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If you are looking for information about the consular process, on our website you will find everything you need to know plus a comprehensive step by step guide for this process.

At Curbelo Law our New Jersey immigration lawyers can help you no matter where you are. We have more than 10 years of experience in Latino immigration cases. Call today and get a private consultation for your case, we will assist you

What Is Consular Processing? 

The consular process is that process where an immigrant can request a Green Card from a US embassy or consulate in their country of origin, that is, from abroad. 

This processing is for anyone outside the US. If you are already in the country, you can adjust status in the United States instead.

In order to apply, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Submit a recent medical exam.
  • Conduct an interview at the consulate or embassy.
  • Have a lawful permanent resident relative or U.S. citizen file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.
  • Have an immigrant visa number available.
how to legally enter the united states

These are some of the most common requirements to legally enter the United States. Once fulfilled, you can carry out the consular process from your country abroad or adjust status if you are within the United States.

The Step-By-Step Of The Consular Process In 2023

The first thing you should consider before going through a consular process is to have an immigration attorney help you step by step with this legal process.

At the Curbelo Law firm, you will be able to find the necessary help to complete all this process and thus be able to legally enter the United States from abroad.

If you already have your lawyer, then you will learn about the consular process step by step below:

1 # Check If You Can Get A Green Card

The first step in the consular process is to find out if you can get a Green Card or permanent residence in the US. To do this, review the eligibility categories available in our article dedicated to the Green Card. Statistics show that:

  • The vast majority of immigrants usually apply for a Green Card through a petition filed on their behalf by an employer or family member. Other immigrants can become a lawful permanent resident through asylum status, refugee status, and other special considerations.

You can learn more about how to apply for political asylum in the United States on our website.

2 # File An Immigration Petition 

The second step requires that you have a person submit an application on your behalf based on the following requests: 

Family-Based Immigrant Petition

If you wish to apply for a family-based Green Card, your family member must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, or;
  • Be a legal permanent resident (holder of a Green Card).
  • File Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative with the USCIS on your behalf.
consular process vs adjustment of status

Applications are usually filed directly with USCIS. However, depending on certain circumstances, you may request a petition for an immediate relative (parent, spouse, or child) at a US embassy or consulate abroad. These circumstances include:

  • Membership of the militia. 
  • Emergency situations.
  • Situations related to the health or safety of the applicant.
  • National interests for the United States
  • Whether you are an American citizen or not.
  • The existence of an international USCIS office in the country where you are living.
  • If you live within the jurisdiction of the consular office in a country where it does not have a USCIS office and any of the above circumstances exist to file the petition locally.

Visit our article of interest about the process to obtain American citizenship .

Employment-Based Immigrant Petition 

If you are applying for an employment-based Green Card, the US employer must file Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf. 

If you want to invest a large amount of capital in a US business, you will need to file Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur yourself.

Petition For Special Immigrant Classes

On some occasions, you will need to file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow (er), and Special Immigrant on your own or have someone else file it on your behalf. 

Petition For Humanitarian Programs

The vast majority of humanitarian programs do not require you to have an immigrant petition, but you may need to meet certain additional requirements before you can apply for a Green Card.

On our website we have covered topics such as asylum, refuge, the requirements for DACA for the first time or TPS. You will also find extensive information on the T Visa requirements , U Visa and the VAWA visa. Our office is very aware of all kinds of humanitarian relief and in the defense of victims of abuse and other crimes. If you need legal support, don’t hesitate to call us. 

3 # Wait For The Decision About Your Petition

The third step in conducting consular processing is to wait for the USCIS to notify you of the final decision they have made on your petition. During this step the following situations may occur: 

  • If USCIS approves the petition and you live outside the United States (or live in the country but decided to apply for an immigrant visa from another country), USCIS will send the approved application to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) .
    • The application will remain with the NVC until a visa number is available to you.
  • If USCIS denies your application, the notice will include the reasons why it was denied.
    • You can appeal against this decision, in the same notice you will find the steps you must take to appeal the decision.
appeal immigration decision

Similarly, on our website you can find more information on how to appeal an immigration case.

