The immigrant visa process

Wednesday, January 06, 2010    

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Q: In July of this year, I received notification that the immigrant visa petition (Form I-130) that was filed on my behalf has been approved and the file has been sent to the National Visa Centre for processing. Can you give me an idea how long it will take to process my immigrant visa?

A: The immigrant visa process involves several steps. In general, to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a US citizen relative(s), US lawful permanent resident, or by a prospective employer. The foreign citizen must also be the beneficiary of an approved petition (Form I-130). Therefore, the first step is for a US citizen relative, US lawful permanent resident, or a prospective employer to file a petition for the applicant. Petitions are generally filed in the United States and should be submitted to a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) field office -- a list of USCIS field offices is available on their website at

Family-sponsored petitions

There are several different types or classifications of relationships for family or immediate relative-sponsored petitions. USCIS provides the following chart of relationships for which petitions can be filed under US immigration laws:

1. Immediate relative of a US Citizen: An immediate relative of a US citizen is:

* The child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a US citizen;

* The spouse (husband or wife) of a US citizen; or

* The parent of a US citizen (if the US citizen is 21 years or older).

2. Family member of a US Citizen in a Preference Category: A family member of a US citizen in a preference category is:

* An unmarried son or daughter (21 years or older) of a US citizen;

* A married son or daughter (any age) of a US citizen; or

* A sibling (brother or sister) of a US citizen.

3. Family member of a permanent resident in a preference category: A family member of a permanent resident in a preference category is:

* The spouse of a permanent resident;

* The child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a permanent resident; or

* The unmarried son or daughter (21 years or older) of a permanent resident.

It is important to note that there are limits on the number of immigrant visas that are issued each year in each of these categories. This is one of the ways in which immigrant visas are very different from non-immigrant visas: immigrant visas have numerical limits, while there is no limit on the number of non-immigrant or visitor's visas, which can be issued for temporary travel to the United States.

'Priority dates' assigned to applicants are based on when the application was filed and the petition approved.

When is my priority date?

As of January 2010, the Department of State is scheduling and conducting visa interviews for the following groups with the following priority (or petition) dates:

A. Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens -- April 4, 2004

B. Spouses and children of US permanent residents -- January 1, 2006

C. Unmarried sons or daughters of US permanent residents -- December 1, 2001

D. Married sons and daughters of US citizens -- May 22, 2001

E. Brothers and sisters of adult US citizens -- October 1, 1999

This information is contained in a visa bulletin that is regularly updated by the Department of State, based on the number of available immigrant visas. To check the current processing dates, the visa bulletin can be accessed at any time at

What happens after my petition is approved?

After the immigrant petition has been approved, the next step is preliminary processing for an immigrant visa. The Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC) works to collect documents and information necessary for US embassies to process the visa application. NVC works to collect affidavits of support -- documentation on who will support the applicant financially when moving to the United States -- as well as other required documents, like birth certificate(s), marriage or divorce certificate(s), or police reports. Lastly, NVC can provide information to the applicant on the required medical exam or panel physician visit and the visa interview.

Once an applicant's file is complete, and once the priority date is reached, the file is passed to the US embassy (or consulate) in the home country so that an interview can be arranged for the immigrant visa. This interview will not take place until the applicant is eligible, meaning that the priority date has been reached in the processing queue and there are additional immigrant visa numbers remaining.

What about my interview?

Once the priority date is reached, the applicant will be contacted to schedule an interview with the US embassy or consulate in the applicant's home country. The applicant will also be advised of what information and documentation to take to the interview and how to schedule the required medical exam. If the applicant does not bring the necessary information, embassy staff will reschedule a return time, though processing goes much faster if applicants are fully prepared.

During the interview, the officer will review the file to ensure that the applicant meets all the requirements to receive an immigrant visa. In some instances, the applicant may be required to file additional paperwork to complete the application or provide more information about the sponsor in the United States. The embassy's goal is to assist applicants in going through this process and, in these cases, officers will advise on the next steps to complete an application. However, the embassy's mission is also to ensure that visas are issued based on legitimate relationships between foreign citizens and US citizens or permanent residents. For this reason, some cases may require additional processing after the embassy interview so that a situation can be evaluated or reviewed.

More information on immigrant visas can be obtained by visiting the US Embassy Kingston website at, or the Department of State website at

The American Embassy staff in Kingston will answer any questions you may have regarding US consular law, regulations and/or practice. In order to respect the privacy of applicants, the embassy will not answer questions on specific personal applications.

Send your questions to: and we will send them to the embassy.




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