There are primarily two ways to permanent resident status (green card) based on the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). One of the ways is known as consular processing, which is for an individual who is the beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition. Having an approved immigrant petition means you already have an assigned immigrant visa number and you are available apply at a U.S. consulate abroad for an immigrant visa in order to come to the U.S. and enter as a permanent resident. Another way to permanent resident status is for individuals who are eligible and already in the U.S., this is known as Adjustment of Status. Adjusting your status to Permanent Resident Status can be granted without having to return to your home country.
In order to use consular processing it will be necessary to determine what immigrant category is best suited for your situation. Generally most immigrants become eligible for a green card through a petition filed through a family member or an employer. Others become green card holders through first gaining refugee or asylum status, or through other special USCIS special provisions. In most immigrant categories an immigrant petition will need to be filed on your behalf.
- Family Based – Requires a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative to file form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on your behalf.
- Employment Based – Generally requires the potential U.S. employer to file form I-130, Petition for Alien Worker, on your behalf.
- Special Classes of Immigrants – Certain immigrants can file form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), and Special Immigrant, or have one filed on your behalf.
- Humanitarian Programs – Typically humanitarian programs do not require an underlying petition, however individuals may be required to meet certain requirements before they can adjust status.
Immigrant petitions are commonly filed with the USCIS. There are exceptions when a form I-130 petition can be filed for an immediate relative (spouse, child or parent of US citizen) with a U.S. embassy or consulate office abroad. These exceptions may include:
- U.S. citizen has been granted authorizaton to continuously reside within the jurisdiction of the consular office for at least the previous 6 months
- Members of the military
- Emergency situations
- Situations involving the medical, health or safety of the petitioner
- For the national interests of the United States
Notice of Decision
The petitioner will be notified of a decision from USCIS. If the petition is denied, the notice will include the reasons for denying the petition and any rights to appeal the decision. If the petition is approved and if you are the beneficiary of the petition and living outside the United States or living in the United States, but choose to apply for your immigrant visa abroad, USCIS will then send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available.
National Visa Center
The National Visa Center (NVC) will collect visa application fees and supporting documents. It will be the responsibility for the NVC to notify the petitioner and beneficiary when the visa petition is received and when the immigrant visa is expected to become available.
It is not necessary to contact the National Visa Center (NVC) about your petition; the NVC will contact you if more information is needed. It is required however to contact the NVC if there is a change in your personal situation or if you change your address. If you reach the age of 21 years of age for a child or have changed your marital status, you should contact the NVC as this could affect your eligibility.
The consular office will schedule the applicant for an interview. Generally this takes place when a visa is available or a beneficiary’s priority date is current. The consular office will complete processing of the applicant’s case and make the decisions at this time if the beneficiary is eligible for an immigrant visa.
Immigrant Visa Granted
If your immigrant visa is approved and granted, the consular officer will provide you a packet of information. This packet is called a “Visa Packet.” This packet should not be opened.
Upon arrival into the United States, you will give the Visa Packet to the Customs and Border Protection officer at the first port of entry. There will be an inspection by a Customs and Border Protection officer and if found admissible, you will be admitted as a permanent resident of the United States, which gives you the right to live and work in the United States permanently.
Getting Your Green Card
The USCIS will mail your green card. If for some reason you do not receive your green card within 30 days of your arrival, you should contact USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or visit your local office by making an InfoPass appointment.