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.
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, USCIS has to send your file to the NVC. That can take six to eight weeks after approval of your I-130 in some cases, and possibly even longer.
If you’re a “preference relative,” that delay won’t affect you too much. You have to wait until your priority date is current and a visa becomes available before NVC can do anything anyway. (This could take several years.) The NVC will advise you when that date arrives by sending you a welcome letter.
If you’re an “immediate relative” or a visa is otherwise immediately available to you, the NVC will send your welcome letter shortly after it gets your file from USCIS.
The welcome letter contains fee invoices (described below), your case number, and the invoice number—you’ll need these numbers to apply for your visa, so make a note of them.
Your application is done online through the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). Once you get the welcome letter, you’re ready to start applying.
If you want to choose an agent to receive communications from the NVC about your case, the first thing you should do is go to the CEAC website and click DS-261, Online Choice of Address and Agent. Log in using the case number and invoice number that the NVC sent you, and select “Applicant” from the drop-down menu where it says “I am the.”
The DS-261 is 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.
After you submit the DS-261, there may be a slight delay before the CEAC system allows you to proceed to the next step, which is to pay the $120 affidavit of support fee (2018 figure), if necessary, and the visa application fee ($325 for family or $330 for diversity lottery winner applicants; 2018 figures). (Check on the latest State Department fees.)
Check CEAC to see whether it will allow you to pay the fees—click Fee Payment, and then log in as described above.
If any family members who are included on the visa petition are immigrating with you, a separate filing fee will be required for each one. However, all family members can be included on the one filing fee for the affidavit of support.
The NVC prefers that you pay the fees online, by entering a U.S. bank checking account number and routing number. That’s also the best way to ensure that your fees get credited to your account, and that there aren’t any delays due to fee payment processing.
However, if you don’t have a checking account, you will need to pay by mail using a cashier’s check or money order, payable to “U.S. Department of State.” (You can’t mail a personal check.) You can use one cashier’s check or money order to pay both fees. Write your NVC case number on the memo line of the cashier’s check or money order. Send it with the fee invoice(s) you received from the NVC to NVC Fee Processing Center, P.O. Box 790136, St. Louis, MO 63179-0136.
If CEAC is broken and won’t allow you to pay fees online—which happens occasionally—it might be best to wait a while to see if it gets fixed. Mailing fee payments causes a significant delay in your case processing, and should be done only as a last resort.
The NVC takes care of initial document intake for your case. It wants to make sure you’ve got the documentary proof the consulate will need, so no time gets wasted later.
After you’ve submitted the DS-260 and received confirmation, you submit documents to the NVC either by email or by postal mail, depending on which consulate will be interviewing you. The State Department’s helpful Step 6: Submit documents to the NVC Web page will tell you which method applies to you.
The NVC should have sent you another notice after it received your fees, instructing you how to proceed, with a “Document Cover Sheet” that serves as a checklist. When submitting documents by mail, you must include the Document Cover Sheet.
The State Department’s immigrant visa processing website is helpful in explaining what documents you should send and how to obtain them. Among other things, you will need to submit an original affidavit of support with financial evidence. There may be special requirements particular to the consulate where you will be interviewing, so review those as well.
All foreign-language documents must be translated.
Generally you are sending copies of your documents to the NVC (with the exception of the affidavit of support); you will bring originals to your interview at the consulate. The NVC should send all the documents it has, including the affidavit of support, to the consulate, but it may be wise to have the person who signed the affidavit of support send another original to you, in case the consulate doesn’t have the one that was sent to the NVC.
It frequently takes the NVC a month, and often a lot longer, to review your documents.
If your case seems to be stuck or is taking way too long, or you just don’t know what to do next, you should contact the NVC by its online request form, called Ask NVC!
In recent years it has proven nearly impossible to reach the NVC by phone. If this situation changes or if you have remarkable persistence, you can call the NVC at 603-334-0070 on weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, Eastern Standard Time. (Calling in the early morning or late night increases your chances of getting through.)
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 website described above and click “Prepare for the Interview.” See The Day of Your Consular Interview for what to expect on that day.