How to Apply for Green Card for Spouse through Consular Processing?

A step-by-step guide to bring spouse to live in the U.S. as permanent resident

Updated on 08/26/2020

If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you are entitled to apply for green card for spouse. There are two ways you may apply for green card for your spouse, one is through Consular Processing, and another is through Adjustment of Status. How to decide which one to take? Simple answer is depends on where your spouse is. Assume your spouse is outside the United States, you can go ahead with Consular Processing. Assume your spouse is in the United States, you can go ahead with Adjustment of Status. You may find the following chart about their major differences.

 

Consular Processing

Adjustment of Status

Agency to process

USCIS →NVC →U.S. Consulate →USCIS

USCIS

Form to start

I-130 & I-130A

I-130 & I-130A & I-485 & more

Total government fee

$1200 ($535+$445+$220)

$1760 ($535+$1140+$85)

Miscellaneous cost

About $300~$800

About $300~$500

Processing times

12-24 months on average

3-24 months on average

Travel while application is pending

In most situations, spouse can travel to U.S. with a valid visa like B1/B2 tourism visa or under visa waiver program.

In most situations, spouse can travel internationally with an Advance Parole. However, it usually takes 3-6 months to get an Advance Parole.

Under certain circumstance, you may switch from Consular Processing to Adjustment of Status and vice versa. It is advisable to consult an experience immigration attorney before you decide to do so because such switch makes your application much more complicated.

Here we will focus on how to apply for green card for spouse through Consular Processing. As mentioned above, you will go through four stages with three agencies to process your green card application for your spouse.  We will describe each of them one by one.

As you may see, apply for green card for spouse will go through four stages with three agencies. It takes a long time and thousands of money. As such, it is highly recommended to free check eligibility (for U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident) through DYgreencard without providing any personal information. By doing so, you will have more confidence and preparation to go through every stage.

Stage 1: USCIS

Summary: To get the whole procedure started, you must file an I-130 immigration petition to USCIS for your spouse first.  The purpose of I-130 petition is to establish a bona fide marital relationship between you and your spouse. Meanwhile, USCIS will take a background search against you to ensure you have no specified offense against a minor. For most petitions filed by U.S. citizens, USCIS will adjudicate within 10 months from the date of filing. For most petitions filed by lawful permanent residents, USCIS will adjudicate within 18 months from the date of filing.

What documents needed to file an I-130 petition?

What happens after filing the petition?

1. I-797 receipt notice

If you file the petition properly, USCIS will initially respond by mailing you a letter that confirms receipt of your petition. The receipt letter is formally known as Form I-797C, Notice of Action and arrives approximately 3-6 weeks after filing.

2. Request for evidence

If you have filed a complete petition with adequate evidence, it is unlikely that you will receive a request for evidence. However, petitioners that have not provided sufficient evidence will receive this request in the mail. Normally, a request for evidence is issued in 7-15 months after the filing of the petition. It is important to respond to the letter with the requisite evidence and within the required time frame (normally 87 days from the issuance of this request). If you are uncertain of the necessary action, this is a good time to contact an immigration attorney.

3. Receive the adjudication result from USCIS

After USCIS has fully reviewed your petition, USCIS will make adjudication on your petition that is approved or denied. If your petition is approved, your will receive an I-797 approval notice in the mail. Meanwhile, your case will be forwarded from USCIS to NVC within 1-3 months for further processing.


Stage 2: National Visa Center (NVC)

Summary: Thanks to the internet technology, NVC is now processing all immigrant visa applications electronically through the CEAC system. It means you should finish all actions required by NVC through its online CEAC system.  Such actions include pay fees, submit I-864 Affidavit of Support and it supporting documents, finish DS-260 Online Visa Application and submit civil documents online. Let’s guide you one by one.

Pay fees

Either of you or your spouse will receive a Notice of Immigrant Visa Case Creation via email from NVC if you provided an email address in your I-130 petition. If no email address was provided in the I-130 petition, then NVC will send your spouse the notice by regular mail to his or her foreign address that you provided in the I-130 petition. —You mean a USPS regular first class mail to a foreign country? Are you kidding me? No, I am not kidding. So please make sure you have listed an email address in the I-130 petition.  The NVC notice looks like this:

Notice of Immigrant Visa Case Creation-NVC
Notice of Immigrant Visa Case Creation Email from NVC
As you may see, it has a NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number. You can log on CEAC at https://ceac.state.gov/IV with the two numbers to make payments. There are two types of fees you need to pay: Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325) and Affidavit of Support Fee ($120). It can only be paid through ACH, means paid by a bank account in the United States. Normally, it will take 1- 2 weeks for NVC to process the payment.

Submit Form I-864 Affidavit of Support and its supporting documents

After NVC processes your payments, when you log on CEAC again, it will indicate you need to submit Form I-864 Affidavit of Support and its supporting documents like your most recent federal tax return or return transcript, W-2 and/or 1099, etc. You may download the Form I-864 at USCIS’s site at https://www.uscis.gov/i-864. You need to fill it out, print and sign, then scan and upload it to the CEAC. The original Form I-864 with your signature should be well kept because your spouse needs to bring it to the immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Consulate in the future.  All the supporting documents should be uploaded to CEAC as well.

If your income and/or asset do not meet the sponsorship requirement, you still have to finish your own Form I-864. In addition, you need to find a joint sponsor. You may add a joint sponsor through CEAC system. After adding, you need to upload and submit joint sponsor’s own Form I-864 and his or her supporting documents as well.

