United States Immigrant Visa Process - AfriCanada Immigration Inc.
Find Canada Immigration Lawyer? See List
United States immigrant visa process
Immigration and Citizenship,  USA-Canada

United States Immigrant Visa Process

Table of Contents
1 United States Immigrant Visa Process – Step by Step

United States Immigrant Visa Process – Step by Step

Foreign citizens who want to live permanently in the United States must first obtain an immigrant visa via the United States immigrant visa process. This is the first step to becoming a lawful permanent resident.  

Immigrating to the United States is an important and complex decision. In this section, you will learn about who may immigrate to the United States, the different types of immigrant visas, the required forms, and the steps in the immigrant visa process. 

This section focuses on Family and Employment based visas because most immigrants apply for and receive their immigrant visas in these categories. This section is based solely on information from the webpages of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs.

United States Immigrant Visa – Family Category

1. Filing a Petition for US immigrant visa

To be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative, U.S. lawful permanent resident, or a prospective employer, with a few exceptions, explained below. The sponsor begins the immigration process by filing a petition on the foreign citizen’s behalf with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

ADVERTISEMENT
Immigrating Based on Family

A U.S. citizen can file an immigrant visa petition for:

  • Spouse
  • Son or daughter
  • Parent
  • Brother or sister

A U.S. lawful permanent resident (that is, a green-card holder) can file an immigrant visa petition for:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried son or daughter

As you get started:

  • Learn more about Family Categories.
  • To begin the immigration process, your sponsoring family member must file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Employment-Based Immigration

A U.S. employer can sponsor certain skilled workers who will be hired into permanent jobs. In some specialized fields, U.S. law allows prospective immigrants to sponsor themselves. In addition, U.S. law provides a number of special immigrant categories, as well as an immigrant investor program.

ADVERTISEMENT

 As you get started:

  • Learn more about Employment Categories
  • To begin the immigration process, your sponsoring employer must file an I-140 Petition for Alien Worker with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In some categories, you can file the I-140 petition yourself.
Number of Visas Each Year is Limited in Some Categories

Regarding some of the immigrant visa categories, United States law limits the number of visas available each year, with certain limits by country. In these limited categories, whenever the number of qualified applicants exceeds the available immigrant visas, there will be a waiting list. In this situation, the available immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed. The date your petition was filed is called your priority date.  You can learn more about priority dates.

Other Immigrant Visa Categories

Many immigrants receive visas in the family or employment based visa categories; however there are other immigrant visa categories. A U.S. citizen can also petition for the immigration of a foreign fiancé(e) to be married in the United States, or an orphan adopted abroad/to be adopted in the United States. Several immigrant visa categories that cover special types of workers or special circumstances are established by U.S. laws.

Learn more about special immigrant categories.

The United States also conducts an annual program for Diversity Visas. For these other visa categories, the immigrant process flow chart above does not apply; therefore, select from the category webpages under “More Information” above to learn how to apply in these visa categories.

2. After Your Petition is Approved

Petitions (Forms I-130 and Forms I-140) approved by USCIS in the United States are sent to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) for pre-processing. When your petition becomes current, or is likely to become current within one year, the NVC initiates immigrant visa pre-processing, including collecting visa fees, forms, and documents from sponsors (petitioners) and immigrant visa applicant(s).

Number of Visas Each Year is Limited in Some Categories

United States laws limit the number of immigrant visa numbers available each year in certain visa categories. This means that even if USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition for you, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In addition, U.S. law also limits the number of visas available in certain categories by country. For limited categories, the availability of immigrant visa numbers depends on the date your petition was filed. This is called your priority date. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Next Steps

The next steps in the process for family and employment based petitions varies by immigrant category, as explained below:

If a petition was filed on your behalf as:Then:
Spouse of a U.S. citizenNumber is not limited. 

Next: Begin NVC Processing
Unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen
Parent of a U.S. citizen who is age 21 or older
Adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizensNumber is limited each year. 

Next: Check Priority Dates
Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens
Spouses and children of U.S. lawful permanent residents
Employment based, except for certain special immigrants

The NVC performs immigrant visa pre-processing, including collecting visa fees, forms, and documents from sponsors (petitioners) and immigrant visa applicant(s). Therefore, it is important to await contact from the NVC for next step instructions before you pay fees or submit any forms or documents.

