When applying for a green card there are two paths one can follow once the initial petition is approved by USCIS (this is the famous I-140 for EB2 NIW). If you are in the United States under a visa (for example an F-1 student visa or H-1 working visa), you can apply for an adjustment of status (I-485). This converts your current visa status into lawful permanent resident status. We have discussed this topic extensively in a different blog post.
However, if you are abroad you cannot do an adjustment of status and you have to follow what is called Consular Processing. Once you receive the approval for your petition from USCIS (for the I-140 package in the case of EB2 National Interest Waiver) you will then complete the process in the US Embassy or Consulate of your choice.
The Consular Processing for EB2 NIW starts with I-140
Before you can even get to that Embassy or Consulate, you need to get your I-140 petition approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This step of the process is the same for everyone, no matter if they live in the US or abroad, with only slight differences in how to fill out the I-140 form (but remember that the I-140 petition is not only a form!).
In the I-140 form you must indicate if you are abroad and want to apply for the green card at a US Embassy or Consulate (and you have to indicate which one) or if you live in the United States and will apply for adjustment of status. The screenshot below shows a portion of the form in which you will indicate what route you will follow:
Consular Processing for EB2 NIW: a key website to consult
I am a huge fan of official government websites when it comes to green card applications. This is because they are the only source of truth and are always presenting the most up-to-date information. In the case of consular processing, I strongly recommend that you bookmark this website from the Department of State. It provides an overview of the different steps in the process, with interesting links to other official websites. I will summarize the key information from these steps below, but do not hesitate to visit the official site to learn more! Please note that if you are including family members in your application they will need to follow similar steps, but they will do everything through your online portal.
Steps for Consular Processing for EB2 NIW
Step 1 for Consular Processing: get your I-140 approved for EB-2 NIW
No matter if you seek an adjustment of status or consular processing, you have to have your I-140 approved by USCIS. For that, you need to make a strong case showing you fulfill all the requirements for the EB2 classification and, specifically, the 3 prongs of the Matter of Dhanasar. As discussed above, if you are abroad and want to finish the process in a US Consulate you must indicate it in the form itself.
Step 2 for Consular Processing: National Visa Center processing
If your I-140 package is approved (these are the overall success rates), USCIS will notify the National Visa Center (NVC). Once there is a visa number available for you, the NVC will create an Alien Number for you (also referred to as A-number) and will send you a Welcome Letter with further information and instructions. From this point, you have one year to act on your process, or the State Department will consider your case abandoned.
When is a visa number available for you? This depends on a few factors, such as your country of birth, and the number of applicants at a given time. This is because the US green card system is based on annual quotas per country. Generally, for the EB-2 category, countries such as China or India suffer long wait times, while all other countries have little to no wait. However, the exact backlogs can be consulted in a monthly publication called the Visa Bulletin. You can check out this blog post to learn how to interpret this bulletin to estimate your wait time.
Step 3: Visa Application Fee Payment
After receiving the Welcome Letter from NVC, you will be asked to pay a fee (another fee will be due later in the process). This first fee is called Visa Application Fee and covers the cost of your consular processing. Currently (as of late 2022) this fee costs $345 per person and can be paid online through a portal called CEAC. You will be given access to this portal and will use it throughout the Consular Processing,
Step 4 for EB2 NIW Consular Processing: Online Application
Now, you and each member of the family will have to complete form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) in the online portal. Once done, print the confirmation because you will need it later in the interview.
Step 5 for EB2 NIW Consular Processing: Gather your documentation
You will need to find and gather all the documentation that the State Department calls “civil documents”. These are things like passport, birth certificates and marriage certificates and must be translated to English if they are in a different language.
Step 6 for Consular Processing: Scan your documentation
The documents you gathered are not to be mailed anywhere! You need to scan them so they are ready to be uploaded in the CEAC portal. Use one file per document and save them as PDF format (preferred) or JPG. No individual file should be above 2 MB, so compress the files using ZIP format if needed. All scans must be in color and not black and white. Check out all the recommendations in the Travel.gov official website.
Step 7 for Consular Processing: Submit (upload) all the civil documents
Once you have all the required documents scanned, it is time to upload them using the CEAC portal. Alternatively, you will be asked to mail them paper copies of the documents to the address provided.
