Immigrant Visa Guide



1.1 What Is an Immigrant Visa?

This Guide provides an overview of the requirements and procedures to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa.

U.S. immigrant visas are issued by consular officers at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Visas are glued into a traveler’s passport. Possession of a visa allows a traveler to apply to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a port of entry (airport, sea port, or land border crossing) for admission to the United States.

U.S. law provides for both “immigrant visas” and “nonimmigrant visas.” This Guide is about the former. Immigrant visas are used to seek admission to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. A permanent resident, also called a green card holder, is someone granted authorization to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.[1] In contrast, “nonimmigrant visas” allow entry only for a limited period and only to carry out specified activities.

1.2 Scope of This Article

This Guide is for persons applying for an immigrant visa as the beneficiary of one of the following types of petitions approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative;
  • Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker;
  • Form I-260, Petitioner for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant; or
  • Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur

Application for an immigrant visa under special legislation, such as the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992,[2] Vietnam Amerasian Program, or diversity visa lottery provisions, is outside the scope of this article.

1.3 Exceptions to the Immigrant Visa Requirement

No immigrant visa is required in the case of a child born after his or her parent is issued an immigrant visa, if accompanying that parent in seeking initial admission to the U.S. during the visa’s validity.[3] Evidence of the parent-child relationship, including the birth certificate, must be presented. Prenatal records can help show that the relationship isn’t fraudulent.[4] No fee or application is required.[5] CBP instructs airlines that such children are allowed to boarded, so long as the child has a passport and birth certificate.[6]

Also, no immigrant visa is required in the case of a child born during the temporary visit abroad of a mother who is a lawful permanent resident, so long as the child’s application for admission to the U.S. is made within 2 years of birth and the child accompanies a permanent resident parent on their first return to the U.S. after the child’s birth.[7] The child will be admitted in the NA3 immigrant category.

1.4 Related Articles

For information about related topics, please see:

1.5 Immigrant Visa or Adjustment of Status?

The beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition may seek permanent residence by filing either an application for an immigrant visa or a Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status.

While the application for an immigrant visa is submitted to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, the Form I-485 is submitted to USCIS. The primary distinction is that to file a Form I-485, the applicant must be physically present in the U.S.[8] So for a person abroad, the most common choice is to apply for an immigrant visa. Some beneficiaries of an approved immigrant petition can enter the U.S. with intent to file a Form I-485. But most nonimmigrant visa types can’t be used for this purpose. That’s because most nonimmigrant visas types (for example, B1/B2 visitor visas) require that the holder intend to enter the U.S. temporarily and intend to maintain his or her primary home abroad.[9] Exceptions include, for instance, the H-1B specialty occupation worker visa and the L-1 intracompany transferee visa, which do not require maintenance of a primary home abroad.[10]

This Guide covers only immigrant visa applications. So, if you are currently in the U.S. or are interested in entering the U.S. to apply for adjustment of status, please contact our firm for further advice regarding the requirements and procedures for the Form I-485.

2. Requirements for Immigrant Visa Applications

2.1 The Principal Must Be the Beneficiary of an Immigrant Petition

As mentioned above, this Guide covers immigrant visas for beneficiaries of an immigrant petition—Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker), I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant), or Form I-526 (Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur) approved by USCIS.

The “principal” visa applicant is defined as the direct beneficiary of one of these petitions. In other words, the first requirement to apply for an immigrant visa is that one of these petitions must have been approved for the principal.

2.2 Requirements for Derivative Family Members

A spouse or child (unmarried and under age 21) is entitled to the same status, and the same priority date, if accompanying or following to join, the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-130, Form I-140, or Form I-526.[11] These family members are called “derivatives” because they derive the right to the status from the principal beneficiary. No separate immigrant petition need be filed on their behalf.

There’s an important exception: There are no derivative beneficiaries of a Form I-130 on behalf of an immediate relative (the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under age 21 of a U.S. citizen).[12] So, a U.S. citizen must file separate I-130s for each immediate relative.

The derivative family members may “accompany” or “follow to join” the beneficiary.[13]

  • To “accompany” means to go to the U.S. physically with the beneficiary or within 6 months of the date of issuance of the visa to the beneficiary.[14] An accompanying family member may not precede the beneficiary to the U.S.[15]
  • To “follow to join” means to enter the U.S. more than 6 months after the beneficiary, provided that the family member has the required relationship with the petitioner. There is no requirement that the “following to join” family member must take up residence with the beneficiary in order to qualify.[16] At present, relatives following to join may apply directly to the consular post, rather than processing the case through the National Visa Center or having a Form I-824 (Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition) filed with USCIS on their behalf.[17]

Derivative Spouse

To qualify as a derivative spouse, the marriage must take place prior to the principal’s admission to the U.S. with the immigrant visa or adjustment to LPR status.[18]

The following additional requirements—explained in detail in our Guide to Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative—must be met:

  • The marriage must be legal and not contrary to U.S. public policy.
  • The marriage must have been valid at its inception.
  • The foreign national must not have entered into a prior sham marriage or divorce.
  • The marriage must not have been terminated.

Derivative Child

To qualify as a derivative child, the child must be “acquired” prior to the principal’s admission to the U.S. with the immigrant visa or adjustment to LPR status. This includes a child born of a marriage which existed at the time of the principal’s admission, even if the child was born after the principal’s admission. This does not include a child born of a marriage which occurs after the admission.[19]

To qualify as a “child,” an individual must be unmarried, under 21 years of age, and meet the Immigration and Nationality Act’s definition of “child.”[20] See our firm’s Guide to Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative for further information about:

  • Children born out of wedlock
  • Stepchildren
  • Adopted children

2.3 An Immigrant Visa Number Must Be Immediately Available, if There Is a Waiting List

There is a system of worldwide annual numerical limitations (quotas) for immigrant visas, [21] except in the case of the “immediate relative” (parent, spouse, widow(er), or unmarried child under age 21) of a U.S. citizen.[22]

As a result of those annual numerical limitations, an immigrant category may become oversubscribed, meaning that there is a greater demand for visas than there are visas available. When a category is oversubscribed, a waiting list is created.

To apply for permanent resident status, the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin must show that an immigrant visa is immediately available to the applicant, based on the preference category, priority date, and chargeability area.[23]

  • The preference category is one of the following:

Family-Sponsored Preferences


Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens over the age of 21


Spouses and children (under 21) of permanent residents


Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of permanent residents


Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens


Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

Employment-Based Preferences


Priority workers;


Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability


Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers


Certain special immigrants


Employment creation (investors)

  • The priority date refers to the date the underlying immigrant petition or labor certification was filed.[24]
  • The chargeability area is generally the applicant’s country of birth (not citizenship).[25]

For a visa to be issued, a visa number must be immediately available not only on the date the application is filed but also on the date the application is adjudicated. If a waiting list develops in the applicable preference category while the application is pending, then the application will be held in abeyance until a visa becomes available.

For more, see How to Read the State Department Visa Bulletin.

2.4 A “Child” Must Not Have “Aged Out”

To immigrate as a “child,” a person’s age—as calculated by the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA)[26]—must be under 21:

Immediate Relatives of U.S. citizens

The age of the child is locked in when the I-130 is filed. If the I-130 is filed when the child is under age 21, provided the child remains unmarried, the child is eligible for adjustment of status or an immigrant visa even after he or she turns 21 years old.[27]

Family-Sponsored and Employment-Based Preference Categories

With regard to children seeking to immigrate in the family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories, the CSPA sets forth a complex formula to allow the child additional time to apply for benefits beyond the age of 21. The formula permits the time it took to process the immigrant petition to be subtracted from the age of the beneficiary on the date that the visa becomes available. Basically, the individual’s age is locked in on the date that a visa becomes available, reduced by the number of days that the petition is pending, provided that the individual sought to acquire permanent resident status (by, for e.g., filing an immigrant visa application or an application for adjustment) within one year of the newly calculated date becoming available.[28] Here is the formula:

Age at time of visa availability – pending time = CSPA age

Age at Time of Visa Availability: The date the visa is considered available is the later of these two dates:

  • The date the petition was approved; or
  • The first day of the month of the Department of State Visa Bulletin that indicates that a visa is available for you in the Final Action Dates chart.

Pending Time: The length of time a petition was pending (pending time) is the number of days between the date that it is properly filed (filing date) and the approval date.

Sought to Acquire Requirement: The individual must seek to acquire LPR status within 1 year of a visa becoming available by doing one of the following:

The government may use its discretion to excuse an individual from this requirement if failure to comply was the result of extraordinary circumstances.

Naturalization of Petitioner in Family Preference Cases: See below for special CSPA rules in the case of automatic conversion where petitioner naturalizes.

2.5 Automatic Conversion of Family-Sponsored Preference Categories and Recapturing of Priority Dates

While a family-based immigration case is pending, beneficiaries may move from one category to another due to changes in circumstances.

Federal regulations provide for automatic conversion from one family-sponsored, preference category to another and for recapturing of priority dates in the following situations:[29]

Preference Category


Immediate relative child

Child reaches biological age 21: Remains an immediate relative under the Child Status Protection Act.

Child marries: Petition automatically converts to family-sponsored 3rd preference.[30]

1st preference

Son or daughter marries: Petition automatically converts to family-sponsored 3rd preference.[31]

2A preference spouse

Petitioner naturalizes: Petition automatically converts to immediate relative.

2A preference child (principal beneficiary)

Petitioner naturalizes while child’s biological age (without adjustment per CSPA) is under age 21: Petition automatically converts to one for an immediate relative. Age “freezes” on the date of naturalization.[32]

  • Note 1: A new petition must be filed if the child was listed not as a principal beneficiary but instead was a derivative beneficiary of a petition filed on behalf of a parent.
  • Note 2: If the child’s biological age is over 21 (even though the CSPA-adjusted age is under 21), in most areas of the country the category does not automatically convert from 2A to immediate relative.[33] Instead, it automatically converts to 1st preference (unmarried son or daughter age 21 or older of U.S. citizen). It is not possible to opt out of the conversion from 2A to 1st preference, even if the waiting list for 2A is shorter.[34]
  • Note 3: Naturalization may not be beneficial if the beneficiary has a child. This grandchild of the LPR would be considered a derivative of the LPR’s child and would have been eligible immigrate with the principal beneficiary in the F-2A category. But the naturalization of the parent and the automatic conversion of the principal beneficiary to the immediate relative category ends the derivative status of the parent’s grandchild. He or she would no longer be able to immigrate with his or her parent (the former LPR’s child). The grandchild would need to have their parent file a separate petition in the F-2A category once the parent immigrates. The grandchild would not be able to retain the original priority date from the petition filed by the LPR grandparent on behalf of the grandchild’s parent.[35]

Child turns 21 as calculated under the Child Status Protection Act: Petition automatically converts from 2A to 2B preference.

Child marries: Petition is automatically terminated. Both the preference and priority date are lost.