Do not click the button of Submit until you think you have uploaded all the documents as required. Practically, NVC will not review the Form I-864 and its supporting documents until you finish DS-260 online and submit civil documents.

At DYgreencard, we may help you prepare Form I-864 and its supporting documents to ensure they meet all the requirements of NVC.

Finish DS-260 Online Visa Application and submit civil documents

Actually, it doesn’t matter you submit Form I-864 first or finish DS-260 online and submit civil documents first. NVC will not review either of them until it receives all of them. The purpose of DS-260 and civil documents is to collect all the personal information and documents of your spouse. Your spouse may log on CEAC to fill out DS-260 by herself or himself. Civil documents cannot be uploaded until the completion of DS-260. Nevertheless, we suggest you collect civil documents before the completion of DS-260. By doing so, it is easier and more accurate to fill out the information of your spouse in the DS-260.
Depends on your spouse’s personal information, civil documents generally include valid passport biographic data page, U.S passport size photo, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, police certificate, military record, etc. Each country has their specific civil document formats and requirements. You may refer to https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/Visa-Reciprocity-and-Civil-Documents-by-Country.html to learn about the civil document requirements for each country.

Again, do not click the button of Submit until you think you have uploaded all the civil documents as required.

After you submit Form I-864 and its supporting documents, DS-260 and civil documents through CEAC, NVC will review them within 1-3 months. If any of documents has defect or missing, NVC will notify you through email to ask you to re-submit. After you re-submit, it will take another 1-3 months to review. Before NVC is satisfied with all of your documents, it will ask you to re-submit again and again.  As such, it is very important to make sure the documents you submit to NVC at the very beginning are complete, correct and meet all the criteria of NVC. Otherwise, you will waste several months on this stage. Finally, NVC will send you a notice via email to indicate that your spouse’s immigrant visa case becoming documentarily qualified. It means NVC received all of the fees, forms, and documents that are required prior to attending an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate General overseas.

Although NVC provides a step-by-step instruction about how to prepare and finish the NVC processing, it is highly recommended to have an experienced immigration attorney to help you review or prepare all the information and documents before submission to NVC. It not only avoids to waste time on re-submitting, but also significantly contributes to your spouse’s success at the immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Consulate in the near future.


Stage 3: U.S. Consulate

After NVC finishes its review and your spouse’s immigrant visa case becoming documentarily qualified, the case will be forward to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your spouse’s home country or the country she or he has permanent residence for an immigrant visa interview. It usually takes 1-6 months to schedule the interview. Nevertheless, either of you or your spouse will receive an interview notice via email around one month before the interview date. Therefore, your spouse has about one month to get prepared for the interview.

Interview preparation includes:

You may learn each preparation through a specific instruction provided by each U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Your spouse is required to appear at the interview with all necessary documents including all the original documents previously submitted to NVC, a medical exam report and the documents to prove a bona fide marriage between you and your spouse.  You are not required to appear at the interview. However, it is advisable to have you reachable through phone on the date of interview, just in case the visa officer calls you to verify any information about you and your spouse.  

At the interview, the visa officer will verify much formation with your spouse face to face, especially your love story. At the end of the interview, the visa officer will make a decision to issue your spouse an immigrant visa or not. If issued, the visa officer will take away the passport of your spouse to produce an immigrant visa stamp on the passport (see template below). Generally, your spouse will get back his or her passport within 2-4 weeks. Then you spouse shall enter the U.S. with the immigrant visa within the valid duration of the immigrant visa. The immigrant visa is valid for 180 days from the date of medical exam report. Remember, it is not uncommon that the visa officer issues a notice asking for more evidence or denied the visa application directly at the interview. That’s why you’d better have an experienced immigration attorney to conduct interview training for your spouse.

Immigrant visa
Immigrant Visa


Stage 4: USCIS

Assume your spouse gets an immigrant visa, you should pay an immigrant visa fee of $220 through USCIS’s website at https://my.uscis.gov/uscis-immigrant-fee/. Upon receipt of the payment, USCIS will issue a green card to your spouse within 120 days from his or her first entry to the United States with the valid immigrant visa. Your spouse will receive the green card in the mail.  Besides, your spouse will receive a SSN card in the mail within one month upon entry to the United States.

In case your spouse gets denied for the immigrant visa application at the U.S. Consulate, the case (I-130 petition) will be returned to USCIS. It takes a long time (6-24 months on average) for U.S. Consulate to return the case to USCIS. Eventually, USCIS will send you a notice in the mail which gives you an opportunity to appeal the denial. However, you only have 30 days to file the appeal to USCIS with all supporting documents. So it is really tough to achieve a success through appeal. You really need an experienced immigration attorney to help you out.


Do not forget to renew the green card if it is valid for two years only

If the marriage between you and your spouse is less than 2 years on the date he or she enters the United States with a valid immigrant visa, the CBP officer at the airport will stamp CR1 in the passport of your spouse. Accordingly, your spouse will obtain a conditional green card valid for two years which needs to be renewed within 90 days before its expiration.  You may learn more about how to renew 2 year green card here.

If the marriage is more than 2 years on the date of first entry with the immigrant visa, your spouse should get an IR1 stamp in the passport and then obtain a ten-year green card in the mail regardless the IV category in his or her immigrant visa printed as CR1. Frustrating thing is that it is quite often CBP fails to check the duration of marriage on the site. Accordingly, it is necessary for your spouse to remind CBP officer about the duration of marriage when he or she arrives in the United States first time with the immigrant visa.

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