NVC will notify you when your case becomes current or is likely to become current within a year, and will ask you to begin next steps in processing your approved petition.

3. Steps for National Visa Center (NVC) Processing

Step 1:  Choose an agent

Step 2:  Pay fees

Step 3:  Submit visa application form

Step 4:  Collect financial documents

ADVERTISEMENT

Step 5:  Collect supporting documents

Step 6:  Submit documents to the NVC

4. Interview for US immigrant visa

After you have paid the necessary fees and submitted the required immigrant visa application, Affidavit of Support, and supporting documents to the National Visa Center (NVC), they will review your file for completeness. Once your case becomes qualified for an interview, NVC will work with the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate to schedule an appointment for you.

The U.S. Embassy or Consulate General tells NVC what dates they are holding interviews, and NVC fills these appointments in a first-in, first-out manner. However, before applicants in a numerically limited (preference) visa category can receive an appointment, their priority date must also be current. You can track your priority date using the Visa Bulletin at https://usvisas.state.gov/visabulletin. NVC schedules appointments one month in advance, but we cannot predict when an interview appointment will be available.

An interview appointment letter is sent to you (the applicant), as well as your petitioner (sponsor), and your agent/attorney (if applicable) to notify you and them of the date, time, and location of the interview once the embassy has an appointment available. There may be a wait of several months for an interview date to become available.

Supporting documents are sent to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Once your interview appointment is scheduled, NVC sends the immigrant visa petition, visa application, and all related forms and documents which were submitted to NVC to the appropriate U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Important Next Steps

After receiving notification that an interview has been scheduled, it is important that you (and any family members applying to immigrate with you) prepare for the visa interview.

Review U.S. Immigrant Visa Interview FAQs

Each visa applicant will need to complete a number of important next steps in advance of the interview date, including (not a complete list):

  • Gather original forms and documents – You must bring the required original forms and documents to your immigrant visa interview.
  • Schedule and complete a medical examination with the authorized physician(s).

Go to Prepare for the Interview to learn about these important next steps. 

Important Applicant Notice

Based on U.S. law, not everyone who applies for a visa will be found eligible to come to the United States. There are a number of possible reasons why someone might not qualify for a visa. The circumstances of each case are different. Approved visas generally are not available on the day of interview.

It is important that you do not make arrangements, such as selling your house, car or property, resigning from your job or making non-refundable flight or other travel arrangements until you have received your immigrant visa.

Applicant Interview

Attend Your Interview

Prior to the interview, ensure you have followed the U.S. Embassy or Consulate interview preparation instructions. On the scheduled date and time of your interview appointment, go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. A consular officer will interview you (and accompanying family member beneficiaries) and determine whether or not you can receive an immigrant visa. As part of the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken.

Who Must Attend the Interview

You, your spouse, and any qualified unmarried children immigrating with you, must participate in the interview.  All applicants required to participate will be named on the interview appointment letter you receive from the NVC.

If your spouse and/or qualified unmarried children will immigrate at a later date and travel separately from you, they are not required to participate in your interview. They will be scheduled for a separate interview appointment. You should contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate directly to arrange separate interviews, if needed.

Your sponsor/petitioner does not attend the visa interview.

What to bring to the Interview

The applicant is responsible to bring all required original civil documents, and photocopies of the original civil documents, to the visa interview. Failure to bring all required original civil documents and the photocopies to the interview may cause delay or denial of the visa.  The following documents must be available at the interview:

  • Appointment Letter – The interview appointment letter you received from the NVC.
  • Passport – For each applicant, an unexpired passport valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States
  • Photographs – Two identical color photographs for each applicant, which must meet the general Photograph Requirements
  • Medical Exam Results – If the panel physician gave you sealed envelopes containing each applicant’s medical examination results, please bring those unopened envelopes.  Some physicians send the medical examination results directly to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
  • Original and Supporting Documents – Original documents (or certified copies) and a photocopy of each document (with the exception of your passport and photographs) are required for you and each family member applying for a visa. As explained in the Interview Preparation webpage, the NVC will forward your application and any other documents you sent to the NVC to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate prior to your interview. 

