There is a separate process for people that are out of the country to apply for permanent resident status. This is known as consular processing. The process for consular processing is similar to applying for permanent residence while in the United States. However, there are some key differences.

The first difference is that the process is done through a U.S. embassy or consulate in a foreign country. This is the only path to permanent residence if you or your family member is out of the country.

The second difference is that this path to permanent residence is only available to the immediate relatives and family preference categories, as well as fiancés of citizens or lawful permanent residents. Therefore, you can only bring immediate family members to the U.S.

To qualify for consular processing, the individual must have a relative that is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. The citizen or permanent resident must file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé, on behalf of the beneficiary.

Consular Processing Eligibility

There are three categories for qualifying individuals. They are:

Immediate Relatives

There are an unlimited amount of Immediate Relatives visas. Therefore, there are no tiers for qualifying individuals. If you or your family member qualifies for one of the following categories, they fit into the Immediate Relatives category. Note that the Immediate Relatives category only applies to citizens and not permanent residents.

Preference Relatives

The Preference Relatives category applies not only to U.S. citizens but lawful permanent residents as well. There are 480,000 preference relative green cards available each year. Additionally, there is a waiting list for preference relatives. Your relative can spend between three and twenty-four years on the waiting list depending on your relationship to them. There is an order of preference and brothers and sisters usually wait the longest. Here are the preferences in order:

  1. Unmarried children of a U.S citizen that are over the age of 21.
  2. Unmarried children and spouses of green card holders. There are two subcategories, 2A and 2B; Children over the age of 21 falls into category 2B and wait longer than those in 2A.
  3. Married children with at least one parent that is a U.S. citizen
  4. Brothers and sister of U.S. citizens that are over the age of 21.


The last category for consular processing is Fiancés. Again, this option is only available for U.S. citizens. A U.S. citizen can sponsor their fiancé to come to the United States for marriage. If approved, their fiancé will be granted a nonimmigrant fiancé visa known as a K-1 visa. This allows them to come to the U.S. for 90 days. To stay the couple must get married during that period.

The Consular Processing Process

There are several steps in the consular processing process. The first as previously mentioned is for the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to fill out the correct petition. After submitting the petition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department will review the case. If the USCIS denies the petition, they will provide you with a notice that includes the reason for denial of the petition. If the USCIS approves the petition, you or your relative will be able to apply for a visa.

USCIS will provide the alien with a visa number. However, the visa number does not signify the end of the process. For individuals that qualify for an immediate relative category, there are an unlimited number of visas available. For family preference categories, there is a maximum numerical limit of visas available each year. This means that you will have to wait your turn in a long line of individuals. If you fall into one of the family preference categories you may want to familiarize yourself with the visa bulletin.

The next step in the process is applying for an immigrant visa. The National Visa Center will notify both the petitioner and beneficiary of when to submit the fees, application and supporting documents.

Lastly, the beneficiary must attend an appointment for consular processing. This will include providing all the supporting documents as well as an interview. If the Nation Visa Center approves your application, you will be allowed to enter the U.S.

The Benefits of Consular Processing

There are a few benefits of using consular processing. The first is the relatively short wait times. Consular processing takes about six to twelve months from the time the visa is available. Secondly, there is a lower risk of refusal. Consular officers must of evidence to refuse your request, unlike USCIS officers. However, there is one drawback. Denials are non-reviewable. Therefore, there is a final decision.