2A preference child (derivative beneficiary)

Child’s turns 21 (CSPA-adjusted age): If a family-sponsored 2A derivative beneficiary turns 21 (CSPA-adjusted age) before immigrating, they “age out” and no longer qualify as a derivative beneficiary at the time their parent immigrates. In that event, the same petitioner could file a separate I-130 on behalf of their son or daughter under preference 2B. The beneficiary will retain the priority date of the principal beneficiary parent from the 2A petition (referred to as recapturing a priority date).[36]

Parent naturalizes: A child who is the derivative beneficiary of a 2A petition for a spouse will lose derivative status upon the parent’s naturalizing. The parent needs to file a separate petition for the child. It is the child’s biological age on the date that the second petition is filed that would determine if the child is an immediate relative (under 21) or in the F1 category (21 or over). The CSPA rules do not apply here. In other words, the child cannot use an adjusted age on the date the petitioner naturalizes to determine their potential conversion. Similarly, there is no clear authority allowing the child who is over 21 when a second petition is filed in the F2B category to retain the priority date from the first petition.[37]

2B preference

Petitioner naturalizes: Petition automatically converts from 2B to 1st preference.

  • Note: If there is more backlog in the 1st preference category, the beneficiary may opt out of the automatic conversion and stay in the 2B category by sending a request to USCIS, NVC or U.S. Consulate.[38]

Son or daughter marries: Petition is automatically terminated. Both the preference and the priority date are lost.

3rd preference

Beneficiary’s marriage terminates by divorce or spouse’s death: Petition automatically converts to immediate relative (if under age 21) or to 1st preference (if 21 or older).[39]

2.6 Admissibility in General

An important requirement to be eligible for an immigrant visa is that the applicant not fall within the “grounds of inadmissibility.” This is a set of rules prohibiting the admission to the U.S. of certain classes of persons[40]:

  • Medical-related grounds:
  • Persons with certain communicable diseases
  • Persons who now have or in the past have had (if likely to recur or lead to harmful behavior) a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder that may pose or has posed a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the person or others. This can include alcohol abuse or dependence.
  • Drug abusers or addicts
  • Crime-related grounds: These include but are not limited to persons convicted of or who admit to crimes involving moral turpitude; crimes involving controlled substances; persons with multiple criminal convictions; persons involved in prostitution or commercialized vice.
  • Security-related grounds:
  • Persons who are or have been members of, or affiliated with the Communist Party or a totalitarian party
  • Persons who seek to enter the U.S. to engage in violation of any U.S. law related to espionage or sabotage, or to violate export control laws, or to engage in terrorist activities.
  • Persons previously required to comply with the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) but who have failed to do so.
  • Persons whose entry would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.
  • Participants in Nazi persecutions or genocide.
  • Public charge grounds:
  • A person who is likely to become a public charge, i.e., to rely primarily on the U.S. Government to provide cash assistance for income maintenance or to pay for long-term care.
  • A family-sponsored immigrant on whose behalf no sufficient Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, has been filed.
  • Certain physicians and health care workers immigrating through employment-based classifications who lack without U.S. credentials.
  • Certain persons who have violated U.S. immigration rules:
  • Persons who have failed to attend immigration court hearings.
  • Persons who have, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, sought to procure a visa, other immigration documentation, entry, or other immigration benefit.
  • A person who at any time knowingly has encouraged or assisted another person to try to enter the U.S. in violation of law.
  • Persons who have attended public elementary school or a public adult education program with an F-1 visa without proper authorization.
  • Persons without a valid, unexpired passport.
  • Certain persons previously deported, excluded, or otherwise removed from the U.S.
  • Certain persons who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for a single period of more than 180 days or aggregate periods of 1 year or more.
  • Miscellaneous:
  • Practicing polygamists
  • The guardians of certain excluded persons
  • Persons involved in international child abduction
  • Persons who have unlawfully voted in the U.S.
  • Certain persons who have previously renounced U.S. citizenship
  • Prior J-1 exchange visitors who are still subject to the two year foreign residence requirement.

For more details about the grounds of inadmissibility, see Grounds of Inadmissibility under U.S. Immigration Law – Chodorow Law Offices ( There are exceptions and waivers available to many of the grounds.

2.7 Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility

As mentioned above, the public charge ground of inadmissibility prohibits issuance of an immigrant visa to:

  • A person who is likely to become a public charge, i.e., to rely primarily on the U.S. Government to provide cash assistance for income maintenance or to pay for long-term care.
  • A family-sponsored immigrant on whose behalf no sufficient Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, has been filed.

The Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, is a binding contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government that if the beneficiary requires support to live at 125% of the Federal poverty line the sponsor will provide it.

There is a narrow exception to the requirement to submit the affidavit. None is needed if the intending immigrant can show that he worked in the U.S. for 10 years, or that during the marriage his spouse worked in the U.S. for 10 years.

To qualify as a “sponsor” for purposes of an affidavit of support, the U.S. citizen spouse must be domiciled in the U.S., meaning currently residing in the U.S., abroad for a temporary period only, or intending to reestablish domicile in the U.S. not later than the intending immigrant’s admission as an LPR.

Generally, the sponsor must also have an annual income that is 125% of the poverty level for the sponsor’s family size, including the intending immigrant. The sponsor must have filed federal income tax returns for the last 3 years, if required by law.

In certain cases, if the sponsor’s annual income is insufficient, the government will accept evidence of the value of the sponsor’s assets, the intending immigrant’s income or assets, or those of a joint sponsor.

For more information, please see our firm’s Form I-864, Affidavit of Support: Help Center.

2.8 Continued Entitlement to the Classification in the Approved Immigrant Petition

To qualify for an immigrant visa, the applicant must continue to be entitled to the classification in the approved immigrant petition.[41] So a principal must be prepared to prove that each requirement of the Form I-130, Form I-140, Form I-260, or Form I-526 continues to be met. A derivative family member must prove that the required relationship continues to exist.

2.9 Must You Intend to “Live” in the U.S.?

Clients often ask whether to qualify for an immigrant visa they must intend to establish a residence in the U.S. or move there permanently. The short answer is no. An LPR has the “privilege of residing permanently” in the U.S.[42] But an immigrant visa applicant is not required to prove to the Consulate an intention to establish a residence in the U.S. or to move to the U.S. permanently.[43]

Still, a foreign national can subsequently lose LPR status if he or she doesn’t reside in the U.S. For detailed information on this topic, ask for a copy of our firm’s publication, Best Practices for Protecting Your Permanent Resident Status – Chodorow Law Offices (

2.10 Requirements for Persons Who Were Previously Permanent Residents

USCIS and the State Department have agreed that a person who is already a permanent resident is entitled to apply for and, if qualified, may be issued an immigrant visa in any other visa classification.[44] The consular officer should not require the person to relinquish the prior permanent resident status if no new immigrant visa is issued.[45] However, the consular officer may collect the old I-551 after deciding to issue an immigrant visa.[46]

There may be several reasons why a person who is already a permanent resident may seek a new immigrant visa. For example:

  • A conditional resident may qualify for a visa in an employment-based category and thus be admitted in a non-conditional status.[47]
  • A permanent resident whose card shows that it issued on the basis of political asylum may wish to obtain a card issued on a different basis before traveling to the country from which he previously fled, in order to avoid potential reprisals by the foreign government.[48]
  • A permanent resident who has arguably been abroad for such a long period that she has potentially abandoned her status may wish to file a new immigrant petition without conceding that she has abandoned her status.

3. Procedural Overview

Congress has granted the State Department authority to determine the procedures for processing IV applications.[49]

This Part gives an overview of the steps and timing to apply for an immigrant visa. Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that you can get LPR status or what the timing will be. So, you are strongly advised against giving up your job, disposing of property, or buying nonrefundable plane tickets until you have completed the procedures and actually been granted LPR status.[50]

Two different scenarios are described below: one for cases processed through the National Visa Center (NVC), and another for cases that are not. The NVC, an office of the U.S. State Department located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, processes cases where a USCIS office within the United States approves a Form I-130, I-140, or I-526. In contrast, if the case involves an I-130 approved by an overseas U.S. Embassy or Consulate, then the case isn’t processed through the NVC; instead, upon approval of the I-130 it is forwarded directly to the consulate for the immigrant visa application.

3.1 Cases Processed Through the National Visa Center

The NVC is responsible for fee collection, document collection, and certain security checks. Afterwards, the documents are forwarded to the consulate for interview. NVC’s role is administrative. NVC does not decide whether to approve a visa.[51]

The below list of NVC steps assumes that an immigrant visa number is immediately available at the time USCIS approves the underlying immigrant petition:

Receipt of Petition from USCIS

After USCIS approves a petition, the file is forwarded to the NVC, either by mailing the paper petition to NVC or by electronic transfer using the USCIS Electronic System (ELIS).[52]

Case Created

NVC creates a case record and assigns a case number used to track the case.

What does the NVC case number mean?

The case number, for example, LND2002536018 consists of

  • a three-letter code which indicates which consular post will process the case. In this example, “LND” is London.
  • The “2002” refers to the year in which the case file was created at NVC (not always the same as the priority date year.)
  • The next three digits are the Julian date plus 500. The number “536” indicates that the case was created on the 36th day of the year, i.e., February 5.
  • The final three digits, “018,” show that this was the 18th case created for London on February 5.

Once the case record is created, NVC will send out a Welcome Letter by email or physical mail notifying the parties to the case and the attorney of record that NVC has received the case from USCIS and, if a visa number is immediately available (or predicted to be available within about 6 months) that the fees can be paid to NVC.[53]

Waiting for an Immigrant Visa Number to Become Immediately Available

As explained above, with the exception of “immediate relatives” (parent, spouse, widow(er), or unmarried child under age 21) of a U.S. citizen, the worldwide annual numerical limitations (quotas) for immigrant visas may lead to waiting lists.

NVC attempts to contact all applicants when their visa number is available. You can also use the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin to check whether a visa is available for your petition. If a visa is available and NVC has not yet contacted you, you can contact NVC by using their Public Inquiry Form

Fee Payment

The fees payable are:

  • Immigrant Visa Processing: USD 325 for family sponsored cases or USD 345 for employment-based cases; and
  • Affidavit of Support Review: USD 120, if applicable.[54]

All fees must be made in U.S. dollars drawn on a U.S. bank. Fees are withdrawn electronically from the account via ACH. Fees cannot be paid with a credit card.[55]

Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application

Our firm will help you to submit a Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application, online. You can view a sample.

Document Collection and Submission

  • Our firm will then help the applicant gather, prepare, and submit to NVC the financial and applicant documents listed below. Documents are submitted in one of 3 ways:
  • Upload to Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC)
  • Email
  • Mail
  • The NVC website specifies which method is required for each post.

NVC Review

  • The NVC reviews the documents for completeness and will notify the petitioner and the applicant of any missing information. NVC will attempt to obtain missing information twice.
  • The NVC review includes security checks. NVC will perform a name-check on each applicant over age 16 using the National Crime Information Center’s Interstate Identification Index (“NCIC-III”).[56]
  • Generally, NVC’s review is done only once all documents are complete.[57] An exception is that if a sponsor’s Form I-864 shows insufficient income, NVC will issue an assessment letter requesting that the applicant bring to the interview additional evidence of income or assets or use of a joint sponsor. (NVC will not review evidence of assets submitted). The NVC will not delay forwarding the case to the consular post.[58]
  • Upon completing its review, NVC will send out an email stating that the applicant is documentarily qualified and that an interview will be scheduled:
  • The National Visa Center (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.
  • NVC will work with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate General … to schedule an interview appointment for you. Once we have confirmed an interview date, we will send a notice to you, your petitioner and attorney (if applicable).

