7 Steps to Apply for a Green Card from Outside the United States

Step 1: Submit Form I-130

The consular process starts with filing a petition with the U.S. government on behalf of a foreign relative who wants to apply for a green card. Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, establishes a qualifying relationship with the relative. If the petition is properly filed with the correct supporting documents, USCIS will “adjudicate” the petition and make a decision. For immediate relatives, this decision comes quickly, but for preference categories, it may take a few months to several years. USCIS approves an I-130 petition for a family preference category, but it does not necessarily signal the availability of an immigrant visa for preference categories. To understand the wait time, you must understand how the visa bulletin works.

Step 2: National Visa Center Processing Fees

The National Visa Center (NVC) will move your case to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, sending a Welcome Letter and online access to the case.

Before the NVC will begin processing your case, you must pay two separate fees:

  • Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee
  • Affidavit of Support Fee

Step 3: Prepare an Affidavit of Support

Family-based immigrants must have a financial sponsor that promises to accept financial responsibility for the person applying for a green card. The petitioner must prepare and submit Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, with supporting documents. If the petitioner does not meet the income requirements, a joint sponsor can submit an I-864 affidavit on behalf of the intending immigrant. If the immigrants receive any designated federal, state, or local means-tested public benefits, the agency providing the benefit “shall request reimbursement” from the signatory of the I-864.

Step 4: Apply for a Green Card

Your relative may apply for a green card online through the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). They can view a sample DS-260 application and print the confirmation page before their interview.

Step 5: Submit Civil Documents

Gather Civil Documents 

The specific civil documents that you need depend on your case

Scan and Submit Civil Documents

The National Visa Center recommends scanning and submitting all documents to ensure a successful green card application, and coordinating with the U.S. embassy or consulate for interview.

Step 6: Immigrant Visa Interview Preparation

The NVC will schedule a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate, and the intending immigrant must complete a medical examination with an embassy-approved doctor. After the exam, the Panel Physician will either send the results directly to the embassy or give them to the consular officer.

Step 7: Immigrant Visa Interview

Who Attends Consular Interview 

Family members who have applied for an immigrant visa must participate in the interview unless their sponsor/petitioner does not attend.

What to Take to Consular Interview

Refer to the appointment letter that you receive from the NVC. This letter should detail the specific items to take to your interview. The list can vary based on the country and/or embassy.

Generally, consular officers expect you to bring:

  • Appointment Letter
  • Passport
  • Photographs
  • DS-260 Confirmation Page
  • Supporting Documents


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