Consular Processing

If your foreign national spouse is located outside the United States, there are several options to bring your spouse to the United States. Unfortunately, none of these procedures are quick, and you can anticipate at least a six month wait to be reunited with your spouse. This article will outline the procedures for a U.S. citizen to bring his or her spouse to the United States, and hopefully avoid any undue delay.

Bringing a foreign national spouse to the United States is a two step process. Step I is filed in the United States, and Step II will be filed in the U.S. Consul in the foreign national’s home country. In some cases, if the U.S. citizen is living (not visiting) abroad, Step I and II can be filed at the U.S. Consulate where he or she is living with his or her spouse. However, in most cases, Step I will be filed by the U.S. citizen at a Regional USCIS Service Center. If the U.S. citizen is living in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Nebraska Service Center has jurisdiction over the case. Check the USCIS web site if you have questions where to file your application.

The U.S. citizen must file USCIS Form I-130 along with the appropriate fee and accompanying documents including evidence that will show that the couple has a bona fide marriage. The United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) prefers to see that the Petitioner and the Beneficiary (foreign national) show a co-mingling of assets, for example, a joint lease, mortgage, bank accounts, insurance policies, joint telephone or cable bills, etc. This evidence is not required, yet is highly preferred. If none of this evidence is attainable, the Petitioner can show photos of the couple together, as well as congratulation cards, affidavits from friends and family, and other secondary evidence. Since the foreign national is abroad, it is important to show that the U.S. citizen and his or her spouse are still in contact with one another. Therefore, any correspondence such as letters, emails, or telephone records should be submitted. Also, if the U.S. citizen has sent money via Western Union or another company, these receipts should be submitted as well. Last, if the U.S. citizen has taken a trip to visit his or her spouse, plane tickets, itineraries or receipts should be included in the application. The more information you can provide Immigration in the beginning of the process, the easier the process will be.

Once these documents are filed with Immigration, a receipt will be issued, and you will be able to check the case status on line. Unfortunately, the four Service Centers could take over a year to adjudicate the I-130 petition. To avoid any undue delays, it is important to submit a complete application to USCIS to avoid receiving a request for additional evidence.

When the I-130 is finally approved, the U.S. citizen must begin Step II. Step II involves ‘Consular processing’ and more forms will be filed with the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center located in New Hampshire. The National Visa Center will contact the U.S. citizen to continue processing of the case. Usually the National Visa Center will ask the U.S. citizen or national to complete Form DS-230 Part I and II.

An Affidavit of Support on Form I-864 must be submitted for Consular processing. The Affidavit of Support is used to show that the foreign national will not become a ‘public charge’. Therefore, the U.S. citizen must show that he or she can ‘financially support his or her spouse’. In order to show ‘financial stability’, the Petitioner must provide the National Visa Center with his or her tax records (IRS Form 1040) for the past three years, including IRS Forms W-2 for all three years, and a letter from his or her employer showing present employment. If the U.S. citizen Petitioner does not meet the financial standards set by the U.S. government, a ‘co-sponsor’ must be found to help alleviate the financial burden. The Affidavit of Support is a binding contract between the U.S. government and the U.S. citizen that states if the foreign national is ever to receive public benefits from the U.S. government, the U.S. citizen will agree to reimburse the government for these benefits. The contract is binding for ten years, or until the foreign national becomes a U.S. citizen.


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The U.S. citizen will be responsible for submitting this documentation in the United States. In the meantime, the foreign national in his or her home country will be required to obtain a valid passport that is good for at least six months from his or her country. Additionally, he or she will be required to undergo a medical exam at a doctor designated by the U.S. Consul. Further, he or she will need to obtain a police certificate from the authorities in every country he or she has lived for one year or more since reaching 16 years of age.

Once these tasks are completed, the U.S. Consul will notify the foreign national to appear at the Consul for an ‘immigrant visa’ interview. The U.S. citizen spouse does not need to attend this interview, but can if he or she wants. At the interview, the Consular Officer will closely scrutinize the visa application looking for several things:

  • To confirm the information on the forms, or make changes, if necessary, for example, change of address or phone number.
  • That the foreign national has not violated U.S. Immigration laws.
  • That the foreign national is not a criminal or terrorist.
  • That there is a bona fide marriage.
  • That the U.S. citizen Petitioner can ‘financially support’ the foreign national.

The Consul is not looking for ‘golden answers’, he or she is looking for the truth and consistency. The Consul is just looking to see if there is a bona fide marriage and the couple intends to spend a life together. It is a crime to marry a foreign national in order to help him or her procure an Immigration benefit like a ‘green card’. If the U.S. citizen spouse was paid to marry the foreign national, he or she can be fined or go to jail. The foreign national will be denied an immigrant visa.

At the end of the interview, the Consular Officer will render a decision on the case. If approved, the foreign national will receive a visa in his or her passport. Sometimes it can take a few weeks to obtain the actual visa, therefore no travel arrangements should be made until the foreign national actually receives his or her passport and visa back from the U.S. Consul. Upon receiving the immigrant visa, the foreign national may travel to the United States, and upon landing on U.S. soil, he or she will receive an I-551 stamp in his or her passport at the point of entry. This is valid proof of permanent residence. The foreign national can work and travel with the stamp, and eventually the actual ‘green card’ will come in the mail.

It must be noted, if the U.S. citizen and the foreign national have been married less than two years, residence will be ‘conditional’. The conditional status is like permanent residence in all respects and benefits except it is subject to termination within two years. Termination usually comes as a result of divorce. Additionally, the status could be revoked if the couple fails to apply to remove the condition on Form I-751 during the 90 days prior to the two year anniversary of the foreign national obtaining conditional status. If the couple is divorced during this two year period, the foreign national will have the burden of showing that when he or she entered the marriage, it was in good faith. If the foreign national is able to do so, he or she will receive permanent residence.

Bringing a foreign national spouse to the United States is usually a long and tedious process. There are several ‘non-immigrant’ options that were intended to make the process faster. For more information on these options, see Part III of Marrying a Foreign National. During the Immigrant visa petition process, it is important to “cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s” in order to avoid delays. However, once you are reunited with your family, the pains of the Immigration process will be forgotten with the joys of living the American Dream.