Immigrant Visa FAQs
This guide answers some of the most frequently asked questions about immigrant visas. If you have other questions, you may contact us by clicking here.
1. How long does it take to get an immigrant visa?
The length of time varies from case to case according to the circumstances and cannot be predicted for individual cases with accuracy. Some cases are delayed because the applicants do not follow instructions carefully. Sometimes the petitioner cannot meet Affidavit of Support requirements. In addition, the applicant may need to get a security clearance and the clearance process takes time.
2. How is a "spouse" defined for immigrant visa purposes?
A spouse is a legally wedded husband or wife. Merely living together does not qualify a marriage for immigration purposes. Common-law spouses may qualify for immigration purposes, but only if the laws of the country where the common-law marriage occurs recognizes common-law marriages and grants them all the same rights and obligations as a traditional marriage. In cases of polygamy, only the first spouse may qualify as a spouse for immigration.
3. What does the National Visa Center do?
After the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office in the United States approves an immigrant petition, it sends the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC). NVC does the following:
- Assigns a case number.
- Sends Form DS-3032 Choice of Address and Agent to
the applicant. The applicant selects an agent. The agent can be anyone, including the applicant.
- The NVC will mail all future letters (except for the Affidavit of Support, Form I-864) about processing the immigrant visa case to the agent. Make sure the postal address is correct and is kept up-to-date.
- Sends the bill for the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support processing to the petitioner.
- Sends the Form I-864 Package, Affidavit of Support to the petitioner after the petitioner pays the I-864 processing fee.
- Sends the bill for immigrant visa (IV) processing fee to the agent after the applicant sends form DS-3032 Choice of Address and Agent, to the NVC.
- Sends an instruction package to the agent after the agent pays the immigrant visa application processing fee, form DS-230.
- Reviews information for technical correctness and completeness.
- Sends the petition to the embassy or consulate where the applicant will apply for a visa when the case file is complete.
4. How do I pay the fees for the NVC services?
When filing in the U.S., the NVC sends bills for certain fees at the appropriate time in the immigrant visa process. It sends bills for these services to the following people:
- Bill for processing the I-864, Affidavit of Support to the petitioner.
- Bill for immigrant visa processing to the agent.
- The NVC sends a correctly addressed, return envelope with the bills.
5. How do I upgrade an immigrant petition?
Suppose you filed a petition for your spouse when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR), but now you are an U.S. citizen. You must upgrade the petition from family second preference (F2) to immediate relative (IR). You can do this by sending proof of your citizenship to the NVC. To prove that you are a U.S. citizen, you can send a copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport or a copy of your certificate of naturalization.
6. What do I need for my immigrant visa interview?
At the appropriate time, an appointment package is sent to the applicant. The appointment package gives the applicant an interview date and contains the specific requirements for the visa. It includes instructions on where to go to have the required medical examination. In general, the following is required:
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States.
- Birth certificate of immigrating spouse, original and copy.
- Divorce or Death Certificates where applicable.
- Marriage certificate.
- Police certificate from all places immigrating spouse lived since age 16 for more than 6 months.
- Medical examination of immigrating spouse (from U.S. Embassy panel physician at the Doha Clinic). A letter addressed to the Doha Clinic and specifying what exam you will require will be given to you during the filing appointment. You must take this letter to the Doha Clinic in order to complete your exam.
- Evidence of financial support. A completed Form I-864 Affidavit of Support from petitioner/sponsor is required with accompanying certified tax returns for the last three years and original W-2 forms for these years. If the petitioner/sponsor's income does not meet 125 percent poverty guidelines, you will be required to have a joint-sponsor. The joint sponsor will fill out a separate I-864 with accompanying tax returns and W-2 forms.
- Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, Form DS-230, both Part I and Part II.
- Two photos of each immigrant visa applicant.
- Proof of the marriage and the husband/wife relationship. (For example: wedding albums, email and/or telephone records and any other proof that the marriage is genuine.)
- Immigrant processing fee.
- Take clear, legible photocopies of civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, to the immigrant visa interview. Original documents can then be returned to you. Documents in foreign languages should be translated.
Note: The National Visa Center sends appointment packages to the agent for applicants in certain countries when the petitions are filed in the United States.
7. What can be done if the immigrant petition gets lost?
We don't want this to happen, but occasionally it does. Files can get misfiled; shipments of visa files have been lost. Usually a misfiled petition can be located, but in an emergency an embassy or consulate can issue a visa from the computer record and an original Notice of Action approval (Form I-797) from the USCIS. Give the consular section time to locate the file, and it probably will. But all is not lost if the petition is really gone. Be sure to keep all correspondence you receive from the USCIS.
8. What if the applicant is ineligible for a visa?
Certain conditions and activities may make you, the applicant, ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities are:
- Drug trafficking
- Having HIV/AIDS
- Overstaying a previous visa
- Practicing polygamy
- Advocating the overthrow of the government
- Submitting fraudulent documents
- The consular officer will inform you if you are ineligible for a visa, whether there is a waiver of the ineligibility and what the waiver procedure is. See Ineligibilities for more information.
9. How do I find the regulations about immigrant visas?
To read the relevant Department of State regulations on immigrant visas, please consult 9 FAM 40 and 42.
10. Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident petitioner who is not domiciled in the United States be a sponsor?
No. The law requires that sponsors be domiciled in any of the states of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the United States.
11. If the petitioner does not have a domicile in the United States, can a joint sponsor file an I-864?
No. A joint sponsor cannot be authorized in cases where the petitioner cannot be a sponsor by virtue of domicile. The petitioner must first meet all requirements for being a sponsor (age, domicile, and citizenship), expect those relating to income, before there can be a joint sponsor.
12. How can the petitioner establish a domicile?
In cases where the sponsor has clearly not maintained a domicile in the U.S., the question becomes when the sponsor can be deemed to have re-established U.S. residence. To do this, the sponsor must have taken a credible combination of steps to make the U.S. his immediate principal place of abode. Such steps might include finding U.S. employment, locating a place to live, registering children in U.S. schools and other indices of residence. The sponsor should also have made other arrangements to relinquish residence in the third country.
It is not necessary for the sponsor to precede the sponsored family members to the U.S. to re-establish residence and domicile provided that the sponsor has taken the type of concrete steps outlined above. It is important to note that in such cases, a sponsored immigrant may not enter the United States prior to the sponsor’s return to take up residence. He or she must either travel to the United States with the sponsor or at some date after the sponsor’s entry into the U.S.