Guide to the I-130 Consular Process to Immigrate Foreign Spouses


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In this informational post we discuss the I-130 Consular Process for spouses. Consular processing refers to the process by which a U.S. Citizen immigrates their foreign spouse to the United States from abroad. Depending on the foreign spouse’s country of residence, and the volume of applications processed by USCIS, the National Visa Center, and the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where the foreign spouse will have their immigrant visa interview, the process to immigrate a spouse to the United States can take anywhere from 8 to 12 months. Consular processing is a complicated process. It is recommended that applicants obtain the assistance of an experienced attorney to file this type of application.

What is the first step involved in the process?

The first step involves filing the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This petition establishes that a relationship exists between the U.S. Citizen and intending immigrant. This petition thus is used for family-based immigration to the United States. A separate I-130 must be filed for each eligible relative that will immigrate to the United States including minor children of the foreign spouse. The filing and approval of the I-130 is the first step to immigrate a relative to the United States. Because this petition is filed by the U.S. Citizen petitioner, the foreign spouse does not need to wait until a visa number becomes available before applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy abroad. By contrast, if the petitioner is not a U.S. Citizen and is instead a Lawful Permanent Resident, an immigrant visa is not immediately available to the foreign spouse. Due to this, the foreign spouse must wait until their priority date becomes current according to the visa bulletin issued by the Department of State. The I-130 is accompanied by various supporting documents mostly biographical in nature. These documents include the signed forms, the filing fees, passport photographs of the petitioner and beneficiary, the petitioner’s proof of citizenship, a copy of the beneficiary’s passport ID page, copy of their birth certificate with a certified translation, and a copy of the marriage certificate. Once these documents have been compiled, the applicant mails them to USCIS for approval. USCIS takes approximately 4 months to process and approve this application. This time frame will depend on the volume of applications being processed by USCIS at the time of filing.

The National Visa Center Stage

Once the I-130 petition has been approved, USCIS will mail the petitioner a receipt notice known as the I-797 Notice of Action. This Notice of Action serves as proof that the I-130 petition has been approved, and more importantly indicates that the petition will be forwarded to the Department of State’s National Visa Center within 30 days. The National Visa Center is a government agency that conducts pre-processing of all immigrant visa petitions that require consular action. The National Visa Center requires the applicant to send various documents, before the application can be sent to the United States Consular unit where the foreign spouse will attend their immigrant visa interview. The NVC determines which consular post will be most appropriate according to the foreign spouse’s place of residence abroad, as indicated on the I-130 petition. Once the NVC has received all documents necessary to complete pre-processing of the immigrant application, the case is mailed to the consular unit abroad. From the date the I-130 has been approved, it takes approximately 30-45 days for the National Visa Center to receive the application from USCIS and begin pre-processing.

Receiving confirmation from the NVC

Once the NVC receives the I-130 petition from USCIS, they will mail the petitioner a checklist of civil documents that must be mailed or emailed to the NVC with instructions. The checklist will contain a barcode, the NVC case number, and a document cover sheet that must be placed on top of all documents sent to the NVC. Failure to follow the instructions on the checklist when mailing or emailing any documents to the NVC, will make it more difficult for the NVC to identify the case without the case number and bar code, and will thus delay processing of the application. Included with the checklist, the NVC will provide two invoices for the immigrant visa fee and the affidavit of support fee, that must be paid online. The invoices will include specific instructions for paying these fees along with the website. It is very important for the petitioner and beneficiary to be very proactive once they have received notice from USCIS that the application is being transferred to the NVC. It is recommended that if you do not receive any further notices from the NVC by mail or email within 30-45 days of receiving the I-130 approval notice from USCIS, you contact the NVC by phone or email to check the status of the transfer. The NVC representative will advise you accordingly on the length of time that you must wait to hear from the NVC. At times the representative will recommend that you wait 30 additional days, before contacting the NVC. You may also email the NVC to ask if they can send you the checklist and invoices by email.

Payment of Invoices and Submitting the DS-260 application

Once the National Visa Center has confirmed that they have received the application from USCIS, the applicant can proceed with the civil document stage. It is recommended that that the intending immigrant file their DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application with the Department of State and pay the appropriate fees on the DOS Consular Electronic Application portal before mailing or e-mailing any documents to the National Visa Center. This way, applicants can streamline the immigrant visa process avoiding unnecessary delays.

