence through consular process.
Only after your I-130 petition is approved, and you’ve been granted a spouse visa, can you start the consular process. Unlike spouses married to US citizens, the timeline for receiving a visa number can be lengthy, and it’s critical to first check your priority date to know the best time to apply.
CR-1 Visa vs. IR-1 Visa
As mentioned earlier, you’ll either receive a CR-1 visa or an IR-1 visa when applying for a US green card through consular processing. But what’s the difference between the two?
A CR-1 visa is issued when a couple has been married for less than two years at the time the green card is approved. It’s a “conditional” green card whose validity lasts for two years. Therefore, the foreign spouse must file a petition to remove the conditions to obtain a green card with a 10-year validity period.
The IR-1 visa is issued if a couple has been together for more than two years at the time of green card approval. The visa is usually valid for 10 years at the time of issuance, meaning the beneficiary needs not apply to remove conditions.
How to Apply for a Marriage Visa through Consular Processing
For your foreign spouse to obtain a US green card, there’s a multi-step process that must be fulfilled, and it’s critical to know what to expect. Here are the steps:
Step 1: File Form I-130 petition
As a US citizen or green card holder, you must first file Form I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”) with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to establish your foreign spouse’s eligibility for a green card. After paying a filing fee of $535 and mailing the complete Form I-130, the USCIS will send you a notice by mail within two weeks. The Form I-130 processing time usually takes seven (7) to 10 months.
Step 2: Wait for a visa number
Once the USCIS approves your Form I-130, it will send your application to the National Visa Center (NVC). The immigration authority will also send you the I-130 notice of approval as Form I-797 (“Notice of Action”). You can then start your green card application with the NVC, although you can’t submit the application until an immigrant visa number is available.
Because the Department of State (DOS) sets the yearly limit for visa petitions it processes, you’ll wait until a visa number is available for your petition date. The processing time takes an additional eight (8) to 10 months following the I-130 approval by the USCIS.
Step 3: File Forms DS-261 and DS-260
Once an immigration visa number is available, you can submit your green card application, together with Form DS-261 and Form DS-260 It’s the NVC that decides whether you’re eligible for a visa interview.
Filing Form DS-261 (“Choice of Address and Agent”) is relatively straightforward because you only need to inform the DOS how to communicate with you. It’s free, with a processing time of up to three weeks. Afterwards, you’ll pay a total of $445 for immigration visa processing; the fee processing takes up to a week.
After the DOS processes the fee payment, you can now file Form DS-260 (“Immigration Visa Electronic Application”) for your immigration visa processing. When submitting the form, you’ll need to include the following:
- Your case number
- Your foreign spouse’s ID number
- The initial NVC invoice number
After submitting the form, print it, because you’ll need to present it when you go for your visa interview. The NVC usually sends a notification by mail or email confirming the reception of Form DS-260.
You’ll then have to submit Form I-184 (“Affidavit of Support”) to the NVC via email, mail, or an online upload, depending on the consulate processing your application. The NVC will decide – within 3-5 months – whether or not you have to go for an interview.
Step 4: Medical examinations and biometrics appointments
Before your interview, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with a USCIS-approved healthcare provider for a medical examination. You can find the details on the US Embassy or Consulate website. The fees vary, depending on your location, but it’s usually $200.
Step 5: Attend a consular interview
The green card interview is the final step of your consular processing. Typically, you’ll go for the interview at the US Embassy or consulate in your home country. The NVC will send you an appointment notification detailing the date, time, and location for your interview.
How Can an Immigration Lawyer Help?
As you might have noticed, there are many immigration guidelines, documents to file, and steps to follow when applying for a marriage green card through consular process. With so many forms to file and significant fees to pay, there shouldn’t be any room for errors or mistakes, lest your application is denied, and your fees go to waste. That’s why it’s crucial to partner with an immigration lawyer to help you with consular processing.
An immigration attorney is a veritable professional who is conversant and experienced in the consular process. They’ve handled numerous cases like yours, but most importantly, they can offer personalized legal counsel to ensure your unique circumstances are met. Whether you’re applying for a CR-1 or IR-1 visa, an attorney from The Law Office of Lina Baroudi can help you gather the specific evidence and support documents that apply to your specific case. They can also guide you through the petition and application process, ensuring you get approval on the first attempt.
Furthermore, an immigration lawyer can partner with the consulate to make inquiries before your interview to resolve any issues that might come up. At this stage, very few documents are accepted during the interview, which can seem rushed and offer little opportunity to explain extenuating situations that could lead to visa denial. With that in mind, the support of a California Immigration attorney is invaluable in ensuring your consular processing runs smoothly and error-free.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I have to leave the country for consular processing?
If you’re applying for a US visa abroad, you’ll need to go through consular processing. However, sometimes visa applicants already in the US need to leave the country and return to their home countries for consular processing.
What’s the consular processing timeline?
The timeline for consular processing varies from case to case and whether your sponsor is a US citizen or permanent resident (also known as a green card holder). The standard processing time takes seven (7) to 15 months if your spouse is a US citizen, and 14-36 months if your spouse is a lawful permanent resident.
Can I travel to the US while my consular processing continues?
If you decide to apply for a marriage green card through consular process, it becomes difficult to travel to the US with a pending application – even just for a short stay. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have a valid tourist visa.