4 # Wait For The Notification From The National Visa Center

The National Visa Center (NVC) will be responsible for collecting the fees for visa applications and required documents. The NVC will notify the petitioner (employer or family member) and you (the beneficiary) when the petition will be reviewed and when a visa number will be available.

It will also be in charge of notifying you when you have to send payments for the immigrant visa procedures; known as “fee bills”, and when you need to send additional documents.

5 # Go To The Appointment 

As the visa or priority date is available, the consular office will schedule an interview appointment for you.

The consular office will be in charge of completing the application process and will decide if you are eligible to obtain an immigrant visa.

6 # Notify NVC Of Any Changes Made

Generally, you will not have to contact the NVC at any time, as they are the ones who will contact you during the case. However, you should contact the NVC as long as:

  • Change your marital status.
  • Change the direction.
  • You were under 21 years of age but now you turned 21.

If you submit these changes but do not notify the NVC, it may affect your eligibility or the availability of an immigrant visa. 

7 # After Obtaining A Visa

At this point you may be wondering: What happens after USCIS approves your petition? When you are issued an immigrant visa, the officer in charge will give you an information packet; commonly known as the “Visa Package.”

  • You should NOT open the visa package for any reason.
  • You will have to pay a USCIS Immigrant Fee. USCIS uses this fee to process the immigrant visa package and to generate a Green Card for you.
    • We recommend that you pay the fee online after you receive the visa package and before traveling to the United States.
  • When you arrive in the US, you will need to show the visa package to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer .
  • You will be inspected by the officer and the officer will determine if you are eligible to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
    • If admitted, you will be able to enter the country, live and work permanently in the United States.

With the PERM labor certification, you could work and live in the US indefinitely despite being a foreigner.

8 # Get Your Green Card

When you pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee, you will receive the Green Card in the mail within the next few days after your arrival in the United States.

In the event that you do not receive the Green Card within 45 days of your arrival in the United States, you should immediately contact the USCIS Contact Center at 800-373-5283.

If you came to the United States and did not pay the USCIS Immigrant fee, you will have to pay it before USCIS sends you the Green Card.

Consular Process Versus Adjustment Of Status

One of the most common questions in our offices about this procedure is about which is better, the consular process or the adjustment of status? Both procedures have their advantages and disadvantages, so you will need to know them more thoroughly.

The main thing you should know is that not everyone will have a single option, some immigrants will have the option to choose between an adjustment of status or a consular procedure.

Generally, the requirements for adjustment of status limit the vast majority of people, primarily because the applicant:

  • Must be physically in the U.S. 
  • He/she must have entered the country legally.
  • Must have some type of US visa available; Read our related article on what are the types of American visas.

For the most part, only immediate family members in the United States have the opportunity to adjust their status.

People under the family preference categories end up undergoing consular processing. Visit our dedicated article on US family-based immigration where you will know the answers about:

Processing Times 

  • If you apply for adjustment of status to obtain a Green Card, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be in charge of processing it. 
  • If you request consular processing, the US Department of State will be in charge of processing the application for an immigrant visa. 

The processing time will vary between each one, however, it generally takes longer to apply for an adjustment of status for permanent residence than to apply for an immigrant visa through consular processing.

consular process step by step

Statistics show that on average the time for each of these processes is:

  • Adjustment of Status: It takes 8 to 14 months to get a Green Card.
  • Consular process: It takes between 5 to 12 months to obtain a Green Card.

Although consular processing is much faster than adjustment of status, adjusting status brings more benefits to the applicant, such as being able to be in the US with family members and even getting to work with authorized permission. 

For more information regarding work, visit our post on How to Get a Job in the United States Being Illegal.

Considerations For the Journey

While waiting for a Green Card, many of the applicants will wish for the opportunity to visit relatives in different countries.

