Similar to filing for adjustment of status, consular processing is another way to become a legal permanent resident of the US. It is the final step before a green card is issued and can be used in both employment-based and family-based immigration processes. Consular processing requires an in-person interview at a US consulate overseas. An immigration petition (e.g. I-140) must have been approved, and a visa number must be available, before consular processing can take place.
Whether one should choose consular processing (CP) or adjustment of status (AOS) depends on the case specifics. There are benefits and drawbacks of either approach:
Most people, if eligible for both, choose to go with AOS for its many benefits. But you may find consular processing fit your particular situation better.
1. When your employer or family member submits an immigrant petition (Form I-140 or I-130) on your behalf, they need to fill out Section 4, Processing Information, to indicate that you will be applying for an immigrant visa at an American Embassy or Consulate.
2. After approving the immigrant petition, the USCIS sends an approval notice along with the petition to the National Visa Center (NVC), located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
3. The NVC uses an internal system to "estimate" when a visa number might be available to you, which is adjusted every month based on the visa bulletin. When your turns comes, the NVC will mail you a bill first, upon receipt of the fees, an instruction packet that also includes necessary forms.
4. You and your family members should complete the forms and return them along with all supporting documents to NVC.
5. The NVC will assign a case number to your application, scan your documents into a database, and store your case in a "waiting list" based on your priority date, country of birth, and other information. By now, everything should be ready and can proceed immediately once your priority date becomes current.
6. When an immigrant visa number becomes available, NVC will request allocation of visa numbers for you and forward your application to the American Embassy or Consulate designated on Form I-140 or I-130.
7. The consulate will review your application and either revoke it if errors are found, or schedule an interview appointment for you and any family members.
8. Before attending the interview, you must undergo a medical examination. Instructions on how to obtain a medical exam and details about qualified physicians (DOS approved) are included in the appointment notice.
9. You and your dependents must attend the interview, bringing passports and any original documents required by the consulate. A consular officer may ask questions about your employment history, your prior visits to the US, your H1 or F1 details, your finances (especially income from US source), etc., during the interview.
10. If all goes well, your consular processing case will be approved and you will be issued an immigrant visa. You may enter the US and become a permanent resident any time during your visa's validity period, typically six months from the date of issuance.
11. When entering the U.S., hand the unopened "Visa Packet," which was given to you when your immigrant visa was approved, to the CBP officer at the port of entry. After admission, you should expect to receive your green card in the mail within 30 days. If not, you should contact USCIS customer service or make an infopass appointment to check the status of your green card.