There are two different procedural paths that a foreign-born person may be able to use in acquiring U.S. lawful permanent resident status (a green card). Certain eligible individuals already living in the United States may apply for permanent resident status without leaving the country. This is called "Adjustment of Status" (AOS), and is discussed more in Adjustment of Status to Permanent Resident - FAQ, and What You Need to File I-485 for Adjustment of Status.
The other way to get a green card is for a foreign national living outside the United States who has received an approved immigrant petition and whose immigrant visa number is immediately available to apply at a U.S. Department of State consulate for an immigrant visa, which will admit the person into the United States as a permanent resident. This is called "consular processing," and is the subject of this article.
Paperwork to Submit Before the Interview
Here’s a summary of the forms and documents that the immigrant visa applicant will need to give to either the National Visa Center (NVC) or the consulate between now and the end of the process:
- Form DS-230 Part I, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. The first part of Form DS-230 asks for information about the immigrant’s family and personal history, past and present residences, places of employment, and membership in any organizations. This is available on the "Visa Application Forms" page of the U.S. State Department's website.
- Copies of current passports. The immigrant will probably be asked to send in a copy of the key pages of family members’ passports—but not the originals. Bring the original passports to the interview at the U.S. consulate.
- Birth certificates for the immigrant and for any accompanying spouse or children, with English translations.
- A police clearance certificate for each person over 16 years of age from every country in which the person has lived for more than six months (if such certificates are available in those countries).
- Marriage certificate, death certificate, divorce or annulment decree—whichever shows the immigrant(s)’ current marital status and history.
- Military record of any service in the immigrant’s home country, or any country, including certified proof of military service and of honorable or dishonorable discharge.
- Certified copy of court and prison records if any of the immigrants have been convicted of a crime. (You should, in this case, also consult with an attorney. Many crimes make people “inadmissible” to the U.S.—that is, ineligible for a visa or green card.)
- Evidence of the immigrant’s personal assets, including titles or deeds to any real estate, condominium, or co-op apartment, or bank account statements, if needed to show that the immigrant will not be a financial burden to the U.S. government.
- If immigrating through a family petition, a job letter from the petitioner’s employer in the United States describing the petitioner’s work history and salary, and explaining whether the employment is permanent.
- Form DS-230 Part II, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (sworn statement). Each applicant must submit one. After the interview, the applicant must sign it in the presence of the U.S. consular officer. If you do not understand any of the questions on this form, or if you think you might need to answer “yes” to any of the questions numbered 40 to 42, consult with an attorney.
- Form I-864 or I-864EZ, Affidavit of Support (in family-based cases). Which form you must submit depends on your personal situation. You must file Form I-864 if your petition is family-based (except K-1 fiancé visas). But if you are the only person that your petitioner is sponsoring, and your petitioner can meet the sponsorship requirements based upon his or her income alone, he or she can use a shorter version of the form, called I-864EZ. On both Form I-134 and I-864, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident promises to repay the U.S. government if you become impoverished and go on public assistance after you arrive in the United States.
- Documents to support form I-864. The U.S. petitioner/sponsor who fills out the form must also include financial documents, including the employer letter described above or other proof of income, the sponsor’s latest U.S. income tax returns and W‑2s (or the last three years’ returns, if it will strengthen the case), and bank statements or other proof of assets.
- Form I-864W (in cases where an I-864 is not required). In certain exceptional cases, a Form I-864 need not be filed. One of these is where the beneficiary is a child (adopted or natural-born) who will become a U.S. citizen automatically upon entering the United States. The other is where the immigrant beneficiary, or the beneficiary’s spouse or parent, has worked 40 “quarters” (about ten years, as defined by the Social Security Administration) in the United States. If exempt from the affidavit of support requirement due to one of these exceptions, you should fill out Form I-864W instead of the regular Form I-864.
The immigrant will also be required to submit to fingerprinting, for a background check by the FBI and CIA.
Paperwork to Prepare for the Immigrant Visa Interview
The final set of documents the immigrant will normally need to prepare for the consular interview include:
- Two color photographs, U.S.-passport style.
- Current passports for the immigrant and everyone in the family who is getting an immigrant visa (the passports must not expire earlier than six months after the interview date).
- Medical examination report. The interview packet will tell you where you must go to get a required medical examination. During that exam, your blood will be tested and you will be X-rayed. You may be barred from immigrating (as “inadmissible”) if these tests show that you have a contagious disease of public health concern such as tuberculosis, or if you have a severe mental disorder.
- U.S. income tax returns. If you have worked in the U.S. and intend to immigrate, you must present proof that you filed income tax returns for every year you worked.
- Visa fees, if not already paid. See the “Fees for Visa Services” page of the U.S. State Department website for the latest amounts.
Of course, if you receive any other requests from the NVC or the U.S. consulate with which you’re dealing, you should comply with these as well. For more on the rest of the process, see What Happens During Consular Processing?