You must bring all your original forms and documents with you.

Your original documents will be returned to you when the interview has been completed. The photocopies will be kept.

  • English Translations – If documents requiring English translation were not sent to the NVC, you must obtain them and present them on the day of your interview. For more information review Interview Preparation and Original Documents
  • Visa Fees – If your visa application fees were collected by the NVC, you do not need to pay again. However, if you or any family member did not pay all the necessary fees, you will be asked to pay any unpaid fees at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. 

Important Notice

You should not make permanent financial commitments, such as selling your house, car or property, resigning from your job or making non-refundable flight or other travel arrangements until you have received your immigrant visa.

Additional Information

Failure to Appear for Interview – If you cannot appear at your scheduled interview, contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate as soon as possible.  If you do not contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate within one year of receiving your interview appointment letter, your case may be terminated and your immigrant visa petition cancelled, and any fees paid will not be refunded.

Need to change the interview date and time – Review Interview Guidelines for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where your interview is scheduled.

My spouse and/or children were going to follow me to the United States after I immigrate. Can they accompany me instead? – Yes, you may change your spouse’s and/or children’s status from follow-to-join to accompanying by directly contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where your interview is scheduled.  This may be done prior to your immigrant visa interview, and additional forms and documents may need to be provided.

Can my children also receive immigrant visas, even if they were not originally part of the case? – If the immigrant visa category in which you are applying includes derivative children, your qualified unmarried children under the age of 21 may be added as derivative applicants after your interview has been scheduled. Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for specific instructions. At the interview, the additional applicant(s) will be required to pay the same fees and submit the same forms and supporting documents as you.

Visa eligibility: My child will turn 21 years old soon – Children generally must be unmarried and under age 21 to qualify as derivative visa applicants, or to qualify for immigrant visas individually in the IR-2 or F-2A visa categories. Also, they generally must enter the United States with immigrant visas while still under age 21. 

Under, the Child Status Protection Act, some children might continue to qualify for a visa and enter the United States after reaching the age of 21.  If you have a child who will be turning 21 soon, you should have already notified the NVC.  The NVC may be able to expedite your case.  If you did not notify the NVC, then you should immediately contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where your interview is scheduled.  The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will determine whether an earlier appointment is needed. If your child no longer qualifies to immigrate with you based on age, then a separate petition must be filed for the child. There may be a significant delay before your child becomes qualified for a visa.

Visa eligibility: My petitioning spouse/parent became a U.S. citizen – 

If the family member in the United States who petitioned for you has become a U.S. citizen, you should immediately contact the U.S. Embassy where your interview is scheduled. They will need proof of your petitioner’s naturalization, so please obtain one of the following documents:

  • A copy of the biodata page of your petitioner’s U.S. passport; or
  • A copy of your petitioner’s certificate of naturalization.

Effect on spouses and minor children: If you are applying for a visa in the family second preference (F2A) category, when your petitioning spouse/parent becomes a U.S. citizen you become eligible for the immediate relative (IR) visa category. This benefits application because there are no limits on the number of visas that can be issued each year in the IR categories.

  • Important: If your minor children are listed on your F2A visa application as “derivative applicants,” now that your petitioner is a U.S. citizen he/she must file new and separate petitions for each child. This is because children cannot be included as “derivative applicants” on a parent’s immediate relative (IR) visa. (This is different from the family second preference (F2A) petition, which allows minor children to be included in their parent’s F2A petition.)
  • Children born abroad after a parent became a U.S. citizen may qualify for U.S. citizenship. They should apply for U.S. passports. The consular officer will determine whether the child is a U.S. citizen and can have a passport. If the consular officer determines the child is not a U.S. citizen, the child must apply for an immigrant visa if he/she wants to live in the United States.

