Submission 1: The Sponsor Submits Immigrant Petition Forms and Documents to USCIS
The sponsor needs to submit two forms, along with supporting documents1:
- I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative, to be completed by the sponsor. (The US government uses the term “alien” 👽 to refer to foreigners. This can get truly confusing when real aliens from Mars arrive and start filing U.S. government paperwork).
- I-130A – Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary, to be completed by the applicant.
Around 2 Weeks Later
USCIS Receipt Notice Arrives
The Receipt Notice confirms that USCIS has received your application. It contains your case number, which you can use to track your case status with the USCIS Case Status Checker.
Around 7-10 Months Later
USCIS Notice of Approval Arrives 😀
Your petition has been approved and it’s time for Submission 2!
Around 3 Weeks after the waiting period ends
Welcome Letter from NVC Arrives
The Welcome letter from National Visa Center contains your unique case number and invoice ID number. 2 You will need these numbers for filing future applications, so make sure to save the numbers and only share them with people you trust. 3
Submission 2 – Item 1 of 3: The Applicant Submits Form DS-261
Form DS-261 – Choice of Address and Agent, is a simple form you use to appoint a person (called an “agent”) who will receive NVC communication. You can appoint yourself as this agent, or appoint any other person you trust. 4 Don’t appoint any actual extraterrestrials 👽, though.
You can fill out and submit Form DS-261 using an online tool provided by NVC called the Consular Electronic Application Center, or CEAC. To log into CEAC, use the unique case number and invoice ID number you received in the Welcome Letter. Then follow the instructions on CEAC for DS-261. 5
Around 3 Weeks Later
Receipt Notice for DS-261 Arrives
Submission 2 – Item 2 of 3: The Applicant Pays Processing Fees
NVC charges two processing fees. They can be paid online through CEAC:
- Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee ($325) 6
- Affidavit of Support Fee ($120) 7 – Explained in detail below.
For payment, you will need to provide a bank routing number and a checking or savings account number from a U.S. bank. 8
Around 1 Week Later
Notice of Successful Fee Processing Arrives
Submission 2 – Item 3 of 3: The Applicant and the Sponsor Submits Application Forms and Documents to NVC
Form DS-260 – Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, is a long form that collects the applicant’s personal information, addresses, family members, U.S. travel history, employment history, education history, medical history, criminal history, etc.
You can fill out and submit DS-260 online through CEAC.
The applicant and the sponsor need to complete the following three items and submit them in ONE package to NVC:
- Collect supporting civil documents for DS-260 (completed by the applicant)
- complete Form I-864 (completed by the sponsor)
- Collect supporting financial documents for I-864 (completed by the sponsor)
Immediately Available Online After Submission
Receipt Notice for DS-260 Arrives
Around 3 Weeks Later
NVC Approval Notice Arrives 😀
Your application has been approved and it’s time for the Green Card interview!
Around 1-2 Months after NVC Approval Notice
Interview Appointment Letter Arrives
After NVC schedules your interview appointment, you will receive a letter noting the appointment date, time and location. The letter usually arrives around one month before the scheduled interview date. 9
The Applicant Completes Pre-Interview Activities
The pre-interview activities must be completed before the interview date. The activities required vary from embassy to embassy. Use this NVC webpage to select your embassy/consulate and get a Pre-Interview Checklist specific for your case.
Some common requirements include:
The applicant is required to schedule a medical appointment with an authorized doctor in the country where the applicant will be interviewed. The interview appointment letter you receive will provide information on how to find an embassy-approved doctor.
Gather Documents Required for the Interview
These documents include the original version of all civil documents and financial documents submitted to NVC, copies of those documents, and other documents specified in the interview appointment letter.
Embassy/Consulate Specific Requirements
For example, many embassies and consulates require the applicant to register for passport delivery service before the interview. To get the full embassy/consulate specific requirements, use the NVC Pre-Interview Checklist.
Around 1 Month after Receiving the Interview Appointment Letter
The Applicant Attends the Interview
The day is finally here! Put on your cleanest shirt and arrive at the interview at the scheduled date and time. The sponsor’s attendance is optional. They probably won’t call you on time, but, hey, at this point you are a master at waiting for the government, right?
During the interview, a consular officer will ask the applicant a series of questions to confirm that the applicant:
- Has never committed a crime
- Hasn’t defrauded the U.S. government
- Hasn’t been deported
- Has no serious diseases
- The marriage is real
- Has financial support
Read our article on what to expect at the Green Card interview.
A Few Weeks Later (varies by embassy)
Passport with Visa and Sealed Immigrant Packet Arrive 😀
Yay! You made it! The visa will be valid for 6 months and you can use it to travel to the U.S.. The sealed Immigrant Packet is to be handed over to the border customs official when you enter the U.S.. Keep the packet sealed. Again: Don’t… Open… The Packet!
The Applicant Pays Immigrant Fee
Before we are done, the U.S. government needs to get paid one more time…
USCIS charges an Immigrant Fee of $220. 10 Pay it through the USCIS website after you receive the immigrant visa and before you travel to the U.S.. (What is this fee for? As far as we can tell, this fee is primarily an opportunity for USCIS to squeeze some final dollars out of you. Welcome to America! 🇺🇸).
The Applicant Travels to the U.S. within 6 Months
Make sure you come to the U.S. before your visa expires! Immigrant visas are usually valid for 6 months, but double check yours to make sure. 11
Once you arrive in the U.S., go through the border customs and present the sealed Immigrant Packet (you kept it sealed, right?!) to a customs official. You will then be admitted into the country.
Around 2-3 Weeks Later
Green Card Arrives in the Mail! 🎉