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There are two ways to apply for permanent resident status in the United States. The beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition with visa number immediately available may apply at a U.S. consulate abroad through the process called “consular processing.” Alternatively, if the beneficiary is already in the United States, the beneficiary may apply for the visa without having to return to his or her home country through the process called “adjustment of status.”

If the immigrant petition indicates that the beneficiary will apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate abroad, an approved immigrant petition is forwarded by the USCIS to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, NH for immigrant visa pre-processing at the correct time. Immediate relative (IR) categories do not have yearly numerical limits. However, family preference and employment-based immigrant categories have numerical limits each year; and therefore, wait times are involved, which can be lengthy, for processing to begin. Visa processing begins when the petition’s priority date is already current based on the monthly visa bulletin issued by the Department of Travel.

Consular processing applies when the beneficiary of an approved Form I-130, Form I-140, or Form I-360 petition is outside U.S., ineligible to apply for adjustment of status within U.S., or prefers consulate processing for strategic or convenience reasons. Consular processing is processing through the NVC and a consular post. The NVC collects the fess, affidavit of support, civil documents, and police certificates, as required. When a case is complete, the NVC sends an appointment letter to the applicant, petitioner, and agent/attorney of record, if applicable, notifying them of the date, time, and location of the interview. The NVC then forwards the petition to the appropriate consular post. If the beneficiary will apply for immigrant visa in Guangzhou, China, the Consulate General in Guangzhou, China will send the appointment letters.

Consular processing involves the following steps:

Step 1: Receipt of NVC notification to begin processing with Choice of Agent and Address form (DS 3032).

Step 2: Completion of Choice of Agent and Address form (DS 3032) and submission of the form to NVC.

Step 3: Receipt of NVC notice of entry of designation of agent in applicant’s record and packet containing invoices for Immigrant Visa Processing Fee and Affidavit of Support (I-864) Processing Fee.

Step 4: Payment of Immigrant Visa Processing Fee and Affidavit of Support (I-864) Processing Fee.

Payment may be made online using a checking or savings account maintained at a U.S. bank, or by cashier’s check or money order payable to the Department of State.

Step 5: Document collection by NVC

If payment is made online, the applicant will be given instructions on how to download the instruction packets and the appropriate forms online. The applicant will also be required to print the Cover Sheet (with barcode) to be attached to the documents being submitted to the NVC.

If payment is made by mail, the applicant will receive mail notification from the NVC on how to proceed.

Step 6: Review by the NVC of the immigrant visa application and supporting documents

Step 7: Request by the NVC of additional information or documents, if any. If no additional information or documents are required, the NVC will schedule a visa interview for the applicant

Step 8: Approximately one month before your visa interview appointment, the applicant will receive an appointment letter containing the date and time of the interview, along with instructions for obtaining a medical examination

Step 9: Pre-interview preparation

Step 10: Visa interview at the designated U.S. Embassy/ Consulate General

After a successful interview, an immigrant visa will be stamped into the passport or travel document of the applicant. The visa is valid for six months from date of issuance. The applicant must enter the United States and establish a residence before the visa expires.