If the prospective permanent resident is in the US but wants to be able to visit family members in another country, there are certain travel restrictions that vary between adjustment of status and consular processing.

Adjustment Of Status Considerations

While waiting for USCIS to approve the Form I-485, the beneficiary will be able to travel outside the US as long as they have had an authorization. The applicant must possess a prior permit document before leaving the US They will only need to submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document along with Form I-485.

If the applicant for an adjustment of status leaves the US without prior permission, they will automatically abandon the I-485 application so they may not re-enter the country again.

In the event that the applicant has any period of illegal presence in the US, our best recommendation is to consult with a lawyer before leaving the country for any reason.

Read our article on I am illegal in the USA and I want to be legal to learn more about the illegal presence in the country.

Consular Processing Considerations

With consular processing, visiting the US is more complicated, especially if the application for an immigrant visa is in process. 

Despite being possible to get a type of B-1 business visitor visa and a B-2 visa for temporary tourists, it does not guarantee entry while the process is pending. Therefore, you should consider the following:

  • If you file Form I-130, this would indicate to the US government that the beneficiary intends to come to live in the United States permanently. 
  • Nonimmigrant visas will normally only be issued to travelers who provide evidence that their visit to the United States is only temporary.
    • You will need proof of nonimmigrant intent if you want to enter the US with the visitor visa and the pending Form I-130.
  • Couples of US citizens will be able to apply for a K-3 visa and a K-4 visa for dependent children, this will allow the visa holder to access the US while awaiting the resolution of their case. 
  • K-3 spouses can adjust status to permanent resident once they enter the U.S.
    • It should be noted that the United States Department very rarely issues the K-3 visa.

You may be interested in learning about the American Citizen Fiance K-1 Visa.

Forms And Expenses

You will have to submit a series of forms together to obtain a family-based adjustment of status, it is generally more extensive than the consular process, and the latter is usually cheaper than an adjustment.

If you are adjusting status, you will have to pay USCIS all fees up front, while consular processing fees are usually spread out during the process.

consular processing costs

There are other costs associated with both processes, it all depends on how much the doctor will charge for a fee for a medical examination.

This exam cost varies depending on the country where you take it, additionally you have to consider the costs of the typical fees of the lawyers in order to get a Green Card.

This cost for a Green Card application typically ranges from $ 2,000 to $ 5,000 in total. 

Decisions And Appeals

In addition to the financial requirements and application time, you may need to have immigration officials from USCIS and the US department go through a different decision process.

Decisions And Appeals For Adjustment Of Status

If the applicant is found to be ineligible, USCIS may issue a notice denying the application. A case for adjustment of status may be denied for discretionary reasons, including:

  • An application fraud.
  • Illegally entering the U.S.
  • Lying in some form or interview.
  • Intent to stay in the US permanently without permission.
  • Background panels, which include:
    • Minor offences.
    • Major offenses.
  • Other factors of illegality.

If USCIS denies your case, you can always appeal against this situation, but you will have to wait for the notification indicating the appeal process.

Decisions And Appeals For The Consular Process

Consular processing has a lower risk of being rejected; Unlike adjustment of status, USCIS officers will not be able to refuse to issue an immigrant visa based on discretion.

In the event that you have immigration violations on your record or have a criminal record or other serious factors, consular processing may still be a more favorable path for you than adjustment of status.

However, it is always recommended that you have an attorney by your side to help you in this situation.

comparison between consular processing and adjustment of status

If you compare the adjustment of status versus the consular process, it is impossible to determine which is better for a person, since it all depends on their situation. Only an immigration attorney will be able to help you throughout this process. Our Latina lawyer Carolina T. Curbelo is the daughter of Cuban refugees and has been helping with consular procedures and immigration adjustments for more than 10 years. Call us to schedule a private consultation.

How Much Does The Consular Process Cost In 2023? 

The consular process has a total price of about $ 1,200.

