The process of sponsoring an overseas family member for U.S. immigration begins with the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident filing paperwork. The immigrating family members must, however, step in at some point to prepare and submit various forms and documents of their own.
This article focuses on that part of the process—specifically, after the U.S. citizen or resident has filed a visa petition, on Form I-130, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved it. This USCIS approval is important, but doesn't give the immigrant any immediate rights to U.S. entry. It's up to the would-be immigrant to prove to the U.S. government that he or she can be approved for U.S. admission.
(Note: This article does not discuss the green-card application process for immigrants who are already lawfully in the U.S. and who wish to apply for permanent residence without departing, using a procedure called "adjustment of status.")
When the U.S. relative filled out the I-130 petition, the information there included the incoming immigrant's address. That told the U.S. government which consulate would be most appropriate or convenient. An office known as the National Visa Center (NVC) will then take over, and be responsible for transferring the file to that consulate.
To prompt the NVC to act, the immigrant must visit the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) and complete Form DS-261, Online Choice of Address and Agent. Choosing an "agent" means deciding to whom and how all the important notices from the U.S. government will be sent—to the immigrant or to the petitioner, via regular mail or email.
Next, the NVC will send the U.S. family member petitioner a bill for the Affidavit of Support review ($120 as of 2021) and send either the immigrant or agent a bill for the immigrant visa processing fee ($325 per immigrating family member—2021 figure).
Once the fees are paid, the immigrant must submit Form DS-260, the online immigrant visa application. This asks biographical questions, such as addresses where the immigrant has lived and worked, as well as questions to determine the immigrant's admissibility to the United States. (See How to Fill in Online Form DS-260 for Consular Visa Processing.)
The DS-260 is submitted only online, in English. The immigrant will need to print out the confirmation page to bring to the visa interview.
After the NVC is satisfied with the various documents and fee payments, it will schedule an interview and transfer the visa file to the U.S. consulate. The immigrant will receive further instructions and a checklist on what else the NVC needs before the interview.
Here's a summary of what the immigrant will need to give to either the NVC or to the consulate in order to prepare for the visa interview:
The final set of documents each family member who is immigrating will likely be required to prepare and bring to the interview at the U.S. consulate includes:
See The Day of Your Consular Interview for a U.S. Visa for what happens next.
And if you're approved, there will be one more fee to pay, either before or after you reach the United States. It's called the immigrant fee, and is necessary to pay to USCIS before it will actually produce your green card.