Effect on adult children: If you are applying for a visa in the family second preference (F2B) category as an unmarried adult child (age 21 or older), when your petitioning parent becomes a U.S. citizen you become eligible for the family first preference (F1) visa category. However, under a federal law called the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA), you can “opt out” of conversion to the F1 visa category and remain an F2B visa applicant. This may be beneficial because sometimes the waiting time for an F2B visa is shorter than the waiting time for an F1 visa. You should check the Visa Bulletin to see if it would be helpful for you to remain in the F2B category. (Applicants keep the priority date of their F2B petition even if it converts to the F1 visa category.) If you want to opt-out of the F1 category, you must submit a request using these guidelines:

  • Applicants whose case is at NVC should submit requests using NVC’s online inquiry form. NVC will forward the request to USCIS and change the visa category back to F2B upon receipt of USCIS’s approval.
  • Applicants whose case is at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas should ask the embassy to submit a request on their behalf. The consular officer will forward the request and adjudicate the visa application in the F2B category only upon receipt of USCIS’s approval.

5. After the Interview

Important Notice

Do not sell your house, car or property,  resign from your job or make non-refundable flight or other travel arrangements until you have received your immigrant visa.

At the end of your immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, the consular officer will inform you whether your visa application is approved or denied.

Visa approval – When approved, you will be informed how and when your passport and visa will be returned to you.

Visa denial – If denied, you will be informed why you are ineligible to receive a visa. Review About Visa Denials below and the USCIS Denials webpage for more detailed information.

Visa Approval – When you receive your visa

Passport with Visa – Your immigrant visa will be placed on a page in your passport. Please review the printed information right away to make sure there are no errors. If there are any spelling errors, contact the embassy or consulate promptly. 

Sealed Immigrant Packet – You will also receive a sealed packet containing documents that you must present to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a port-of-entry (often an airport) upon your arrival in the United States. You must not open the sealed packet. 

When You Should Travel – You must arrive and apply for admission in the United States no later than the visa expiration date printed on your visa.An immigrant visa is usually valid for up to six months from the date of issuance unless your medical examination expires sooner, which may make your visa valid for less than six months.

USCIS Immigrant Fee –  You must pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after you receive your immigrant visa and before you travel to the United States. Only children who enter the United States under the Orphan or Hague adoption programs, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants, returning residents (SB-1s), and those issued K visas are exempt from this fee. Select USCIS Immigrant Fee on the USCIS website for more information. Important Notice: USCIS will not issue a Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 or Green Card) until you have paid the fee.

Vaccination Records – Children are required to have certain vaccinations before they can enroll in school in the United States. Therefore, it is recommended that your child have complete vaccination records before immigrating. Learn about vaccination requirements by state on the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website under State Vaccination Requirements.

X-rays – Must be hand-carried with you, not packed in your luggage. 

Entering the United States

When traveling to the United States, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter before or at the same time as family members with visas. With your immigrant visa (before it expires), and sealed packet, you will travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (often an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to grant or deny admission. Learn about admission and entry requirements on the CBP website under Travel. When you are admitted, you will enter as a Lawful Permanent Resident, also called a green card holder, and will be permitted to work and live permanently in the United States.

When You are a Permanent Resident – Coming to the United States to live permanently, you will want to learn more about your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident. See Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants to review information on the USCIS website about living in the United States.

Social Security Number – To learn about the U.S. Social Security Administration benefits available to Legal Permanent Residents, and how to apply for a social security number card, visit the Social Security Administration website.

About Visa Denials

  • In some situations the consular officer does not have sufficient information needed to process your application to conclusion, or you may be missing some supporting documentation. The consular officer will inform you if information or documents are missing and how to provide it.
  • Some applications may require additional administrative processing after the interview before the application can be processed to conclusion. The consular officer will inform you if additional administrative processing is necessary.

Based on U.S. law, not everyone who applies is qualified or eligible for a visa to come to the United States. Under U.S. law, many factors could make an applicant ineligible to receive a visa. See Ineligibilities for U.S. Visas. In some instances, the law might allow you to apply for a waiver or the ineligibility. If you are able to apply for such a waiver, the consular will advise you on the steps to take.

Employment-Based Immigrant Visas

Every fiscal year (October 1st – September 30th), approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are made available to qualified applicants under the provisions of U.S. immigration law. Employment based immigrant visas are divided into five preference categories. Certain spouses and children may accompany or follow-to-join employment-based immigrants.

