What Happens Between I-130 Approval and Consular Interview

Step-by-step, what happens to lead up to your immigrant visa interview at a U.S. consulate.

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After an immigrant visa petition (Form I-130) has been approved by USCIS on your behalf, or you have won the diversity visa lottery, what’s next? You probably know that you will need to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate in your home country (assuming you’re not in the U.S. and eligible to use the procedure known as “adjustment of status.”) But how does that interview get arranged, exactly?

This article will review the steps leading up to your interview.

Role of the National Visa Center

Although you’ve probably been dealing with either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Department of State (DOS) up to now, an important intermediary office known as the National Visa Center (NVC) will be your primary contact for a while.

The NVC’s main role is to transfer your case to the U.S. consulate. A lot has to happen, however, before the NVC can do that.

First, if you’re a “preference relative,” you have to wait until your Priority Date is current and a visa becomes available. (This could take several years.) The NVC will advise you when that date arrives.

Next, you will have to visit the website of the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) and complete Form DS-261, Online Choice of Address and Agent. Log in using the invoice number that the NVC sends you either by mail or email.

It’s a fairly simple form, but keep in mind that by choosing an “agent,” you are essentially deciding where and how all the important notices from the U.S. government will be sent — to your overseas address or to your U.S. petitioner or via email.

If mail service from the U.S. has been at all unreliable where you live, or if you might be moving before your visa interview, it’s safest to choose the petitioner (in the U.S.) as your agent or to indicate that you’d rather be contacted by email. Since the majority of the steps you need to take on your visa petition are online, it also makes sense to enroll in email notifications.

Pay Processing Fees

After you submit the DS-261, you will receive some information about filing fees. If you are immigrating through a family member, the NVC will send the U.S. family member petitioner a bill for the Affidavit of Support review and send either you or your agent a bill for the immigrant visa processing fee ($230 as of 2014).

If any family members who are included on the visa petition are immigrating with you, a separate filing fee of $230 will be required for each one. However, all family members can be included on the one $88 filing fee for the Affidavit of Support.

Diversity lottery winners also have to pay an additional fee of $330.

The NVC prefers that you pay the fees online, by entering your checking account number and bank routing number. That’s also the best way to ensure that your fees get credited to your account, all your documents are kept together, and that the NVC doesn’t lose your paper check.

However, if you don’t have a checking account, you will need to pay by mail using a bank check or money order. Make sure to have your visa bill handy, because it contains a bar code that the NVC will need in order to credit your fee to your application.

Prepare Form DS-260 Online

After paying your fees, you will need to submit DS-260, the online immigrant visa application, also on the CEAC website. This form will ask you a number of biographical questions, such as all names used, all addresses where you have lived, work and educational history, and family member information. You will also be asked questions to determine your admissibility to the United States.

The DS-260 application can be submitted only online. You will again need your NVC invoice number and receipt number in order to complete this form. You can save your DS-260 and come back to it later if you need to.

Keep in mind that you do need to complete this form in English using English characters only, so have someone ready to help you if you aren’t confident in your English ability.

This online form isn’t much different from the paper one that preceded it (known as DS-230), except that it requires a lot more detail. You’ll be asked for all your addresses since the age of 16 and the exact dates that you lived there. Make sure that all your answers correspond with the answers you gave on the Form G-325A submitted with the petitioner’s Form I-130. If an answer does not apply to you (such as U.S. Social Security Number), you will be given the option to choose “Does Not Apply.”

After you submit the DS-260, print out the confirmation page in order to bring it to your interview. Although you are not required to do so, it doesn’t hurt to also print out a copy of the entire form, so that you can refer to it when needed.

Comply With Additional NVC Instructions

You will receive further instructions and a checklist on what else the NVC needs from you before your interview. For consulate-specific information, visit http://travel.state.gov and click “Learn About Immigrating to the United States” then, on the flowchart, click “Submit Visa Application and Supporting Documents.” Here, you’ll find information about how to obtain proper police certification, birth and marriage certificates, and divorce decrees in your home country. All foreign-language documents must be translated as well.

The Department of State website has a good step-by-step outline of the entire process. Go to http://immigrantvisas.state.gov for a diagram of the immigrant visa process. You can also contact the remarkably accessible NVC at NVCINQUIRY@state.gov or call 603-334-0070 on weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, Eastern Standard Time.

After the NVC is satisfied that you have submitted the necessary documentation and have paid all your fees, it will schedule an interview date and transfer your visa file to the appropriate U.S. consulate or embassy.

Before your interview, you will need to attend a medical examination with an authorized physician. To find one in your country, go to the State Department flowchart link described just above and click “Prepare for the Interview.” See Nolo’s article, “The Day of Your Consular Interview,” for what to expect on that day.

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