The Path to a Green Card: How Consular Processing Works for Spouses

The process of obtaining a U.S. Green Card can be confusing, especially if you need to go through consular processing at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to successfully complete the process.

We’re excited to announce that Alvva now supports Green Cards via consular processing for spouses outside of the U.S.! We know that visa journeys can be complex, so if you’d like support preparing your Green Card documents, get started today.

What is Consular Processing?

Consular processing is the process of applying for a U.S. visa from outside the United States, as opposed to adjusting status within the U.S. It involves attending an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country or country of residence.

Consular processing is required for visa applicants who:

  • Are outside the U.S. and need a visa to enter the U.S.
  • Are in the U.S. but do not qualify to adjust status
  • Prefer to apply for an immigrant visa from their home country

Consular processing is the most common path for employment-based green cards, diversity visas, and family-sponsored green cards.

The Steps of Consular Processing

Consular processing involves the following main steps:

  1. Get your visa petition approved by USCIS - Your visa petition is approved by USCIS and sent to the NVC. This is usually an I-130 petition (along with form I-130a) filed by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. You will need to pay a filing fee of $535 USD when submitting your petition.
  2. Submit required documents to NVC - Once approved, the petition gets sent to the National Visa Center (NVC). You will need to pay a Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325) and an Affidavit of Support Fee ($120). You will then need to submit the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) and the Visa Application (Form DS-260), along with financial and civil documents.
  3. Attend your visa interview - After you get initial approval from the NVC, you will be scheduled for a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. You'll need to provide additional documentation. The consular officer reviews your application and makes a decision.
  4. Obtain your visa - If approved after the interview, you'll be issued an immigrant visa in your passport. Then you can enter the U.S. within 6 months.
  5. Complete processing at U.S. port of entry - When entering the U.S., the immigration officer will stamp your visa packet and issue your permanent resident card. You will need to pay an USCIS Immigrant Fee of $220. You are then a lawful permanent resident!

This process can take 12-16 months in most cases. The wait time depends on the visa category and country.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Despite best efforts, some challenges can come up when going through consular processing:

  • Long NVC processing times - You may face delays at the NVC stage, especially if your case is missing information. Respond promptly to NVC requests to avoid hold-ups.
  • Visa interview rescheduling - Sometimes embassy appointments get postponed due to holidays or capacity issues. If your interview is rescheduled, respond quickly to any embassy requests to minimize delays.
  • Visa denials - Unfortunately, visa applications sometimes get refused. The most common reasons are incomplete applications, or lack of eligibility. Address any deficiencies and reapply if possible. Seeking legal advice can also help overcome a denial.
  • Travel restrictions - Some applicants may face travel barriers when the visa is approved, due to conditions in their home country. Get up-to-date travel information from the embassy website before finalizing plans.

Frequently Asked Questions About Consular Processing

What are the income requirements for consular processing?

For family-based green cards, the sponsor must meet 125% of the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines. For employment-based green cards, it depends on the visa category.

How long does consular processing take?

The time range is wide - from a few months to several years depending on the visa type, demand, and country. Cases can take 6-36 months total for consular processing, but in general, the process takes 12-16 months.

Can I travel outside the U.S. while my case is pending?

It's best not to travel internationally once the NVC is processing your case. Unexpected issues can arise, and traveling abroad could lead to denial.

Does my family need to do consular processing too?

Yes, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 will need to complete consular processing for their green cards.

What documents will I need for my visa interview?

Requirements vary by embassy but you'll likely need your passport, birth certificate, police certificates, medical exam results, proof of finances, and civil documents.

Can I work in the U.S. after getting my visa?

Yes, your immigrant visa allows you to live and work permanently in the United States once you enter and complete processing.


Consular processing has more steps compared to adjusting status within the U.S. But being prepared with the required documents and working with an experienced immigration law firm will help avoid pitfalls. Don't let the complexities deter you from getting your Green Card abroad. With diligence and patience, you can successfully complete consular processing. Let the experts at Alvva guide you through the process for the best chance of success. Take a couple minutes to see if you’re eligible today.