1. Labor Certification and Filing a Petition

To be considered for an immigrant visa under some of the employment-based categories below, the applicant’s prospective employer or agent must first obtain a labor certification approval from the Department of Labor. Once received (if required), the employer then files an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the appropriate employment-based preference category. (NOTE: Persons with extraordinary abilities in the Employment First preference category are able to file their own petitions.) When filing the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, see the detailed form instructions, as well as more detailed requirements information on the USCIS Permanent Workers webpage.

Categories

There are three sub-groups within this category:

  1. Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. Applicants in this category must have extensive documentation showing sustained national or international acclaim and recognition in their fields of expertise. Such applicants do not have to have specific job offers, so long as they are entering the U.S. to continue work in the fields in which they have extraordinary ability. Such applicants can file their own Immigrant Petitions for Alien Worker, Form I-140, with the USCIS.
  2. Outstanding professors and researchers with at least three years experience in teaching or research, who are recognized internationally. Applicants in this category must be coming to the U.S. to pursue tenure, tenure track teaching, or a comparable research position at a university or other institution of higher education. The prospective employer must provide a job offer and file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, with the USCIS.
  3. Multinational managers or executives who have been employed for at least one of the three preceding years by the overseas affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the U.S. employer. The applicant’s employment outside of the U.S. must have been in a managerial or executive capacity, and the applicant must be coming to work in a managerial or executive capacity. The prospective employer must provide a job offer and file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, with the USCIS.

Employment Second Preference (E2): Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability

A Second Preference applicant must generally have a labor certification approved by the Department of Labor. A job offer is required and the U.S. employer must file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, on behalf of the applicant. Applicants may apply for an exemption, known as a National Interest Waiver, from the job offer and labor certification if the exemption would be in the national interest. In this case, the applicant may self-petition by filing the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, along with evidence of the national interest. Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability receive 28.6 percent of the yearly worldwide limit of employment-based immigrant visas, plus any unused visas from the Employment First Preference category.

There are two subgroups within this category:

  1. Professionals holding an advanced degree (beyond a baccalaureate degree), or a baccalaureate degree and at least five years progressive experience in the profession.
  2. Persons with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. Exceptional ability means having a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.

Employment Third Preference (E3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (Other Workers)

A Third Preference applicant must have an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, filed by the prospective employer. All such workers generally require labor certification approved by the Department of Labor. Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (Other Workers) receive 28.6 percent of the yearly worldwide limit of employment-based immigrant visas, plus any unused visas from the Employment First Preference and Second Preference categories.

There are three subgroups within this category:

  1. Skilled workers are persons whose jobs require a minimum of 2 years training or work experience that are not temporary or seasonal.
  2. Professionals are members of the professions whose jobs require at least a baccalaureate degree from a U.S. university or college or its foreign equivalent degree.
  3. Unskilled workers (Other workers) are persons capable of filling positions that require less than two years training or experience that are not temporary or seasonal.

Employment Fourth Preference (E4): Certain Special Immigrants

A Fourth Preference applicant must be the beneficiary of an approved Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, Form I-360, with the exception of Certain Employees or Former Employees of the U.S. Government Abroad (see number 3 below). Labor certification is not required for any of the Certain Special Immigrants subgroups. Special Immigrants receive 7.1 percent of the yearly worldwide limit of employment-based immigrant visas.

There are many subgroups within this category:

  1. Broadcasters in the U.S. employed by the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors or a grantee of such organization
  2. Ministers of Religion
  3. Certain Employees or Former Employees of the U.S. Government Abroad – Must use Form DS-1884, Petition To Classify Special Immigrant Under INA 203(b)(4) As An Employee Or Former Employee of the U.S. Government Abroad
  4. Certain Former Employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government
  5. Certain Former Employees of the U.S. Government in the Panama Canal Zone
  6. Certain Former Employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government on April 1st, 1979
  7. Iraqi and Afghan interpreters/translators who have worked directly with the United States armed forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator/interpreter for a period of at least 12 months and meet requirements. This classification has an annual numeric limitation of 50 visas. See Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters for more information.
  8. Iraqi and Afghan nationals who have provided faithful and valuable service while employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for not less than one year on or after March 20th, 2003 and prior to September 30, 2013, or in Afghanistan for not less than one year after October 7th, 2001, and have experienced an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment. See Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis – Worked for/on behalf of the U.S. Government and Afghans – Worked for/on behalf of the U.S. Government for more information.
  9. Certain Foreign Medical Graduates (Adjustments Only)
  10. Certain Retired International Organization Employees
  11. Certain Unmarried Sons and Daughters of International Organization Employees
  12. Certain Surviving Spouses of deceased International Organization Employees
  13. Special Immigrant Juveniles (no family member derivatives; Adjustments Only)
  14. Persons Recruited Outside of the United States Who Have Served or are Enlisted to Serve in the U.S. Armed Forces
  15. Certain retired NATO-6 civilians
  16. Certain Unmarried Sons and Daughters of NATO-6 civilians
  17. Certain Surviving Spouses of deceased NATO-6 civilian employees
  18. Persons who are beneficiaries of petitions or labor certification applications filed prior to September 11th, 2001, if the petition or application was rendered void due to a terrorist act on September 11th, 2001
  19. Certain Religious Workers

