Your foreign relative requires an immigrant visa to enter the United States. You know that s/he is eligible to apply.
What is the Timeline to Apply for and Obtain an Immigrant Visa?
The issuance of an immigrant visa requires processing by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), National Visa Center (NVC) and United States embassy or consulate. The USCIS, NVC and United States embassy or consulate processing times can vary depending upon whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident , the family relationship, country of birth and where the petitioner (in the United States) and the foreign relative (foreign country) reside. In general, however, the typical timeline for immigrant visa processing is as follows:
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Processing
Once the relative petition is filed, the USCIS issues a receipt notice to the petitioner (U.S. citizen or permanent resident) and attorney. Since each relative 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 relative petition is then forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) for the second step in the process.
Receipt Notice Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of Relative Petition
Approval Notice Issued: 21 to 40 Months from Date of Receipt of Relative Petition
Total Time to Process: 21 to 40 Months from Date of Receipt of Relative Petition
National Visa Center (NVC) Processing
Once the approved relative petition is received, the NVC performs a background check of your foreign relative, collects immigrant visa and affidavit of support fees 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 relative petition, immigrant visa application and documents to the United States embassy or consulate nearest your foreign relative’s residence.
Interview Notice Issued: See below
Total Time to Process: See below
* The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) limits the number of family based immigrant visas that are issued each year based on a 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. As such, your foreign relative’s preference category and country of origin will determine the time the relative petition will remain at the NVC until an immigrant visa number becomes available. The wait time can be years.
United States Embassy or Consulate Processing
At the interview, the consular officer will verify that all required documentation (sample documents are listed here) has been provided. Second, and more importantly, the consular officer will question your foreign relative in detail with respect to the specifics of family relationship in order to determine its legitimacy.
Assuming that the consular officer is satisfied, the immigrant visa application is approved and an immigrant visa is placed in your foreign relative’s passport. The visa will be valid for 6 months. The United States embassy or consulate will also provide your foreign relative 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: 1-2 Months from Date of Receipt of NVC Case Package
Visa Issued: 7-10 Days from Date of Interview
Total Time to Process: 1-2 Months
Entering the United States
Upon issuance of the immigrant visas, your foreign relative will enter the United States within 6 months. Upon entry into the United States, your foreign relative will give the sealed envelope to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. The CBP officer will stamp your foreign relative’s passport. This signifies entry as an immigrant.
Period of Validity of Immigrant Visa: 6 Months
Permanent Resident (‘Green Card’) Status
After entry as an immigrant, your foreign relative 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