Payments made during this processing do not have to be paid immediately, but are made in parts depending on the documents to be presented.

The cost of the documents are:

  • Form I-130: $ 535.
  • DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application: $ 325.
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support: $ 120.
  • USCIS Immigrant Fee: $ 220.
  • Total payment: $ 1,200.

There are other costs associated with consular processing, such as the cost of the medical exam, which varies by country and by doctor. Additionally, each applicant must submit Form I-693 completed by their physician and approved by USCIS.

Although there is no fee for Form I-693, the doctor will charge the fee for the exam in addition to other expenses such as transportation, food, treatments, and so on.

Consular Process With Waiver of inadmissibility

Since August 29, 2016, a rule has been applied that allows certain undocumented immigrants, including:

  • Spouses.
  • Unmarried children of American citizens.
  • Unmarried children of permanent residents.

Get to request an I-601A waiver to be able to leave the United States, in this way they can then enter the country and thus obtain their Green Card.

The undocumented person will need this immigration resource to return to the United States without falling into a punishment law, which establishes a penalty of 3 to 10 years to re-enter.

waiver of inadmissibility

In case you are looking for answers to the consular process with an immigration waiver, review our article dedicated to waivers of inadmissibility.

Frequently Asked Questions About Consular Processing

The next section shows you questions and answers on topics related to consular processing in the United States. Remember that from our offices located in New Jersey we serve clients globally. Do not hesitate to send us your professional inquiry.

Can I Switch From A Consular Procedure To An Adjustment Of Status?

You can switch from consular processing to an adjustment of status as long as you file an application with USCIS and are eligible for the change.

How Do I Switch From An Adjustment Of Status To Consular Processing?

If you initially selected adjustment of status over consular processing, you will need to inform USCIS of the decision and submit Form I-824, Request for Action on an Approved Application or Petition.

The transfer to consular processing is likely to take a little longer; from 5 to 10 months, so if you are not sure when filing Form I-130, the best option you have is to consult with your lawyer beforehand.

Can I Travel To The United States To Adjust Status?

You can only use the non-immigrant visa to travel to the US, so it will violate the rules and regulations, so you will not be able to do so.

how long can we stay in usa with tourist visa

How long can we stay in USA with tourist visa? Find out everything you need to know on the subject.

What Types Of Immigrants Must Go Through Consular Processing?

The vast majority of immigrants will have no alternative but to use consular processing to obtain their Green Card.

If you are a foreigner and reside in another country, you must apply for consular processing to have your permanent residence, since with a non-immigrant visa you will not be able to adjust status.

In other words, only immediate family members can apply for adjustment of status, other members can only apply for consular processing. 

When Are Consular Processing Fees Payable?

The US citizen or permanent resident must submit Form I-130 to start the process, so here they must start with a payment of $ 535 before the USCIS. For immediate relatives (spouses, parents of an American citizen, and unmarried children under 21 years of age) the additional fees may decrease from 6 to 12 months.

Generally, the wait is much longer to obtain the visa, so it is necessary to pay the additional fees for several subsequent years.

What Are The Dangers Of Leaving The US For Consular Processing If You Have Been Staying Illegally?

If you have been living in the US illegally for 180 days or more, consular processing may be adversely affected and you will run the risk of not receiving a Green Card, as well as being prohibited from entering the country.

When you leave the United States, you are subject to an illegal stay penalty, even if you qualify for the Green Card, so you may not be able to enter the United States again. You could even be deported from the country if it is discovered that you do not meet the conditions to be present and legally.

You can obtain help from our lawyer for cancellation of deportation, additionally, knowing what TPS status is in the USA could help you in case of deportation.

Latino Attorneys In New Jersey For Consular Processing Abroad

Our New Jersey Latino attorneys will provide you with the help you need to complete the consular process abroad. In this way, you will be able to enter the United States legally with your Green Card.

With more over 10 years experience in immigration cases, you will be able to obtain the advice and legal representation you need for whatever type of situation you are presenting.