Employment Fifth Preference (E5): Immigrant Investors

Immigrant Investor visa categories are for capital investment by foreign investors in new commercial enterprises in the United States which provide job creation. Select Immigrant Investor Visas to learn more about this employment-based category.

2. Next Steps – Fees and Visa Application

After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). Once received, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. When an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will instruct the applicant to complete Form DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. (NOTE: If you already have an attorney, the NVC will not instruct you to complete Form DS-261.) The NVC will begin pre-processing the applicant’s case by providing the applicant with instructions to submit the appropriate fees. After the appropriate fees are paid, the NVC will request that the applicant submit the necessary immigrant visa documents, including application forms, civil documents, and more. Learn more about National Visa Center visa case processing.

Can My Family Members also Receive Immigrant Visas?

Based on your approved petition, your spouse and minor unmarried children, younger than 21, may apply for immigrant visas with you. Like you, they must also fill out required application forms, obtain required civil documents, pay the required fees, and undergo medical examinations. Same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), along with their minor children, are now eligible for the same immigration benefits as opposite-sex spouses. Consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate their immigrant visa applications upon receipt of an approved I-130 or I-140  petition from USCIS. For further information, please see USCIS FAQ’s.

Numerical Limitations

All categories of employment-based immigrant visas are issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the annual numerical limit for the category is reached. The filing date of a petition becomes the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. In certain heavily oversubscribed categories, there may be a waiting period of several years before a priority date is reached. Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.

Fees

Fees are charged for the following services:

  • Filing of Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, or Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, Form I-360 (this fee is charged by USCIS)
  • Processing an immigrant visa application, Form DS-260 (see Note below)
  • Medical examination and required vaccinations (costs vary)
  • Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and expenses for travel to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for your visa interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.

For current fees for Department of State services, see Fees for Visa Services. For current fees for USCIS services, see Check Filing Fees on the USCIS website.

Note: Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant, regardless of age, and are not refundable.

Fees should not be paid to the NVC or paid at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you have your visa interview unless specifically requested. Applicants will be provided with instructions by the NVC on where and when to pay the appropriate fees. Do not send payments to the NVC’s address in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

3. Required Documentation

In general, the following documents are required:

  • Passport(s) valid for six months beyond the intended date of entry into the United States, unless longer validity is specifically requested by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your country. Please review the instructions for guidance.
  • Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application.
    • Preview a sample DS-260 (6.4MB).
  • Two (2) 2×2 photographs. See the required photo format explained in Photograph Requirements.
  • Civil Documents for the applicant. See Documents the Applicant Must Submit for more specific information about documentation requirements, including information on which documents may need to be translated. The consular officer may ask for more information during your visa interview. Bring your original civil documents (or certified copies) such as birth and marriage certificates, as well as legible photocopies of the original civil documents, and any required translations to your immigrant visa interview. Original documents and translations can then be returned to you.
  • Financial Support – At your immigrant visa interview, you must demonstrate to the consular officer that you will not become a public charge in the United States. (NOTE: For applicants where a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) relative filed the Form I-140 petition or where such a relative has a significant ownership interest in the entity that filed the petition, that relative must complete Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the Act, on behalf of the applicant.)
  • Completed Medical Examination Forms – These are provided by the panel physician after you have completed your medical examination and vaccinations (see below).

