By Dev Banad Viswanath, Esq.
Immigrant Consular Processing is the process of applying for an immigrant visa through a U.S. Embassy or consulate in a foreign country; meaning getting a permanent resident visa through a consulate or embassy. An individual who is outside of the U.S. and is the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition must apply at a U.S. Department of State consulate abroad for an immigrant visa in order to be admitted into the U.S. as a permanent resident. In a Covid 19 world, consular posts have accumulated massive delays due to limited resources and reduced capacity to process interviews. There are slightly less than half a million (500,000) people waiting in line for their visa interviews to be scheduled.
Once an immigrant petition is approved, USCIS forwards the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC notifies the petitioner and beneficiary that the approval has been received and that visa processing steps must take place. The petitioner and beneficiary(ies) must submit immigrant visa processing fees, the immigrant visa form DS-260, and supporting civil documents in addition to Affidavit of Support documents. This is when the beneficiary and each family member immigrating with the beneficiary needs to complete the Application for Immigrant Visa and Registration, also known as Form DS-260. In addition, the petitioner of the approved petition will need to submit a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The Form I-864 is a legal contract between the sponsor (who may be the same person as the petitioner) of an immigrant visa applicant and the U.S. government promising to support the beneficiary if that person is not able to support themselves and that the person or derivative persons, will not become public charges.
When the NVC has received the DS-260 and all supporting documents, the consular office will schedule an interview for the beneficiary. The consular office completes processing the beneficiary’s case and determines if the they are qualified to receive an immigrant visa. If the consular office grants the beneficiary an immigrant visa, the officer will then give them an Immigrant Visa packet. This packet is known as a “Visa Packet.”
Once the beneficiary arrives to the U.S., they will need to give the Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. The CBP officer will inspect the beneficiary and confirm that they are admissible. If the CBP officer admits the beneficiary, they will be admitted as a permanent resident of the U.S. As a permanent resident the beneficiary will be able to enjoy the benefits of working, living, or going to school in the U.S. permanently. It should be noted that USCIS has implemented the Immigrant Fee now, which should be paid after the interview once the visa is issued and preferably before they enter the US but it can be done afterward as well. This fee which is currently $220 needs to be paid, in order to receive the actual green card.
Currently there is a delay in visa processing through consular posts and so there is a longer wait time before beneficiaries have their visa interview scheduled. Consular processing takes about 15 to 18 months for immediate relatives but due to the wait for a visa to become available, the process will likely take much longer for family preference immigrants. This attorney is hopeful that with new procedures and resources increasing that the wait times do get better. Consular processing is preferred by some applicants over adjustment of status because people can wrap up their affairs neatly before starting a life in the US. Also, the process can be a bit less prohibitive because a person can travel around while their immigrant visa is being adjudicated, but in stateside adjustment of status, the beneficiary/applicant must wait until they get work and travel authorization before they can work or leave the US. An immigrant visa applicant could still obtain a visitor visa for the period in between filing and visa grant as long as the terms of the visitor visa are not violated. Consular officers are not allowed to refuse granting a visa based on discretion, unlike adjustment of status which is discretionary. Currently the US consular post in Mumbai is handling all immigrant visas for all of India.