Case forwarded to Consulate/Interview Scheduled:

As mentioned above, 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.

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.

NVC schedules interviews once a month. Interviews are scheduled for about one month in advance. Because of backlogs scheduling appointments at some U.S. embassies and consulates, 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.

Timing Estimate


Estimated Duration

a. Receipt of approved petition from USCIS

1 to 6 weeks

b. Case creation

Average 1 week.

(For current timing, see NVC Timeframes).

c. Waiting for an immigrant visa number to become available.

This does not apply to the “immediate relatives” (parent, spouse, widow(er), or unmarried child under age 21 of U.S. citizens.

Varies, as explained above

d. Fee payment

1 week

e. Submit Form DS-260; Document collection and submission

2-3 weeks

f. NVC review

Average 8 weeks.

(For current timing, see NVC Timeframes).

g. Case forwarded to Consulate/interview scheduled

4 weeks.

(Plus additional delay if the U.S. embassy or consulate has a scheduling backlog)

h. Interview

6-8 weeks


23 – 31 weeks (i.e., 5 to 7 months), plus potential delays for c and g.

3.2 Cases Not Processed Through the NVC

The below table gives an overview of immigrant visa application procedures. Details for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate may vary.


Estimated Duration

a. Prepare and file Packet 3: Upon approval of the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, the U.S. embassy or consulate will issue the Notice for Immigrant Visa Applicants (Packet 3). The applicant will:

  • Prepare Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application
  • Register for visaed passport return
  • File Packet 3 with the embassy or consulate

1-3 weeks

  • b. Immigrant Visa Instructions (Packet 4): This will be issued after the embassy or consulate reviews the documents requested in Packet 3. The Packet 4 may show the scheduled immigrant visa appointment or may ask the applicant to schedule the appointment online.
  • While waiting for the appointment, the applicant will gather and prepare documents to the appointment and intend a medical examination.

2-4 weeks

  • c. Attend immigrant visa appointment at embassy or consulate (applicant only, not U.S. petitioner)
  • Decision issued at interview (approval or denial)

2-4 weeks

(Plus additional delay if the U.S. embassy or consulate has a scheduling backlog)

  • Total:

5-11 weeks, plus potential delay for c

3.3 Requests to Expedite Adjudication

According to the NVC:

If a visa is available for your relative’s category, and their case involves a life or death medical emergency, processing of your case may be expedited. To request a review for expedite, please submit a letter (or statement) to the NVC from a physician (or medical facility). The letter must include the physician’s (or medical facility’s) contact information and declare that a life or death medical emergency exists. This documentation may be in the form of a scanned attachment to an e-mail.[59]

4. Documents Needed

4.1 Documents Collected by the National Visa Center

Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application

This form is submitted electronically, and then just confirmation page is then provided to NVC.[60]

  • Limited Validity: The DS-260 is valid for one year from the “biometric oath” in person at the interview before the consular officer.[61]

NVC Cover Sheet

The NVC provides a cover sheet to be submitted with the case documents. This does not apply in cases where NVC requests that documents be uploaded to the Consular Electronic Application Center.

Financial Documents

The financial documents, from the petitioner, are the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, if required, and related documents. These documents are discussed in our separate Form I-864, Affidavit of Support: Help Center.


An immigrant visa applicant generally needs a passport.[62] Only a copy of the cover page needs to be submitted at this point.

  • Limited Validity: The Consulate tells applicants a good rule of thumb: the passport should be valid for at least “8 months beyond the visa issuance date.” Here’s why:
    • Immigrant visas are typically valid for 6 months.[63]
    • By law, the passport must be valid for 60 days beyond immigrant visa’s expiration, except that for immediate relatives applying in their country of nationality the passport and visa may expire on the same date.[64]
    • So, if the passport isn’t valid for at least 8 months (with the exception stated above), then the visa will be limited so that it expires 60 days before the passport.[65]
  • Exceptions to the passport requirement: The spouse, unmarried son or daughter or parent of a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) is only required to present a passport when they are applying in the applicant’s country of nationality and a passport is required by that country for departure.[66] In this case, the immigrant visa will be issued on a Form DS-232, Unrecognized Passport or Waiver Cases.[67] The visa will be annotated to show that no passport is required.[68] Note that even if U.S. immigration laws don’t require a passport, it may be required to depart from the country of origin.[69]

Two U.S. Passport-Style Photographs

Civil Documents

The original and a copy of each of the following civil documents must be submitted.[70] All documents not written in English, or in the official language of the country in which you are applying for a visa, must be accompanied by certified English translations.[71]

The State Department’s Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country will explain the specific format required for the document and how to obtain it. The State Department will also explain if a civil document is typically unavailable from a particular country. In addition, on rare occasions, if the consular officer is satisfied that a typically available document is unobtainable in a particular case, then the officer may permit substitution of other satisfactory evidence upon a finding that the document cannot be obtained without hardship.[72] The applicant should document the efforts made to obtain the document in question, such as copies of applications made for missing documents, letters sent to government offices, and (if possible) a letter from a government office explaining that the document is not available. The consular officer is required to complete an internal form justifying the acceptance of secondary documentation.

a. Birth certificate[73]

b. Court and prison records

c. Marriage certificate

d. Marriage termination documentation


e. Military records

f. Petitioner’s birth certificate (for IR-5 parent of U.S. citizen or F-4 sibling cases) and marriage certificate (for IR-5 cases)

g. Police certificates: For an applicant age 16 or above, police certificates must be submitted from (1) the country of nationality, if you have lived there for more than 6 months at any time in your life; (2) the country of current residence, if you have lived there for more than 6 months; (3) other countries, areas, or localities where you have resided for one year or more, if you were 16 years or older at the time you lived there; and (4) any place where ever arrested.[74]

  • No U.S. Police Certificate Is Required.
  • Police Certificates Sent Directly to the Consulate: If the Reciprocity Schedule indicates the local police authority (e.g., Hong Kong or Japan) sends the document directly to the consular post, NVC will not require a copy of the document from the applicant.[75]
  • Limited Validity: Police certificates expire after two years, unless the certificate was issued from your country of previous residence and you have not returned there since the police certificate was issued.[76] The visa cannot be valid beyond a certificate’s expiration date.
  • More information: For basic information about how to apply for a police certificate, see the State Department’s Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country. And see here for detailed information about China police certificates.

4.2 Incomplete Cases or Cases Lacking Documentation

If NVC reviews the documentation submitted and determines that it is incomplete, NVC will generally send out a “checklist” indicating additional documents that should be submitted to NVC. After two reviews by NVC, generally the case will be scheduled for an interview, even if NVC believes it is incomplete, so long as it contains at a minimum a signed Form I-864, Form DS-260, and all required police certificates.[77]

In the event of non-critical errors in the Form I-864, instead of issuing a “checklist,” NVC will issue an “assessment letter.” This letter will notify the sponsor to submit corrections directly to the consular post at the time of the immigrant visa appointment.[78]

4.3 Additional Documents Collected at the Time of The Interview

The documents that need to be presented to the Consulate are different in each case, but in general the applicant should bring any of the documents listed on the Consulate’s “Appointment Instructions for Immigrant Visa Applicants.”[79]

  1. Pre-interview Checklist:
    • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: Not required.
    • U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. Not required if case processed through NVC.
    • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: Required.
  2. Appointment confirmation letter.
  3. Confirmation page for Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa
  4. Filing fees: If you didn’t process your case through the NVC, bring your filing fees to the Consulate.
    • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: Filing fees may be paid in USD cash or RMB cash (at the Consulate’s current exchange rate), but not in a combination of USD and RMB. Payments may also be paid using a Visa, Master Card, American Express, or Discover credit or debit card.[80]
    • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: Pay in USD or Mexican pesos with cash, debit, or credit cards.
  5. Arrangements for return of passport and immigrant visa packet:
    • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: If you applied through NVC, bring the USTraveldocs online registration confirmation page showing the address you provided for return of your passport and immigrant visa packet.
    • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: Not applicable.
  1. Expired or cancelled passports
  2. Two passport-style photographs
  3. Medical examination in sealed envelope and x-ray
  • Note: If the medical clinic gives you the x-ray on a CD, you will not be able to bring it into the Consulate for security reasons.
  • Limited Validity: Timing of the medical exam is important. The examination results are valid for 6 months, except that they are only valid for 3 months in the case of persons with HIV infection or specified tuberculosis (TB) findings.[81] The visa validity can’t exceed the exam’s validity.
  1. Civil Documents: Provide to the Consulate the civil documents listed above as required for NVC.
  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: Bring originals of these documents.
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: Bring originals and photocopies of these documents.
  1. Birth certificates for all children of the applicant (even if not immigrating with the applicant)[82]:
  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: This is suggested by our law firm but not required by the Consulate.[83]
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: This is required.
  1. Updated evidence in support of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support (if necessary)
  2. National ID card:
  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: Not required.
  • U.S Consulate in Hong Kong: Hong Kong and/or Macau ID card.
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: Not required.
  1. Evidence of relationship with the petitioner. This typically includes, but is not limited to, photographs taken with the petitioner, phone records, letters, money transmittal records, household registration, and school records.
  2. For applicants who are the petitioner’s stepchildren: Evidence of relationship between the stepchild and the parent who married the petitioner: This typically includes, but is not limited to, photographs taken together, phone records, letters, money transmittal records, household registration, and school records. Also, provide a copy of the marriage certificate between the petitioner and your biological parent; and evidence of termination of the previous marriages of either parent.
  3. Employment-based visa applicants and persons with postgraduate degrees in science or technology: Resume in English and your country’s language covering all professional and educational history and listing any publications. It should also list all foreign destinations visited, including the dates and purpose of travel. And it should include a work plan explaining where the applicant will seek employment after immigrating to the U.S.
  4. Any U.S. visa extension notices.
  5. Records of any prior order of removal from the U.S. or immigration court proceedings
  6. EB-5 visa applicants should bring proof their investment funds have been transferred into escrow or the U.S. investment project.
  7. Employment-based visa applicants: Letter from your U.S. employer dated less than one month ago.
  8. Certified English translations of any document not in English or the official language of the country where you are applying for the visa.
  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: All PRC notarial documents must include an English translation prepared by the notary).[84]

5. Procedures before the Visa Appointment

5.1 Jurisdiction and Transfer

In General

An applicant should normally apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate with jurisdiction over his or her place of “residence.”[85] Residence, for this purpose, means the applicant’s main dwelling place,[86] where he or she usually sleeps. (An applicant physically present in the U.S. is considered a resident of the consular district of last foreign residence.)[87] The rationale for this rule is that “[i]t is easier for an officer familiar with the culture, language, and legal and political framework of the country in which the alien lives to interpret local documents and evaluate claims made by the alien.”[88]

There are several exceptions:

(a) an applicant physically present in an area but having no residence there may apply at the consular office having jurisdiction over that area if he or she can establish that he or she will be able to remain in the area for the period required to process the application.[89]

(b) the State Department may direct a consulate to accept the immigrant visa case of a national or citizen of a country regardless of their residence[90];

(c) applicants who are residents of countries where no U.S. consulate exists are directed to designated consulates by the State Department[91];

(d) consulates also may in their discretion accept cases for applicants who are not resident or physically present in their district[92]; and

(e) a consulate could also accept a case for a nonresident for whom it would be a hardship to return to the consulate where he resides.[93]

A transfer request may be made where there is reasonable justification and the transferring post believes the applicant will be able to appear at the receiving post.[94] The request is made to the NVC, if the case is still there, or to the receiving post.[95] The decision whether to accept the case will be made by the receiving post.[96] Requesting transfer sometimes leads to unanticipated delays, so it is sometimes more time and cost efficient for an applicant to just fly to the original post.[97]

Special Issues for Third Country Nationals at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou

A non-Chinese immigrant visa applicant (i.e., third-country national) may have problems traveling in China while waiting for the U.S. Consulate in China to return the visaed passport. That’s because you don’t have the passport needed to board a plane or most trains.