4. Employment Category Visa Interview

Once the NVC determines the file is complete with all the required documents, they schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the file, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents listed above, to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the applicant will be interviewed for a visa. The applicant, attorney, and third-party agent, if applicable, will receive appointment emails, or letters (if no email address is available), containing the date and time of the applicant’s visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination.

Each applicant should bring a valid passport to the interview, as well as any other documentation above not already provided to NVC. A consular officer will interview the applicant, and the consular officer will determine whether the applicant is eligible to receive an immigrant visa in accordance with U.S. immigration law. Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken on the day of the interview. Generally, an applicant receives original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.

5. Medical Examinations and Vaccinations

Important Notice: In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. NVC provides applicants instructions regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians. See Medical Examination for more information, including a list of panel physicians by country, and frequently asked questions.

Vaccination Requirements

U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of immigrant visas. See Vaccination Requirements for IV Applicants for the list of required vaccinations and additional information.

How Long Does It Take?

Employment based immigrant visa cases take additional time because they are in numerically limited visa categories. The length of time varies from case to case and cannot be predicted for individual cases with any accuracy. Some cases are delayed because applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the consular officer interviews the applicant.

Visa Ineligibility

Certain conditions and activities may make an applicant ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include: drug trafficking; overstaying a previous visa; and submitting fraudulent documents. If you are ineligible for a visa, you will be informed by the consular officer and advised whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility available to you and what the waiver process is. Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws contains the complete list of ineligibilities.

Misrepresentation of Material Facts or Fraud

Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact or fraud may result in you becoming permanently ineligible to receive a U.S. visa or enter the United States.

6. When You Have Your Immigrant Visa – What You Should Know

If you are issued an immigrant visa, the consular officer will give you your passport containing the immigrant visa and a sealed packet containing the documents which you provided. It is important that you do not open the sealed packet. Only the U.S. immigration official should open this packet when you enter the United States. You are required to enter the United Statesbefore the expiration date printed on your visa. When traveling, the primary (or principal) applicant must enter the United States before or at the same time as family members holding visas. 

USCIS Immigrant Fee –  You must pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after you receive your immigrant visa and before you travel to the United States. (SI-1, SI-2, SI-3, SQ-1, SQ-2, and SQ-3 visa holders will not pay the fee.) Select USCIS Immigrant Fee on the USCIS website for more information. 

Important Notice: USCIS will not issue a Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 or Green Card) until you have paid the fee.

Entering the United States: Port-of-Entry

A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of-entry and request permission to enter the United States. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Travelers should review important information about admissions and entry requirements on the CBP website under Travel.

Once you have paid the USCIS immigrant fee and have been admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident, your Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as a (green card) will be mailed to you.

How to Apply for a Social Security Number Card

If you elected on your immigrant visa application form to receive your Social Security Number Card upon admission to the United States as an immigrant, your card will be sent by mail to the U.S. address you designated on your application form, and should arrive approximately six weeks following your admission. If you did not elect to receive your Social Security Number Card automatically, you will have to apply to be issued a card following your arrival in the United States. To learn about applying for a Social Security Number Card, visit the Social Security Administration website.

When You Are a Permanent Resident

Coming to the United States to live permanently, you will want to learn more about your status as a Lawful Permanent Resident. See Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants to review information on the USCIS website about living in the United States.

Additional Information

Immigrant visa applicants should not make any final travel arrangements, dispose of property, or give up jobs until and unless visas are issued. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview. An immigrant visa is generally valid for six months from the issuance date.

General Visa Questions

  • Before submitting your inquiry, we request that you carefully review this website for answers to your questions. Because of the volume of inquiries, we cannot promise an immediate reply to your inquiry.
  • If your inquiry concerns a visa case in progress overseas, you should first contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case for status information. Select U.S. Embassy or Consulate to find contact information.
  • You can find contact information for our Public Inquiries Division at Contact Us.

See also Applying for U.S. Green Card and Permanent Residence

Please share this to help others:
  •   
  •   
  •  
  •  
  •   
Need Canada immigration attorney? See List of Lawyers
OR
NEED IMMIGRATION HELP? CONTACT US NOW WITH THE FORM BELOW