First, once you have received confirmation from the NVC that they have received your application from USCIS, you must make payment for the immigrant visa fee and affidavit of support fee online according to the instructions provided to you on the invoices. In order to make payment online you must have your NVC case number and invoice IDs. This information again can be found on the instructions provided by the NVC. Second, the applicant must complete and submit the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application on the Department of State website. Again, the applicant must have their NVC case number to access the application portal. It is very important to answer all questions on the DS-260 truthfully and in good faith. The consular officer that will interview the foreign spouse will review the answers provided on the DS-260. If the officer discovers that the beneficiary misrepresented any information in the DS-260, and/or did not disclose pertinent information, the beneficiary’s application may be denied, or worse they may be subject to a temporary ban from the United States. Once the applicant has submitted the DS-260 they must save a copy of the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application confirmation page. The applicant will be required to send this confirmation page to the NVC.

Once you have made payment for the applicable fees and you have submitted your DS-260 application, you are ready to begin gathering the required Civil Documents that must be mailed or emailed to the NVC to finalize processing of your application.

What is the civil document stage?

The civil document stage consists of mailing or e-mailing copies of various documents to the National Visa Center so that the NVC can complete pre-processing of the immigrant’s visa application until the case is ready for adjudication at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Once you have submitted your DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application with the Department of State and you have paid the appropriate fees on the portal, all intending immigrants must collect civil documents in support of the immigrant visa application. For family preference categories this will include completing the I-864 Affidavit of Support and gathering supporting financial documents. These civil documents will need to be mailed or emailed to the NVC depending on the prefixes that begin your NVC case number.

Emailing Civil Documents

In order to streamline the immigrant visa application process, the Department of State has designated certain cases to be processed at select U.S. embassies or consulates electronically.

If your NVC case number begins with one of the following prefixes you will need to scan and email your civil documents, supporting documents, and translations to including your NVC case number in the subject line and the petitioner’s and beneficiary’s complete names and dates of birth in the body of the email. Attachments must remain below five megabytes. Applicants should submit multiple emails if necessary. For more information about electronic processing please click here.

  • AKD
  • AMM
  • DMS
  • GZO
  • MEP
  • SAA

Email or mail processing is available for NVC applications beginning with the following prefixes:

Note: You cannot change a method later on in the application process.

  • MTL
  • GUZ (CR1, CR2, F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4, IR1, IR2, IR5 preference categories only)
  • BNS, FRN, HNK, RDJ, SYD (IR1, IR2, IR5, CR1, CR2 preference categories only)

All other NVC prefixes must mail documents to the National Visa Center to the following address:

National Visa Center
Attn: DR
31 Rochester Avenue
Suite 100
Portsmouth, NH 03801-2914

When mailing civil documents to the National Visa Center please be sure to abide by the following:

  • Applicants must print out a barcode page corresponding to their case accessible on the DOS Consular Electronic Application portal;
  • Applicants should create a table of contents cover letter explaining each document that is enclosed in the application;
  • Send ONLY photocopies of the required civil documents to the NVC. DO NOT SEND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS;
  • Send all documents to the NVC in only ONE PACKAGE to avoid delays;

NOTE: The NVC has discontinued mailing of original documents. The applicant will submit certified copies or original documents of each required civil document at the time of their interview at a designated U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

General List of Civil Documents

The civil documents and personal documents that must be submitted to the NVC differ on a country by country basis, for example some documents may not be available depending on the foreign national’s country of citizenship e.g. police records, military records, birth certificates etc. Applicants should review the instructions for their specific embassy or consulate to make sure there are no additional requirements. To review country reciprocity guidelines please click here.

General Checklist

For unobtainable documentation, review country reciprocity instructions. In most cases, an explanation is required and a statement from a government authority stating that the documentation is unobtainable;