The U.S. Consulate can’t provide a temporary PRC travel document to you. All the Consulate does is to provide a letter stating that your visa has been approved and that your visaed passport will be returned to you.

Your options for traveling and receiving your passport include:

  1. You can wait in Guangzhou for the return of your passport. The fastest choice for the passport return would be to choose as the return location the Guangzhou branch office. You would need to wait for the Consulate’s email stating that the visaed passport has been sent there, then go pick it up in person with an alternative form of government-issued photo identification (e.g., a driver’s license).
  2. You can tell the consular officer that you’d like to take your passport home with you after the visa appointment. Ask the consular officer for a written notice that you can send back to the Consulate with your passport so that the visa can be added to the passport then returned to you.
  3. You can use a form of transportation back to your home that doesn’t require an ID. For example, rent a car and driver. Or take a bus. You’d need to check with the bus company to confirm this is possible. One potential problem would be dealing with police checks during your travel.
  4. You could get a duplicate passport from your own government. Some governments issue duplicate passports to their citizens. A further check would be necessary to determine if you would be allowed to board your preferred form of transportation if you are using a duplicate passport without a visa or entry stamp in it.

5.2 Choosing a Passport Return Location

Once your visa is approved, the U.S. Consulate will return your visaed passport to you at your chosen location. The passport is usually returned about 1 week after the Consulate approves your application, although delays are possible.[98]

U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou

You may choose among the following passport return methods[99].

  • Premium delivery option: This option allows you to choose delivery to a home, office, or other address in Mainland China by EMS. You will receive an email from the Consulate with the EMS tracking number when the U.S. Consulate gives the passport to EMS. To choose premium delivery, you have to provide a valid address and phone number. There is a fee of RMB 92 per passport, payable upon delivery. To receive your passport, you must show an original government-issued photo ID to the delivery person.
  • Pick up the passport yourself at a local CITIC Bank branch: Our firm can give you a list of local CITIC Bank branches. You can choose which one you want to go to in order to pick up your passport. You will receive an email from the Consulate with the EMS tracking number when the U.S. Consulate passes the passport to EMS. To receive your passport, you must present an original government-issued photo ID. We recommend you also bring your consular Appointment Confirmation Letter. Please note that CITIC will hold your passport for only 15 days, after which it will be returned to the Embassy/Consulate. You must collect your passport within 15 days. There is a fee of RMB 68 for this service, except that pickup at the following 4 CITIC locations is free:
    • Beijing – 1F, Bldg E, No 8, Fuhua Mansion, Chaoyangmen North Street, Beijing
    • Guangzhou – 1, 2 Floor, CITIC Plaza, 233 North Tianhe Road, Guangzhou, Guangdong
    • Shanghai – Pacific Plaza, GF, No 1168 Nanjing West Rd, Shanghai
    • Shenyang – Nanhu branch, No.50, Cai Ta Street, He Ping District, Shenyang, Liaoning

You may change your preferred document delivery address until midnight on the day of your interview appointment.[100]

You can sign a letter of authority to designate another person to receive your passport through either of the above methods. For example, a friend, family member, or a member of our law firm staff can do this. The third party must present additional documents.

  • their own original government-issued photo ID for identification;
  • a photocopy of your government-issued photo ID; and,
  • a letter of authority, signed by you, authorizing the third party to collect your passport.[101]

If you are a third-country national applying for a visa at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, a special concern is that you may be unable to board a plane or train without your passport to be used as ID. So you may want to stay in Guangzhou to pickup your passport at the local expedited pick-up location. In the alternative, at the end of the consular appointment, if your visa is approved, you may want to tell the consular officer that you need the passport to return home, in which case the consular officer will give you a 221(g) notice asking you to drop off your passport at a local CITIC Bank branch when you return home, after which it will be forwarded to the Consulate, the visa will be added, and then it will be returned to you via your selected passport return method. It takes about two weeks for your passport to complete that round-trip process.

U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong

Your visaed passport will be returned to you by the S.F. Express (SFX) courier service. You can choose between these options[102]:

  • Home / office delivery: This is available in Hong Kong except for: parts of Lantau Island; Other Outlying islands; Military or Justice department locations; and Macau. There is a fee of HKD 240 per passport, to be paid on delivery to the SFX courier (cash only). If you select for home delivery but may not be home at the time of delivery, please complete a letter of authority for a member of your household to give to the S.F. Express courier.
  • Pickup at an SFX location:
    • This is free at SFX Wan Chai, G/F, 182 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong.
    • There is a fee of HKD 95 to be paid (cash only) at the counter when picking up their passports at the 3 other locations in Hong Kong/Macau:
  • Kwun Tong, Workshop No.1, G/F, Hung To Industrial Building, 80 Hung To Road, Kwun Tong, Kowloon.  Opening hours Monday to Friday 9:00 am-8:00pm, Saturday: 9:00am to 4:00pm closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
  • Tsim Sha Tsui, Unit A, B & C,G/F, Eu Yan Sang Tower, Nos. 11-15 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Opening hours Monday to Friday 9:00 am-8:00pm, Saturday: 9:00am to 4:00pm closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.
  • Macau, G/F, 3B Veng Fung Industrial Building, Rua Cinco Bairro Da Areia Preta, Macau. Opening hours Monday to Friday 9:00 am-8:00pm, Saturday: 9:00am to 4:00pm closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez

Our law firm will help you register online to designate which DHL pick up location you prefer for your passport and visa packet after your interview.

Expect to receive your package one to three weeks after the consular interview if there are no additional requirements or administrative processing. You will need to pick up your package at a DHL pick up location within 30 days. (You can authorize a third party to pick up the package for you.)[103] A list of pick up locations is here.

You can change your choice of pick up location as late as 24 hours before your interview.[104]

5.3 Medical Examination

The appointment letter will also provide instructions for the applicant to undergo a medical examination at a consulate-approved medical center prior to the immigrant visa interview. The medical examination must be done in the country where the immigrant visa appointment will take place.

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: There are approved medical centers in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Fuzhou.
  • U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: There are approved medical centers in Central and Kowloon.[105]
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: There are approved medical centers in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico City. Visa applicants who live in the State of Mexico and Mexico City must have their medical examination at Medicos Especializados Internacionales in Mexico City. All other visa applicants can complete their medical examination at any of the three authorized clinics listed above.

The purpose of the medical examination is to ensure that the applicant doesn’t fall within the health grounds of inadmissibility, including (1) having a communicable disease of public health significance (chancroid, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, infectious leprosy, lymphogranulomavenereum, infectious-stage syphilis, and active TB)[106]; (2) having a physical or mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder that has posed, or may pose, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of yourself or others; (3) having been a drug abuser or addict; or (4) lacking the required vaccinations.

The medical examination includes a medical history, an immunization history, a physical examination, a mental examination, a chest X-ray for tuberculosis (followed by further tests if the results may be abnormal), and blood tests for syphilis and HIV. Exceptions to some tests are made for applicants under 15 years of age.

The doctor will administer any needed vaccinations. Vaccinations currently required are mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria toxoids, pertussis, influenza type B, hepatitis type B, varicella, and pneumococcal.[107] If the applicant has previously received any vaccinations, the applicant should gather the proof of such vaccinations and bring the proof to the physician’s visit to avoid the expense of having to take unnecessary vaccinations.

While the medical exam at most consular posts can be scheduled one to three days before the interview, there can sometimes be a delay of up to one week at some posts, so check with the medical center regarding timing.

After the medical exam has been completed and test results have been returned, the medical center will put the exam into a sealed envelope. In some countries (e.g., China and Mexico), the applicant brings the sealed envelope to the interview. In some countries, the medical center delivers the sealed envelope directly to the embassy or consulate.

Limited validity:

  • The medical examination results are typically valid for 6 months, except that for some individuals with HIV infection or a history of TB, the results are valid for 3 months.

5.4 Biometrics

U.S. Consulates in Guangzhou and Hong Kong

During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. The scan is used to establish your identity, for a background check, and is also used instead of a written signature as evidence that you have sworn to the truth of the contents of the application.

U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez

Our firm will help you schedule an appointment at an Applicant Service Center (ASC) to take photos and have your fingerprints taken. This must occur at least one day before your visa interview at the consulate.

Fingerprints and digital photos are taken at the appointment. ASCs are located in various cities across Mexico. For a list, see here. Applicants may have biometrics taken at any of those locations. However, it is usually most convenient to select Ciudad Juarez, as the ASC is located adjacent to the Consulate, and the applicant must often be present in Ciudad Juarez at least one day before the interview to complete the medical examination.

Bring to the ASC your passport; confirmation page for the biometrics

appointment; confirmation of Form DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration; and visa interview notice.

5.5 Request to Reschedule Interview

If you are unable to attend your scheduled appointment, you may request that it be rescheduled.

Be careful: For cases subject to waiting lists (not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, it is possible that visas may be available in future months.

Here is the procedure to reschedule:

  • Guangzhou: You can cancel your existing appointment by using the immigrant visa section’s contact form. At the same time, you can request that your appointment be rescheduled, listing your preferred dates, available dates, and unavailable dates. The Consulate typically does not schedule new appointments more than two months in advance. The Consulate warns that there may be a significant wait before the next available appointment.[108]
  • Hong Kong: If an applicant is unable to appear at the Consulate at the scheduled interview date, they should use the Visa Inquiry Form to inquire about the possibility of obtaining a different appointment slot. “You must provide a thorough explanation of why you will be unable to attend the scheduled appointment. The criteria for approving the rescheduling of an appointment are rigid. Applicants who request to have their appointment rescheduled will be placed at the back of the queue of waiting cases. Rescheduling an appointment may result in a significant delay to processing your visa case.”[109]

6. Immigrant Visa Appointment

Each applicant is required to attend a visa appointment.[110] Children under 18 years old may be accompanied by one parent or guardian to the interview. Children under 14 years old are required to be accompanied to the interview by a close relative.[111] Arrangements can be made to accompany an elderly applicant as well.[112]

May the U.S. citizen petitioner accompany the applicant?

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: No.
  • U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: No.[113]
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: No.

May your attorney accompany you?

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: No.
  • U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: No.[114]
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: No.

You may need to spend up to several hours at the Consulate. You may want to bring a good book to read while you wait.

6.1 Entering the Consulate

On the day of the appointment, the applicant should arrive at the Consulate not more than 30 minutes before the scheduled interview[115] and may enter the Consulate just 15 minutes before the scheduled interview.[116] You may not be allowed to enter if you are late.