Step 8 for EB2 NIW Consular Processing: Preparing for the interview
Yes, you will have to go through an interview before your green card is approved. This is also the case for those who chose Adjustment of Status instead! In your case, you will receive a letter from NVC with a date and time for your interview at the US Embassy or Consulate you selected in the I-140 form. Before going to the interview, you must get the Medical Examination report from an authorized medical doctor. Only doctors authorized by the State Department can issue these reports and you can check with the NVC or your Embassy to obtain the list of offices where you can go to. You will get the results of this Medical Exam in a sealed envelope: do not open it! Bring the sealed envelope to the interview.
You will also need to gather two pictures (check the requirements here) and all the originals of the civil documents you uploaded in the previous step. Additionally, there may be Consulate-specific requirements you may need to follow before the interview depending on your location.
Step 9: The EB2 NIW Interview
Make sure to attend the interview at the time and place indicated in the communication from NVC. Bring a confirmation of the DS-260 form, two pictures, originals of civil documents, the sealed envelop for the medical examination, and the appointment letter. Of course, always check if there are any embassy-specific instructions! All family members that are part of the petition should attend.
During the interview, make sure to answer any questions from the US officer in a straightforward and truthful way. You should also hand him or her any original document they request if they want to double-check something you previously uploaded to their system. Try not to be nervous! We may cover the interview in detail in a separate blog post.
Step 10 for EB2 NIW Consular Processing: After the Interview
After the interview, it is typical that they will keep your passport. This is because if your green card is approved, they will need to stamp a visa on it. This visa is the last document before the actual green card! In order to obtain a green card, you still need to pay one more fee: the USIS Immigrant Fee, which covers the cost of producing your card. This payment can be done online and is currently $220 per person. You could also wait to pay this fee until you had traveled to the United States, but this will only delay the production of your green card. If you choose not to pay the fee until you are in the US, you will use the visa stamped on your passport to enter the country.
When traveling to the United States, the principal applicant (who filed the I-140) must enter the country before or at the same time as the derivative applicants, or family members.
Consular Processing for EB2 NIW vs Adjustment of Status: Pros and Cons
As we discussed earlier, consular processing and adjustment of status cover the same stage of the EB2 NIW green card process. If you are abroad, you have no choice and must use consular processing to finish the application. If you are in the United States, you do have the choice of selecting one or the other. Here are some Pros and Cons of Consular Processing so you can decide if the benefits outweigh the risks:
Pros of Consular Processing for EB2 NIW
- Consular Processing is cheaper than adjustment of status. Currently, the two fees you need to pay during this process cost a bit less than $600 per person, whereas it costs upwards of $1,100 per person to cover the adjustment of status fees. Check our blog post about EB2 NIW costs here.
- Consular Processing may be faster than adjustment of status. The processing times for consular processing are typically considered lower than for an adjustment of status (sometimes the processing time may be half!). However, the exact times may depend on which country you are based in. Read more about processing times for EB2 NIW here.
- Familiarity with local customs. The local US Consulates may be quite familiar with the local customs, including different types of civil documents, whereas USCIS officers may not know about these subtle differences among countries.
Cons of Consular Processing for EB2 NIW
- Cost of travel to US Embassy or Consulate. Depending on where you live in a particular country,, there may be traveling costs associated with your presence at the interview. For example, you may have to take an internal bus, train, or flight to a bigger city where the US Consulate is, and you may even need to find accommodation there. If you are filing with your family members, then everyone has to travel together to the interview, which will increase the costs. Not to mention if you are in the US and need to travel to a different country for Consular Processing (which can only be done abroad), the costs will skyrocket!
- Consular Discretion. While a decision by a USCIS officer can be appealed, the decisions by consulate officers are final and cannot be challenged. This means that if for some reason your green card is denied at this stage, you will have to start over. In addition, lawyers are not allowed to accompany applicants during the interview.
Conclusions for Consular Processing for EB2 NIW green card
When you apply for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver green card from abroad, the second stage of the process will be done in the US Embassy or Consulate of your choice. The steps you must follow are outlined in the official Travel.gov website and many of them can be done through an online portal called CEAC – you will be granted access to it during the process. One of the last steps before the final green card approval is an in-person interview at the consulate.