  • DS-260 Confirmation Page;
  • Photocopy of the intending immigrant’s birth certificate issued by the appropriate civil authority with certified English translation;
    If the birth certificate is unobtainable please review country reciprocity instructions. In most cases, the immigrant must submit an explanation, obtain a notarized affidavit from a witness to the birth preferably the mother, and statement from a government authority stating that the birth certificate is unobtainable;
  • Photocopy of the intending immigrant’s marriage certificate if the petitioner is the spouse;
  • Photocopy of the intending immigrant’s marriage termination documentation if the intending immigrant was previously married. Evidence must be provided for the termination of each prior marriage. Provide the final divorce decree, death certificate, or annulment documents;
  • Photocopy of the intending immigrant’s military records (if applicable);
  • Photocopies of court and prison records (if applicable) if the intending immigrant has been convicted of a crime, provide a copy of each court or prison record, even if you were granted a pardon, amnesty, or act of clemency;
  • Photocopies of adoption documentation if the petitioner is the parent of an adopted child and the petition is based on a parent-child relationship. Provide custody documentation, adoption decree, statement of dates and places the child resided with the adoptive parent(s). If the child was adopted at 16 or 17 years old, provide evidence that the child was adopted with, or subsequent to, the adoption of, a natural sibling under age 16 by the same adoptive parent(s);
  • Photocopies of police certificates for persons 16 years of age or older from your country of nationality or country of residence if you were at least 16 years of age and resided there for at least 6 months, country of previous residence if you were at least 16 years of age and resided there for at least a year, and any country where you were arrested. Some countries may not require a police certificate. Please review country reciprocity guidelines;
  • 2 American style passport photographs measuring 2” by 2”;
  • Photocopy of valid passport biographic data page with your photograph, name, date of birth, and place of birth for each intending immigrant;
  • Intending immigrants who are parents or siblings of a U.S. citizen must submit a photocopy of the petitioner’s birth certificate;
  • In addition, for family preference applicants, the petitioner (U.S. Citizen) must sign and complete Form I-864 Affidavit of Support demonstrating that they have the sufficient finances to support the intending immigrant(s) should they become a public charge. For more information about the affidavit of support and income guidelines click here.

NVC Schedules Interview and Transfers Application to U.S. Consulate

Once all civil documents have been mailed to the NVC, it typically takes the NVC 3-4 months to review the information and complete processing of the application, including scheduling of the interview. Once the application has been reviewed, the NVC will schedule the interview, and mail the application package to the U.S. Consular Unit abroad. The applicant must wait to receive an interview notice from the NVC at this time. The interview notice is typically sent by email to the petitioner and beneficiary. The interview notice will outline specific documents the beneficiary must prepare and present at the time of the interview, as well as other instructions including how to schedule the medical appointment, and ASC biometrics appointment.

Scheduling the Medical Appointment

All intending immigrants are required to schedule a medical appointment with an authorized physician in the country where the applicant is to be interviewed. The medical examination and all required vaccinations must be completed before your scheduled immigrant visa interview date. The examination may only be conducted by a physician that is approved by the specific embassy. You may not schedule an appointment with a physician who is not authorized to conduct medical examinations for immigration purposes. The interview notice will contain further information regarding how, when, and where to schedule your medical appointment prior to the immigrant visa interview. You may view U.S. Embassy/Consular specific instructions regarding medical interviews by visiting the DOS website.

DO NOT schedule your medical appointment before receiving your interview notice from the NVC.

Scheduling ASC Biometrics and Courier Service for Visa Pickup

Many U.S. Embassies and Consulates (but not all) require visa applicants to pre-register for courier services and schedule their ASC biometrics appointments online. Pre-registering for courier services and scheduling of the ASC biometrics appointment is done online and must be completed prior to the interview date. Some U.S. Embassies/Consulates take the applicants biometrics at the time of the interview, and do not require the applicant to make an ASC biometrics appointment. Such is the case for Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Always check the website and interview instructions to determine whether you will need to schedule your ASC biometrics. Most U.S. Embassies and Consulates require visa applicants to pre-register for courier services for the return of passports and immigrant visas to be issued after the interview. By visiting the website indicated above, you may schedule the DHL pickup located for your immigrant visa. Please note that each Consulate has unique entry and security requirements, including whether applicants can bring cell phones into the embassy or consulate. To determine specific requirements for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate where you will be interviewed please click here.

Entering the United States

Once you have been approved following your immigrant visa interview, you will need to wait for the courier service to notify you regarding when you can pick up your passport with the immigrant visa inside. In most cases, you will receive a sealed envelope that you must not open. The sealed envelope will be presented to the U.S. CBP officer at the United States port of entry. You will need to provide the officer will this sealed envelope in order to be admitted to the United States. Once you have entered the United States, you will be issued your permanent resident card, and may obtain a driver’s license, SSN, etc.

For more information regarding the NVC process please visit our website.

For a consultation please contact our office.