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: enter through the consular customer entrance on Huaxia Road, near Exit B1 of the Zhujiang New Town subway station (on lines 3 and 5). There are two lines outside the Consulate: nonimmigrant visa applicants and immigrant visa applicants. You should wait in the line for immigrant visa applicants.

6.2 Security Procedures

When you are near the Consulate, please pay attention to your personal safety and to secure your personal belongings. There have been incidents of thieves targeting applicants near Consulates.

Be prepared to pass through a security checkpoint. You will need to show your appointment letter and passport to enter.

U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong

See for the detailed list of prohibited items not to bring and that can be retained at the guard checkpoint. Any bags larger than 30x24x7.5 cm are prohibited. Cell phones can be stored at the guard checkpoint. Other prohibited items can be stored at nearby luggage storage provided by companies unaffiliated with the Consulate.[117]

U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez

See this detailed list of prohibited items.

Other U.S. Embassies and Consulates

You are not allowed to enter the Consulate while carrying any of the following items[118]:

  • Battery-operated or electronic devices such as mobile phones, digital diaries, digital watches, pagers, cameras, audio/video cassettes, compact discs, MP3s, floppy disks, laptops, or portable music players;
  • Large shoulder bags/purses – only bags that can be carried by hand will be permitted;
  • Bags such as travel bags, backpacks, briefcases, suitcases, leather, cloth bags, and zip folders – you can only carry plastic bags containing application-related papers;
  • Food items;
  • Sealed envelopes or packages;
  • Cigarettes, cigars, match boxes, lighters;
  • Sharp objects such as scissors, pen knives, nail cutters, or nail files;
  • Weapons or explosive materials of any kind.
  • Other items prohibited at the discretion of security staff.

There may or may not be a facility in the Consulate’s security checkpoint to store prohibited items, so it’s best not to bring these items. There may or may not be a private business open outside the Consulate that will store such items for you.

6.3 Document Checker

After you enter the Consulate, a local employee will collect some of your documents. This may include, for example, your passport, DS-260 confirmation page, and the medical exam. The document checker will pass these documents to the consular officer.

The document checker may also ask some questions to see if your documents are complete and accurate, such as: Have you been to the U.S.? Have you lived in any third country for a year or more? Have you been a member of the Communist Party?

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: After passing through security, follow the signs to the Immigrant Visa Unit on the third floor. There, you will be assigned a number from a ticket machine. When your number is called, you will meet with the document checker.

6.4 Immigrant Visa Fees

If you haven’t previously paid the visa application fee to the NVC, the document checker will direct you to the cashier’s window. You will be given a two-part receipt for your payment. Bring that back to the document checker, who will keep one part and return one part to you for your records. Keep that in safe place.

6.5 Domestic Violence Pamphlet

In marriage-based cases, a consulate employee will give you the USCIS Pamphlet, “Information on the Legal Rights Available to Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence in the United States and Facts about Immigrating on a Marriage-Based Visa.” You can read this now. It’s available in more than a dozen languages, including Chinese, at During your interview, the officer may ask you basic questions to confirm you understand the pamphlet.

6.6 Notice of Duty to Register with Selective Service

The Selective Service System is a database on those potentially subject to military conscription (i.e. the draft). In practice, the Selective Service System has minimal practical effect today since the U.S. military operates on a volunteer basis. Nevertheless, it is seen as a contingency mechanism for the possibility that conscription someday becomes necessary again.

Selective Service registration is required for male citizens and immigrants beginning age 18 and ending on their 26th birthday. Registration must be done at a U.S. Post Office within 30 days after entering the United States. Males within this age range must also notify Selective Service of any changes to the information on their registration cards, such as a change of address.

Male immigrant visa applicants within this age range will be required by the consular officer to sign a Form DS-1810, Notice of Duty to Register with U.S. Selective Service System, at the time of the immigrant visa (IV) interview. The applicant will be given a copy of the form to keep.[119]

6.7 During the Interview

During the interview, the consular officer will ask questions to be satisfied that the applicant is informed of the Form DS-260’s contents and will incorporate any changes requested.[120] The officer may require the applicant to respond to any further questions concerning grounds of inadmissibility under INA 212(a) and to submit any additional documents needed to establish eligibility. In marriage cases, the questions often turn on whether the marriage is valid. In short, it is the consul’s job to develop whatever additional information may be needed in determining the applicant’s eligibility to receive the visa.

The officers don’t ask each applicant the same questions. Instead, the officers tailor their questions to address their specific concerns about each case. The consular officer may require the applicant to answer any relevant question.[121]

Our firm will help the applicant form a strategy regarding how to prepare for and do the interview. This will include, for example, preparing the applicant regarding what questions to expect during the appointment and how to answer truthfully and in a way helpful to the case.

You may request that the consular officer return your original civil documents (e.g., marriage, birth, and police certificates) at the end of the interview, if you provide photocopies for the officer to keep.[122]

6.8 Adjudication Procedures

  • Burden of Proof: The applicant must establish eligibility “to the satisfaction of the consular officer.”[123] The officer must refuse the visa if he or she “knows or has reason to believe” that the applicant is ineligible.[124] The officer must be based on facts or circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the applicant is ineligible.[125]
  • Consideration of the Evidence: The officer is required to consider all evidence submitted by the applicant and any legal brief submitted by the attorney.[126]
  • Disclosure of Petitioner’s Criminal History: Similar to the USCIS policy on disclosing the petitioner’s criminal history, DOS will disclose to the applicant, for example, criminal offenses against a minor and sexually violent offenses if the applicant who will be a member of the petitioner’s household. Disclosure will be made only if the officer intends to approve the visa application and the petitioner will be notified in writing after the disclosure.[127]


The consular officer should tell you his or her decision whether to grant the immigrant visa at the end of the interview. There are various possibilities:

If your visa is approved during your interview, you will receive an approval notice from the interviewing officer.

When an immigrant visa is issued, any nonimmigrant visa will be canceled.[128] However, a consular officer shall not require the applicant to relinquish a Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, as a condition for issuance of another immigrant visa.[129]


A visa can be refused only upon a ground specifically set out in the law or implementing regulations.[130]

Suspension of Action: The consular officer will suspend action and return the petition, with a report of the facts, for reconsideration by USCIS if the petitioner requests suspension of action, or if the officer knows or has reason to believe that approval of the petition was obtained by fraud, misrepresentation, or other unlawful means, or that the beneficiary is not entitled, for some other reason, to the status approved.[131]

Refusal under INS § 221(g): The Consular officer should issue a “221(g)” refusal letter in any of the following situations:[132]

  • It appears to the officer that the documentary evidence doesn’t prove eligibility for a visa. In this case, the Consulate will provide a blue refusal sheet. The applicant may be required to submit additional documents via the method specified by the consular officer. Our firm will work with the applicant to gather the required documents and submit them accordingly. The applicant has up to a year to submit the documents. Once the Consulate receives the additional documents, the Consulate will then typically need 1 week to 1 month to review the documents and adjudicate the case.
  • The officer has reason to believe[133] that the applicant is ineligible for a visa under any provision of law. In this case, the officer will begin an investigation or request an advisory opinion from the State Department in Washington, DC. The 221(g) refusal letter will state that “administrative processing” is necessary. Examples of circumstances when an advisory opinion will be requested from Washington include certain cases where the applicant may have access in the U.S. to sensitive technologies or where the applicant may be inadmissible for membership in a communist or totalitarian party.

Refusal under INA § 212(a): An applicant whom the Consulate has determined falls within the grounds of inadmissibility will be refused a visa under a subsection of “212(a).” The Consulate should advise the applicant of the legal ground under which the application was denied as well as the factual basis for the denial.[134] For example, a refusal under INA § 212(a)(5)(A) may be issued if the officer determines that the requisite family relationship doesn’t exist (e.g., sham marriage).[135] If the case is refused under 212(a), the Consulate should notify the applicant whether any waiver is available.[136]

7. After the Appointment

7.1 Check the Status of Your Application and Track Your Passport

You can check the status your visa application on the State Department’s CEAC website (beginning 3 days after your appointment).

Please note that CEAC will show your application status as “refused” while your case is temporarily refused for administrative processing.[137]

You can also track the return of your visaed passport:

  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: Once the passport has been collected from the U.S. embassy or consulate for delivery, you will receive a confirming email. For premium delivery, that email will include the EMS tracking number. For pickups at CITIC Bank, after receiving that email, you can also track the status of your passport here. When the status changes from “origination scan” to “ready for pickup,” you can go to the Bank to pick up your visa.
  • U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: If you are eligible for an immigrant visa on the day of your interview, you should allow approximately 7-10 business days for your application to be processed and the visaed passport to be returned to you. You can track the status of your passport here.
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: An automated email is sent as soon as the courier assigns a tracking number to your shipment. The status of the shipment can be followed using this CSRA website or the DHL website.

7.2 The Visa Approval Packet

The visa approval packet will be returned to the location you previously selected. The packet will include the following documents:

A Sealed Envelope, Maybe

Historically, when an immigrant visa was approved, the Embassy or Consulate would provide the visa holder with a sealed envelope containing their visa application forms and supporting documents, as well as the petition approved by USCIS, to hand to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer upon seeking admission at a port of entry.[138]

But by 2019, most applicants do not receive a sealed envelope because the supporting documents have been scanned an uploaded to the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), where they are available to CBP.[139] In this case, your visa should include an annotation stating, “IV Docs in CCD.”

Still, in some circumstances, a person with this annotation on their visa will still receive a sealed packet, such as a sealed medical packet with the annotation “CLASS A or B req.’ ATTN of USPHS at POE.” In that event, do not open the sealed packet; instead, present it to CBP upon your arrival in the U.S.[140]

Visaed Passport

Sample Immigrant Visa

The data on the immigrant visa includes the following:

  • Personal Data: Check to make sure that all your personal data is correct. This includes your name, date of birth, passport number, gender, etc.
  • IV Case Number: Check that this number matches the number on your consular interview notice, except that a 01 has been added at the end if you are the principal applicant and subsequent numbers (02, 03, etc.) have been issued for any relatives or are accompanying or following to join the principal applicant.
  • U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou: the case number will start with the letters “GUZ” or “GZO”.
  • U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez: the case number will start with the letters “CDJ” or “MEP”.
  • Registration Number: This is your Alien number (“A” number”), meaning the permanent number under which the Department of Homeland Security keeps its file for you.
  • Immigrant Visa Category: Check that this category matches the one shown on your consular interview notice: “CR1” is the category for the spouse of a U.S. citizen in a case in which the marriage occurred less than 2 years before the visa was issued.
  • Issuance and Expiration Dates. While an immigrant visa is generally valid for a period of 6 months, your visa may be valid for a shorter period, due to factors such as expiration of your medical exam, police clearance, or passport.
  • Note: “Upon endorsement serves as temporary I-551 evidencing permanent residence for one year.” This is explained below.
  • Additional annotations: There may be additional annotations on the visa. For example:
  • “IV Docs in CCD” (as discussed above)
  • “Valid only if Acc/FTJ Father/Mother/Spouse” will be written on the visa of a family member who must accompany or follow to join the principal immigrant. This means that the family member cannot enter the U.S. for the first time before the principal.

