Your company successfully obtained labor certification for a valued employee and must now proceed to the next steps of the permanent residence process or the foreign individual may be able to proceed without an employer sponsor.
What is the Timeline to Apply for and Obtain an Immigrant Visa?
The issuance of an employment (immigrant) visa requires processing by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and United States embassy or consulate. The USCIS and United States embassy or consulate processing times can vary depending upon where the petitioner (in the United States) and the foreign individual (foreign country) are located and the type of processing requested. In general, however, the typical timeline for employment (immigrant) visa processing is as follows:
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Processing
Once the labor certification application is certified, an Immigrant Petition (along with the labor certification application) is filed with the USCIS. The USCIS issues a receipt notice to the petitioner (U.S. company) and attorney. Since each Immigrant Petition differs in terms of complexity, the decision time can vary. Once approved, the USCIS issues an approval notice to the petitioner and attorney. The approved Immigrant Petition is then forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC).
Receipt Notice Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of Immigrant Petition
Approval Notice Issued: 4 Months from Date of Receipt of Immigrant Petition
Total Time to Process: 4 Months from Date of Receipt of Immigrant Petition
*The Immigrant Petition may be filed along with a Premium Processing Request resulting in a decision being rendered in 15 calendar days.
** The USCIS may waive the requirement for a certified labor certification if it is in the national interest of the United States. The foreign individual seeking a national interest waiver may self-petition (a U.S. employer is not required to file the Immigrant Petition). In this instance, the foreign individual files an Immigrant Petition, a letter in support (with a statement supporting a national interest waiver claim) and a labor certification (not certified) with the USCIS. Once approved, the USCIS issues an approval notice to the foreign individual and attorney.
National Visa Center (NVC)
Once the approved Immigrant Petition is received, the NVC performs a background check of the foreign individual, collects immigrant visa fee and documents (sample documents are listed here), processes the immigrant visa application and provides instruction regarding the interview and the required medical examination. After processing is complete, the NVC schedules an interview and forwards the Immigrant Petition and documents to the United States embassy or consulate nearest the foreign individual’s residence.
Interview Notice Issued: 2-3 Months from Date of Receipt of Immigrant Petition
Total Time to Process: 2-3 Months
* The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) limits the number of employment based immigrant visas that are issued each year based on the EB preference category. Each preference category is assigned a number of immigrant visas. In addition, there is a limit to the percentage of immigrant visas that can be allotted to each country in a year. Since the demand for immigrant visas is higher than the limited number and greater for some countries, an immigrant visa ‘waiting list’ forms. The foreign individual’s place on the ‘waiting list’ is determined by their ‘priority date’. The ‘priority date’ is either the date the petition was properly filed with the USCIS or the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor (when a labor certification is required). As such, the foreign individual’s EB preference category, ‘priority date’ and country of origin will determine the time the Immigrant Petition will remain at the NVC until an immigrant visa number becomes available. The wait time can be years.
United States Embassy or Consulate or USCIS Processing
United States Embassy or Consulate
Assuming that the foreign individual is outside the United States at the time the immigrant visa number becomes available, s/he will proceed to the United States embassy or consulate in their native country with the original approval notice, complete copy of the Immigrant Petition that was filed with the USCIS, a valid passport and confirmation of completion of form DS-260 and payment of the visa fee employment (immigrant) visa fees.
At the interview, the consular officer will verify that all required documentation has been provided. Second, and more importantly, the consular officer may question the foreign individual in detail with respect to the specifics of the position.
If the consular officer is satisfied, the immigrant visa is approved and placed in the foreign individual’s passport. At that time, the United States embassy or consulate will also approve any immigrant visa application and place immigrant visa(s) in the foreign individual’s spouse and/or minor child(ren)’s passport(s). The United States embassy or consulate will also provide each immigrant with a sealed envelope that contains the approved petition, applications and documentation. Before departing for the United States, each person that received an immigrant visa must pay a USCIS Immigrant Fee online.
Interview Scheduled: Dependent on individual United States Embassy or Consulate schedule
Visa Issued: 7-10 Days from Date of Interview
Total Time to Process: Dependent on individual United States Embassy or Consulate schedule
Entering the United States
Upon issuance of the immigrant visas, the foreign individual, spouse and any child(ren) enters the United States within 6 months. Upon entry into the United States, the foreign individual will give the sealed envelope to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. The CBP officer will stamp each immigrant’s passport. This signifies entry as an immigrant.
Period of Validity of Immigrant Visa: 6 Months
Permanent Resident (‘Green Card’) Status
Approximately 2 weeks after entry as an immigrant, each person will receive a lawful permanent resident card. The permanent resident card will be valid for 10 years.
Permanent Residence Card Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Entry
Period of Validity of Permanent Residence Card: 10 Years
Adjustment of Status in the United States by USCIS
Assuming that the foreign individual entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa (i.e. H-1B visa) and is currently in the United States legally, s/he can file an application for permanent residence with the USCIS Service Center. The foreign individual files an Application for Permanent Residence, Applications for Travel and Work Permits, completed medical examination and supporting documents with the USCIS. Once the applications are filed, the USCIS issues receipt notices for each to the applicant (foreign individual) and attorney.
Receipt Notices Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of Applications
Total Time to Process: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of Applications
The USCIS issues the foreign individual a notice to appear at the USCIS District Office in order for biometrics (fingerprints) to be captured. This allows the USCIS to perform a background check of your foreign individual. After the background check is complete, the USCIS can render a decision.
Biometrics (Fingerprinting) Appointment Scheduled: 1 Month from Date of Receipt of Applications
Total Time to Process: 1 Month from Date of Receipt of Applications
Assuming that the USCIS is satisfied, the application for permanent residence is approved and the foreign individual will receive a lawful permanent resident card by mail. At that time, the USCIS will also approve any spouse and minor children’s applications for permanent residence. The foreign individual’s permanent resident card will be valid for 10 years.
Interview Scheduled: 3-4 Months from Date of Receipt of Applications
Permanent Residence Card Issued: 10 Days from Date of Approval
Period of Validity of Permanent Residence Card: 10 Years
Total Time to Process: 4-6 Months from Date of Receipt of Applications