Consular processing is the process by which beneficiaries of an immigration petition (family based, employment based, or other category based) who are outside of the U.S., or choose consular processing for reasons of convenience, apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate overseas. The process involves two different government entities: the National Visa Center and a Consular Office abroad under the Department of State. Consular processing will commence only when the underlying immigration petition is approved by the USCIS and visa numbers for the prospective immigrants are available. If the beneficiary is outside of the United States, they may then apply for an immigrant visa through the National Visa Center and at a U.S. Consular Office in their home country or country of permanent residence. If the beneficiary is in the U.S., he or she may choose to immigrate via consular processing abroad or through adjustment of status (AOS). For more information on adjustment of status, please click here.
The main benefit of consular processing is that it may be generally quicker than AOS. The time frame for consular processing on average is between 6 and 12 months, whereas AOS can take an average of 1 to 2 years.
The following are different scenarios where consular processing may be chosen:
Alien A is outside the U.S. Alien A is not eligible to apply for adjustment of status. A may only apply for consular processing.
Alien B is in the U.S. and is in a valid nonimmigrant status. After B's immigration petition is approved, B may apply for either consular processing or adjustment of status.
Alien C is in Texas. C's family-based immigration petition is approved and a visa number is available. Because the time frame for adjustment of status based on a family-based immigration petition is long, C chooses to apply for consular processing for strategic reasons.
Alien D’s National Interest Waiver petition is approved, but D’s H-1B is going to expire. D may apply either for consular processing or adjustment of status. Because applying for adjustment of status has the benefit of a work permit, D chooses to apply for adjustment of status.
Alien E's National Interest Waiver petition is approved. E was from China with a J-1 visa and it is very hard for him to get a J-1 waiver. Moreover, the immigrant visa number has a long backlog. E decides to go back to China to reside for two years to meet the home country residency requirement. After he resides in China for two years and his immigrant visa number becomes available, E may apply for consular processing.