Immigrant Data Summary

If you receive a sealed envelope, you should also receive an Immigrant Data Summary. If your visa is annotated “IV Docs in CCD,” you will not receive an Immigrant Data Summary.[141]

On the Immigrant Data Summary, the “Final Address in the U.S.” refers to the address to which USCIS will mail your green card. Check to make sure that’s accurate. In that address, “c/o” should specify the principal resident at that address in whose care the green card should be sent.[142]

Sample Immigrant Data Summary

7.3 Administrative and Judicial Review

  • If the grounds of ineligibility upon which the visa was refused cannot be overcome by the presentation of additional evidence, the principal consular officer at a post, or a specifically designated alternate, shall review the case without delay and record the review decision.[143]
  • There is no appeal possible following a visa refusal.
  • An applicant may seek an advisory opinion from the Visa Office Advisory Opinions Division (AOD) if the applicant believes that the Consulate made a mistake of law (not fact).[144] AOD takes the position that advisory opinions are confidential, and will not release the opinion to the applicant or attorney. AOD will furnish only a letter notifying the attorney or the applicant of the decision and a summary of the basis for the decision.
  • Reconsideration: If an immigrant visa application is refused, the applicant may request reconsideration without paying a new application fee if evidence is presented overcoming the ground of ineligibility within one year of the date of refusal.[145]
  • Re-application: If more than one year has elapsed since the immigrant visa refusal, provided that the visa petition remains valid, a new immigrant visa application and fee may be submitted.[146]
  • Judicial review: Due to the court doctrine of “consular nonreviewability,” only in rare cases is it possible to challenge an immigrant visa refusal in court.

7.4 Avoiding Termination of Registration

Stay in Touch with the State Department to Avoid Termination

An approved I-130, I-140, or I-526 will become invalid if an applicant’s registration is “terminated” by the State Department.[147]

Termination is possible if a case has been “inactive” for one year, meaning that the applicant has not taken action within one year of[148]

  • being notified of visa availability by NVC or a consular post;
  • being scheduled for an interview;
  • being issued a 221(g) notice seeking additional evidence; or
  • being issued a Follow-Up Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants (described below).

If you are not actively pursuing immigration but want to avoid termination, then don’t let a year go by without being in touch with the NVC or the consular post, depending on where your case is currently pending. If the case is at the NVC, any of the following will keep your case active[149]:

  • Pay a fee to NVC
  • Upload a document to NVC
  • Use the AskNVC public inquiry form
  • Call NVC

If the case is at a consulate post, check their website for the best contact method of communication. You can write something like this: “I am not yet ready to immigrate, but please do not terminate my case.” Include your State Department case number in your communications.

Notification of Possible Termination

If the applicant has not applied within a year of being notified of visa availability in the Immigrant Visa Instruction Packet (Packet 3), the NVC or the Consulate should send a Notice of Possible Termination.[150]

  • Cases at NVC: If the applicant replies to the Notice of Possible Termination that they intend to apply for an immigrant visa, NVC will start the process of collecting forms and fees again. [151]
  • Cases at Consulate: If the applicant replies to the Notice of Possible Termination that they intend to apply for an immigrant visa, the applicant will be instructed that within one year they must return a Form DS-2001, Notification of Applicant Readiness (notifying the Consulate that they have collected all required documents) and file a Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application. The Consulate will then process the visa application normally. [152]

If the applicant does not reply to the Notice of Possible Termination as instructed above, the NVC or Consulate “must” initiate termination proceedings by issuing Notice of Termination of Registration Letter (Termination 1).

Notice of Termination of Registration Letter (Termination 1)

This letter reminds the applicant that was previously notified of the requirement to apply timely, and that their application has been terminated for failure to do so timely.[153] The letter also explains the applicant’s right to have the registration reinstated within one year if failure to apply or present evidence was due to circumstances beyond the applicant’s control.[154] Such circumstances may include an illness preventing traveling, natural disaster, refusal by the local authorities to emigrate, and obligatory foreign military service.[155]

Final Notice of Cancellation of Registration (Termination 2)

If within one year of the Termination 1 letter the applicant doesn’t establish a basis for reinstatement, the consulate will send the applicant a Final Notice of Cancellation of Registration (also known as Termination 2 letter). The underlying USCIS petition will then be destroyed.[156]

7.5 Replacement Visa or New Visa

As mentioned above, an immigrant visa is generally valid for a period of up to 6 months. You must enter the U.S. within this 6-month period.[157] Consular officers do not have the authority to extend the validity of a visa.

Replacement Visa: If you don’t enter the U.S. during that period (or you foresee that you may not be able to), it may be possible to obtain a “replacement” visa upon payment of the IV application fee, if[158]

  1. You were unable to use the visa during the period of its validity due to reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible; and
  2. The replacement visa is issued during the same fiscal year in which the original visa was issued. (Federal fiscal years run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30).

The first step is to contact the consular post where the IV was issued to explain why you were unable to use the visa during the period of its validity. If the consular post agrees that you may qualify for a replacement visa, you must return any previously issued visa approval packet. You must pay the IV application processing fee again, unless you can prove that you were unable to use the visa as a result of action by the U.S. Government over which you had no control.[159] You also would need new passport-style photos, a new medical exam, and new police certificates if you need a visa valid beyond the expiration date of the police certificates you previously filed.[160]

New Visa: If you don’t qualify for a replacement visa but will be or were unable to use an IV during its validity period because of reasons within your control, you can submit a “new” visa application if the petition has not been revoked and if the basis for immigration still exists (i.e., familial relationship or job offer). This is also true for new IV applications outside of the original IV’s fiscal year of issuance.[161] In visa categories subject to waiting lists, there must be a visa number immediately available.

The first step is to contact the consular post where the IV was issued to explain why you were unable to use the visa during the period of its validity. Applying for a new visa would involve returning any previously issued visa approval packet, filing a new Form DS-260, filing a new set of supporting documents, attending another interview, and paying a new IV application processing fee.

8. Admission to the U.S.

8.1 USCIS Immigrant Fee

You will be required to pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee prior to entering the U.S.[162] Effective December 23, 2016, this is $220.[163]

The fee can be paid online.[164] This fee covers processing and maintaining your immigrant visa packet plus production and delivery of your permanent resident card. [165]

Payment can be by ACH (electronic withdrawal) from a U.S. bank account or debit/credit card (Visa, Amex, MasterCard, or Discover). A third party is allowed to pay, so our law firm can pay on your behalf. Instructions in English are available on the USCIS website.[166]

If you pay yourself, the instructions will give you the option to create a “USCIS Online Account.” If you do so, you can track the status of your green card, receive electronic notifications and case updates, and change and update your mailing address. Only you can create an online account by verifying your identity through correctly answering questions about your personal immigration history.[167]

If you pay yourself, make sure to make a screen capture of the USCIS webpage showing your USCIS receipt number for the payment, which begins with the letters “IOE.” (You should also receive this information in a confirmation email). This receipt number is helpful later for following up on the status of your green card’s production and issuance. Even if you don’t create a USCIS Online Account, you can track your case status at with this receipt number.

USCIS webpage showing receipt numbers for USCIS Immigrant Fee Payments

8.2 Getting Ready

As mentioned above, you should enter the U.S. during the visa’s validity period.

Upon arrival, you will be inspected by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector. CBP is responsible for both immigration and customs-related inspections.

Issuance of a visa doesn’t guarantee admission to the U.S. The visa merely gives you permission to apply for admission. The CBP inspector will determine whether you should be admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident.[168]

Inspection will be at your first U.S. port of arrival. If from there you will be transferring to a connecting flight, we recommend that you plan for your itinerary to include at least a three-hour layover at your first port of arrival. The reason is that although inspection of new immigrants may be quick, delays are possible.

When you travel to the U.S., bring with you in your carry-on luggage the sealed immigrant visa approval packet, if you have one. If the Consulate determined that you have a “Class A” or “Class B” medical condition—but not if the Consulate determined you have no defect, disease, or disability—the Consulate will give you a second packet labeled “Medical Report,” which you should also bring with you.[169] You aren’t required to present your chest x-ray at the port of entry, although you are advised to bring it with you to the U.S. and keep that as part of your permanent medical records.[170]

In addition, the cautious approach is to bring with you in your carry-on luggage (not in your checked luggage) copies of all the documents we asked you to bring to the Consulate in connection with your case. In a small percentage of cases, the CBP inspector may want to review these documents.

Prepare for CBP Searches of Your Luggage and Electronic Devices

Read about how in our firm’s Client FAQs, at

8.3 Entering the U.S.

Customs Issues and Carrying Cash

On the plane, the flight attendant will give a Customs Declaration Form 6059B. This form includes basic information about what you are bringing into the country. If you are traveling with other immediate family members, you can complete one customs declaration for your entire family.

A complete discussion of U.S. customs laws is beyond the scope of this article, but note that when entering the U.S., you will be required to declare to CBP the amount of “monetary instruments” you are bringing into the country. Monetary instruments refer to coins or paper money of the U.S. or other foreign countries, travelers’ checks, personal checks (endorsed) or money orders, securities or stocks in bearer form, promissory notes, bills of lading, etc. A person who carries currency or other monetary instruments in an aggregated amount exceeding 10,000 USD at one time into the U.S. is required to file with CBP a “FinCEN Form 105: Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments.”[171]

If you are traveling with family members or anyone else, and you and your traveling companions are collectively carrying more than $10,000 in cash total, then you may need to file the FinCEN Form 105. Otherwise, CBP may allege that the travelers divided the currency among themselves so that each is carrying less than $10,000 with the intend to evade the currency reporting requirement.

Depending on the specific situation, failure to file the report, or filing report with a material omission or misstatement, or filing a fraudulent or false report, may be a crime and the monetary instruments may be seized and forfeited.[172]

When you arrive at the port of entry, there may be a special line for “New Immigrants.” If not, you should use the line for “Permanent Residents.” Or you can ask the CBP greeter which line to wait in—just show them your immigrant visa or sealed envelope, if you have one. Any accompanying family members may wait in the same line with you.

When you reach the front of the line, show the officer your passport and the sealed immigrant visa approval packet, if any.

The CBP officer may serve you right there or may ask you to go to a room to the side of the main inspection area, called “secondary inspection.” The officer will keep the contents of the immigrant visa approval packet. The officer may want to review other documents and ask you questions along the same lines as the consular officer.

When the officer decides to admit you to the U.S. as a new immigrant, your visa will be endorsed with a CBP admission stamp. As is written on the visa, “Upon endorsement serves as temporary I-551 [i.e., green card] evidencing permanent residence for one year.” You can use the endorsed visa as evidence of work authorization or to reenter the U.S. during that year.[173] As of the date of entry, you are considered a permanent resident, even though the actual green card will be sent in the mail later.

CBP Endorsement on IV

CBP Admission Stamp (Endorsement) on Immigrant Visa

8.4 Issuance of the Green Card

After you become a permanent resident USCIS will mail you the permanent resident card (green card).[174] This will be sent to the address you listed for receipt of the green card on your Form DS-260. (That address is shown also in your Immigrant Data Summary.) The card will be sent by U.S. Postal Service priority mail,[175] which gives USCIS confirmation when the mail is delivered, but no signature is required from the recipient.

If you move before you get your card, notify our law firm. It will be necessary to notify USCIS of your address change by calling the USCIS customer service at 1-800-375-5283. Also, USCIS recommends that you update your address with the U.S. Postal Service by visiting your local U.S. post office or online at[176]

You can track the status of your green card by visiting and selecting “Check my Case Status.” You will need the receipt number from your USCIS Immigrant Fee payment, which begins with the letters “IOE.”

If you can create a USCIS Online Account at, you can submit an address change and track the status of your green card online.

Also have our firm contact USCIS customer service (or file an online inquiry[177]) if any of the following occurs[178]:

  • You received your welcome notice or card, but you believe there is an error
  • It has been more than 30 days since you became a permanent resident, and you have not received your welcome notice.
  • It has been more than 60 days since you became a permanent resident but you have not received your new card.

USCIS announced new designs for the green card in May 2010, May 2017, and Jan. 2012. Most of the features of the new designs are meant to prevent counterfeiting and tampering. One thing to note is that where the card refers to your “USCIS #,” that is the same thing as your “A#,” which is the permanent file number which USCIS has assigned to you.

new green card

May 2010 Green Card Design

May 2017 Green Card Design

Jan. 2023 Green Card Design

9. Conclusion

Of course, do not hesitate to contact our firm with any question or concern regarding your case.

  1. See INA § 101(a)(20) (“The term ‘lawfully admitted for permanent residence’ means the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, such status not having changed.”)

  2. Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978.

  3. This implies that the parent must be admissible as an immigrant.

  4. Inspector’s Field Manual § 14.5.

  5. 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(b)(1); 22 C.F.R. § 42.1(d); 9 FAM 201.2-3(3)(a), (b).

  6. CBP, Carrier Information Guide: United States Document Requirements for Travel 2 (Feb. 2019). See 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(b)(2).

  7. 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(b)(1).

  8. INA § 245(a).

  9. INA § 101(a)(15)(B). For more, see Gary Chodorow, Can I Enter the U.S. as a Visitor Then File a Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status? (July 16, 2022).

  10. INA § 101(a)(15)(H), (L).

  11. INA § 203(d).

  12. INA § 203(d).

  13. INA § 203(d); 22 C.F.R. § 42.31(b).

  14. 22 C.F.R. § 40.1(a)(1).

  15. 22 C.F.R. § 40.1(a)(2).

  16. 9 FAM 40.1 N7.1.

  17. 9 FAM 502.1-1(c)(2) (Sept. 14, 2020).

  18. 9 FAM 502.1-1(C)(2) (Sept. 14, 2020).

  19. 22 C.F.R. § 22.53; 9 FAM 502.1-1(C)(2) (Sept. 14, 2020).

  20. INA § 101(b)

  21. 22 C.F.R. § 42.51(b).

  22. 22 C.F.R. § 42.12(a).

  23. 8 C.F.R. § 245.2(a)(2)(i)(A).

  24. 22 C.F.R. § 42.53.

  25. INA § 202(b); 22 C.F.R. § 42.12. Exceptions are as follows:

    (1) A child may be charged to the foreign state to which either parent will be charged if necessary to prevent separation from a parent or parents. 22 C.F.R. § 42.12(b).

    (2) A spouse may be charged to the state of his or her accompanying spouse if necessary to prevent their separation. 22 C.F.R. § 42.12(c).

    (3) A foreign national born in the United States who is not a U.S. citizen (e.g., the child of a diplomat) will be charged to the state of which the foreign national is a citizen or subject. 22 C.F.R. § 42.12(d).

    (4) A child may be charged to the foreign state of either parent where that child is born in a foreign state where neither parent was born nor had residence at the time of the foreign national’s birth. 22 C.F.R. § 42.12(e).

  26. Pub. L. 107-208, 116 Stat. 927 (2002).

  27. INA §201(f).

  28. INA §203(h); see also legacy INS Memorandum, INS Child Status Protection Act Guidance, AILA Doc. No. 02092732, and legacy INS Memorandum, J. Williams, INS Guidance on Child Status Protection Act, AILA Doc. No. 03031040.

  29. 8 C.F.R. § 204.2(i).

  30. 9 FAM § 503.3-3(B)(2)(1)(b).

  31. 9 FAM § 503.3-3(B)(2)(1)(a).

  32. 9 FAM 503.3-3(B)(2)(3).

  33. Two circuit court decisions hold that it is the child’s CSPA-adjusted age that controls on the date the parent naturalizes—not his or her biological age, so they if the adjusted age is under 21 the petition automatically converts to the immediate relative category on the date of naturalization. Tovar v. Sessions, 882 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2018); Cuthill v. Blinken, 990 F.3d 272 (2d Cir. 2021). See Charles Wheeler, Beware the Dangers of Naturalization for Child Beneficiaries (May 27, 2021).

  34. Matter of Zamora-Molina, 25 I&N Dec. 606 (BIA 2011), discussed in Charles Wheeler, Beware the Dangers of Naturalization for Child Beneficiaries (May 27, 2021).

  35. 9 FAM 502.2-3(C). Charles Wheeler, Beware the Dangers of Naturalization for Child Beneficiaries (May 27, 2021).

  36. 8 C.F.R. § 205.1(a)(3)(ii)(E). Presently, the only family category where derivatives are allowed to “recapture” priority dates after againg out is the 2A category beneficiary who ages out to 2B. Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio, 573 U.S. 41, (2014); Matter of Wang, 25 I. & N. Dec. 28 (BIA 2009).

  37. Charles Wheeler, Beware the Dangers of Naturalization for Child Beneficiaries (May 27, 2021).

  38. CSPA § 6, amending and adding INA § 204(k).

  39. 9 FAM § 503.3-3(B)(2)(1)(c).

  40. See generally INA § 212(a).

  41. 22 C.F.R. § 42.43(a); see 22 C.F.R. § 42.41 (“The approval of a petition does not relieve the alien of the burden of establishing to the satisfaction of the consular officer that the alien is eligible in all respects to receive a visa.”).

  42. INA § 101(a)(20) (emphasis added).

  43. Saxbe v. Bustos, 419 U.S. 65 (1974) (dicta). An “immigrant” is simply defined as “every alien except an alien who is within one of the” defined nonimmigrant visa classes. INA § 101(a)(15). See Immigration Law and Procedure § 31.01 (a foreign national seeking to enter the U.S. “without having qualified as a nonimmigrant … is an immigrant for the purposes of the immigration laws, even if she intends to remain only temporarily.”) Moreover, under 22 C.F.R. § 42.81, the only grounds for refusal of an immigrant visa are INA § 212(a) or INA § 221(g). Neither of those subsections incorporates a requirement that an immigrant visa applicant must intend to establish a residence in the U.S. or move to the U.S. permanently.

  44. 9 FAM 42.73 N2; Letter from H. Edward Odom, Chief of Advisory Opinions Division for Visa Services, U.S. Dep’t of State, to Laurence F. Johnson (Oct. 1991), summarized at 11 Interpreter Releases 3545 (Mar. 23, 1992). While USCIS doesn’t appear to have published its “agreement” with the State Department, AFM 22.4 explicitly permits an EB-5 conditional resident to file a new Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, and there is no contrary authority prohibiting approval of an immigrant petition for an LPR.

    Note that INS previously took the position at that an LPR is ineligible to file a Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status, within the U.S. See Letter from Edward H. Skerrett, Chief, Immigrant Branch, INS Office of Adjudications, to attorney Eugenio Cazorola, July 19, 1993, summarized in 70 Interpreter Releases 1172 (Sept. 3, 1993); Letter from Edward H. Skerrett, Chief, Immigrant Branch, INS Office of Adjudications, to attorney Jimmy W. Go, Mar. 21, 1995, summarized in 75 Interpreter Releases 531 (Apr. 17, 1995). That position is undermined by AFM 22.4, which now allows an EB-5 conditional resident to file a new Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, to reflect a new business plan, and upon approval file a Form I-485.

  45. 9 FAM 42.73 N2.

  46. 9 FAM 42.73 PN6.2.

  47. 9 FAM 42.73 N2.

  48. Letter from H. Edward Odom, Chief of Advisory Opinions Division for Visa Services, U.S. Dep’t of State, to Laurence F. Johnson (Oct. 1991), summarized at 11 Interpreter Releases 3545 (Mar. 23, 1992).

  49. INA § 202(a)(1)(B).

  50. U.S Consulate in Guangzhou, Frequently Asked Questions #38 (last visited Mar. 23, 2009).

  51. NVC, Tips for Attorneys Working with the NVC (Nov. 2018).

  52. NVC AILA Liaison Committee Meeting (Feb 17, 2021), AILA Doc. No. 21031935.

  53. DOS, Begin National Visa Center (NVC) Processing (last viewed Jan. 26, 2024).

  54. One “Affidavit of Support Review” fee is required per case, except that a U.S. citizen who petitions for a spouse and/or unmarried sons or daughters concurrently in process at the NVC can pay just one fee.

  55. NVC Fee Payment FAQs (last viewed July 2, 2020).

  56. Jan M. Pederson, The Fundamentals of Lawyering at Consular Posts, in Navigating the Fundamentals of Immigration Law 352, 367 (2015-2016 ed.)

  57. For some U.S. consulates, but not the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, NVC will forward the case to the consulate 60 days after requesting missing documents, even if the documents are still incomplete. AILA-DOS Liaison Meeting, Oct. 17, 2012, AILA Infonet Doc. No. 12102252.

  58. NVC-AILA DOS Liaison Committee Meeting 3 (Nov. 3, 2016), AILA Doc. No. 16110402.

  59. DOS, Immigrant Visa Processing—General FAQs (last viewed Aug. 11, 2017),

  60. DOS, DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application—FAQs, (last visited Sept. 8, 2013). This form replaces the Form DS-230, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Parts I and II effective Sept. 1, 2013.

  61. 9 FAM 505.4-4(A)(B)(1).

  62. INA § 222(b).

  63. 22 C.F.R. §§ 42.64(b), 42.72.

  64. 8 C.F.R. § 211.2; 22 C.F.R. § 42.64(b).

  65. 9 FAM 42.64 PN2.

  66. 22 C.F.R. § 42.2(a); 9 FAM 201.2-4(2).

  67. 9 FAM 201.2-5(a).

  68. 9 FAM 504.10-3(B)(2).

  69. Inspector’s Field Manual § 14.2.

  70. For more detailed descriptions of the required documents, see these two State Department webpages: Documents The Applicant Must Submit, (last visited Mar. 21, 2015); China Reciprocity Schedule, (last visited Mar. 24, 2009).

  71. NVC, Step 5: Collect Supporting Documents (last reviewed Aug. 29, 2018). Some consular posts may have additional requirements related to translations. Applicants should review the post’s instructions. NVC-AILA DOS Liaison Committee Meeting 1-2 (Nov. 3, 2016), AILA Doc. No. 16110402.

  72. 22 C.F.R. §42.65(d).

  73. INA § 222(b) (requiring the applicant’s birth certificate); 22 C.F.R. § 42.65 (same).

  74. 9 FAM 504.4-4(B) (June 16, 2021); NVC, Immigrant Visa Process—Step 7: Collect Civil Documents (last viewed July 15, 2021).

  75. NVC-AILA DOS Liaison Committee Meeting 1 (Nov. 3, 2016), AILA Doc. No. 16110402.

  76. 9 FAM 504.4-4(A)(c)(3) (June 16, 2021) (The two-year expiration does not apply to “police certificates from an area to which the applicant has not returned since previous clearances”); NVC, Immigrant Visa Process—Step 7: Collect Civil Documents (last viewed July 15, 2021).

  77. 9 FAM 42.63 PN4.1-2 (Exceptions exist where the case involves an I-864W or where the Visa Office requires the case to be “fully qualified.”).

  78. AILA, Practice Pointer: Immigrant Visa Processing and NVC Best Practices (Feb. 7, 2017), AILA Doc. No. 1512712.

  79. U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, Immigrant Visa Instructions (last visited Aug. 27, 2013),

  80. CGI Group Inc., Immigrant and K Visa Fees (last visited Aug. 27, 2013),

  81. 9 FAM 40.11 N6 and 9 FAM 40.11 Exhibit I. The specified TB findings are:

    (1) Class A TB with waiver: All applicants who have tuberculosis disease and have been granted a waiver.

    (2) Class B1 TB, Pulmonary: (a) applicants who have medical history, physical exam, or CXR findings suggestive of pulmonary tuberculosis but have negative AFB sputum smears and cultures and are not diagnosed with tuberculosis or can wait to have tuberculosis treatment started after immigration; and (b) applicants who were diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and successfully completed directly observed therapy prior to immigration.

    (3) Class B1 TB, Extrapulmonary: Applicants with evidence of extrapulmonary tuberculosis.

  82. The consular officer has the power to request birth certificates for all children if “consider[ed] necessary.” 22 C.F.R. § 42.65(c)(5).

  83. U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, Immigrant Visa Instructions (Feb. 2021).

  84. U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou, Immigrant Visa Instructions (July 2020).

  85. 22 C.F.R. § 42.61(a).

  86. INA § 101(a)(33).

  87. 22 C.F.R. § 42.61(a).

  88. 9 FAM 42.61 N1.1.

  89. 22 C.F.R. § 42.61(a).

  90. 9 FAM 42.6, N2.1.

  91. 9 FAM 42.61.

  92. 22 C.F.R. 42.61(a).

  93. 9 FAM 42.61 N2.2-3.

  94. 22 C.F.R. § 42.61(b).

  95. 9 FAM 42.61 PN1; AILA DOS Liaison Q&As (Apr. 15, 2015), AILA Doc. No. 15042004. Justification for the request should be provided. 9 FAM 42.61 PN1.1-1. Also provide the applicant’s birth certificate, valid passport, and proof of residency (or physical presence) as well as an address in the receiving post’s jurisdiction. AILA DOS Liaison Q&As (Apr. 15, 2015), supra.; AILA NVC Teleconference Notes (Feb. 17, 2015).

  96. 9 FAM 42.61 PNH1.1-2.

  97. 9 FAM 42.61 N4 (possible delays in processing out-of-district applications); Jan M. Pederson, The Fundamentals of Lawyering at Consular Posts, in Navigating the Fundamentals of Immigration Law 352, 262 (2015-2016 ed.).

  98. For example, the interviewing officer or their supervisor reviewing an application after the interview may notice that an application cannot be approved without additional documentation.

  99. CGI Federal Inc., Track & Retrieve My Passport (last viewed Jan. 26, 2022).

  100. Id.

  101. See a sample at The letter should include the representative’s full name as shown on their government-issued photo ID and the applicant’s name. In case of a group/family, a single letter of authority with the required information for each of the applicants will be accepted.

  102. CGI Federal Inc., Track & Retrieve My Passport (last viewed Jan. 26, 2022).

  103. CSRA, Visa Document Courier Services (last visited Aug. 30, 2018).

  104. CSRA, Frequently Asked Questions (last visited Aug. 30, 2018).

  105. U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, Information Concerning the Medical Exam (Sept. 2018).

  106. HIV infection is no longer a ground of inadmissibility.

  107. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is no longer required.

  108. U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou, Immigrant Visa Appointment Checklist (Nov. 5, 2020).

  109. U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau, The Interview (last interviewed Mar. 3, 2021).

  110. The regulations allow waiving the interview for a child under age 14. 22 C.F.R. § 42.62(a). However, the FAM requires that that the principal beneficiary of any immigrant visa petition—including all immediate relatives—must appear. 9 FAM 42.62 N2. But see CGI Group Inc., Immigrant Visa Information (last visited Aug. 27, 2013), (“All immigrant visa applicants, including children, must appear.”).

  111. U.S Consulate in Guangzhou, Interview, (last visited Mar. 23, 2009).

  112. CGI Group Inc. Security Regulations (last visited Aug. 27, 2013),

  113. U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, Interview Guidelines (Sept. 26, 2019).

  114. Id.

  115. CGI Group Inc. Security Regulations (last visited Aug. 27, 2013),

  116. But see CGI Group Inc., Immigrant Visa Information (last visited Aug. 27, 2013), (“All immigrant visa applicants, including children, must appear.”). In contrast, from December 2010 through early 2013, the consular appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou had two parts. The first part was the fingerprinting and document intake. This was at the time shown on the appointment notice issued by NVC. Then, the next day the applicant would return to the Consulate for the actual interview at 7:30 am.

  117. U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, Nearby Luggage Storage (last viewed Apr. 19, 2019).

  118. CGI Group Inc. Security Regulations (last visited Aug. 27, 2013),

  119. 9 FAM 504.10-2(E)(5) (July 20, 2017).

  120. 22 C.F.R. § 42.67(a)(3); 9 FAM 42.67 N2; 9 FAM 42.67 PN1.

  121. 22 C.F.R. §§ 42.62(b)(2), 42.63(c).

  122. 9 FAM 504.1-3(c)(1).

  123. INA § 291. See 22 C.F.R. § 40.6 (“The burden of proof is upon the applicant to establish eligibility to receive a visa.”).

  124. INA § 221.

  125. 22 C.F.R. §40.6.

  126. 22 C.F.R. § 42.65.

  127. 9 FAM 42.63 N3.

  128. 9 FAM 504.10-2(E)(1).

  129. 9 FAM 42.73 N3 (Aug. 30, 1987).

  130. 9 FAM 40.6.

  131. 22 C.F.R. § 42.43(a).

  132. INA § 221(g).

  133. The reason to believe standard requires “facts or circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the applicant is ineligible” for the visa. 9 FAM 40.6.

  134. 9 FAM 40.4 N5 (Aug. 31, 2004). The Consulate may not provide a full explanation if the basis for refusal is criminal offenses or security grounds. 9 FAM 42.81 N2 (June 6, 2008).

  135. U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou Webchat Transcript (Dec. 17, 2008). This practice of denying family cases under § 212 (a)(5)(A) is subject to criticism because the statute states this ground applies only to applicants seeking admission as employment-based immigrants. INA § 212 (a)(5)(D). In contrast, other grounds of refusal seem more appropriate in such cases, such as refusal under INA § 221(g) requesting additional evidence where the applicant has failed to provide sufficient evidence of the valid marriage; refusal under INA § 221(g) to return the case to USCIS where there is significant evidence of sham marriage that USCIS didn’t consider; or refusal under INA § 212(a)6)(C) for misrepresentation.

  136. 9 FAM 40.4 N5 (Aug. 31, 2004).

  137. DOS, Visas: CEAC Case Status Change (Mar. 5, 2020),

  138. 9 FAM 42.73 PN3. (For derivative family members, there is no USICS petition).

  139. CGI Federal Inc., FAQ—Immigrant Visa (last viewed Apr. 1, 2019).

  140. 9 FAM 302.2-3(F)(10)(b) (Sept. 15, 2016).

  141. 9 FAM 504.10-2(D)(7).

  142. 9 FAM 504.10-2(C)(4).

  143. 22 C.F.R. § 41.121(c).

  144. 9 FAM 41.121(d); 9 FAM 40.6 N6.1.

  145. 22 C.F.R. § 42.81(e); 9 FAM 42.81 N4.1 (Aug. 30, 1987).

  146. 9 FAM 42.81 N4.3 (June 6, 2008).

  147. INA § 203(g); 8 C.F.R. § 204.2(h)(1); 22 C.F.R. § 42.83.

  148. 9 FAM 504.13-2(A)(1) (June 4, 2019).

  149. AILA NVC Liaison Q&As (Nov. 7, 2019), AILA Doc. No. 19110833.

  150. 9 FAM 504.13-2(B)(1).

  151. 9 FAM 504.13-2(B)(2).

  152. 9 FAM 504.13-2(B)(2).

  153. 9 FAM 504.13-2(E)(1).

  154. Id.

  155. 22 C.F.R. § 42.83; 9 FAM 504.13-3(A).

  156. 9 FAM 504.13-2(E)(2).

  157. INA § 221(c)(1). 22 C.F.R. § 42.72, 42.64(b).

  158. INA § 221(c)(3); 22 CFR § 42.74(b); 9 FAM 504.10-5.

  159. INA § 221(c)(3); 9 FAM 504.10-5.

  160. See, e.g., U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, Frequently Asked Questions (last viewed Apr. 8, 2020).

  161. 9 FAM 504.10-5. New diversity visas can only be issued in the same, not subsequent, fiscal years.

  162. If you fail to pay, you will still be admitted as an immigrant, but you will not receive a green card until the fee is paid.

  163. USCIS Fee Schedule, 81 Fed. Reg. 73292 (Oct. 24, 2016) (to be codified at 8 C.F.R. § 103.7).


  165. 75 Fed. Reg. 58962 (Sept. 24, 2010) (effective Feb. 1, 2013). Children who enter the United States under either the Orphan or Hague adoption programs, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants, returning residents (SB-1s), and those issued K visas are the only immigrant visa cases exempt from paying the new fee.

  166. USCIS, How to Pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee with the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (Aug. 31, 2015),

  167. See INA § 235.

  168. 9 FAM 42.66 N15.

  169. 9 FAM 42.66 N15; IFM ch. 17.9.

  170. 31 C.F.R. § 1010.340. The form is available at

  171. The crime is punishable by a fine of not more than 500,000 USD or imprisonment of not more than 10 years See 31 CFR §§ 1010.820(d), 1010.830, 1010.840.

  172. CBP, Carrier Information Guide 40 (May 2014). See USCIS, Form M-274, Handbook for Employers § 7.1 (Stamp should be on or “near” the visa); SSA, POMS RM 10211.025 (The stamp should be placed “on the upper portion” of the visa so it “overlaps on to the adjoining page” of the passport. Slight variations are acceptable, so long as the stamp is “on or near” the visa.”)

  173. After you are admitted, your immigrant visa packet is then shipped by CBP to the USCIS Texas Service Center (TSC), where data entry is done, and, if the USCIS Immigrant Fee was paid, TSC orders the green card. The card is produced and mailed from a processing center in Kentucky. The immigrant visa packet is forwarded to the USCIS National Records Center to be made part of your permanent “A-file.” AILA/SCOPS Teleconference Agenda: Notes of Liaison Committee 2 (Jan. 21, 2015), AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 15012942.

  174. USCIS Improves Delivery of Immigration Documents through Secure Mail Initiative, May 2, 2011, AILA Infonet Doc. No. 11050231.

  175. USCIS, USCIS Immigrant Fee (Aug. 31, 2015),

  176. USCIS, Tools, (last viewed Sept. 20, 2015).

  177. USCIS, After Receiving a Decision, (last viewed Sept. 20, 2015).

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