Immigrant Visa FAQ

What is the Process for Obtaining an Immigrant Visa?
What documents are required for the immigrant visa interview?
What foreign service post handles approved immigrant visa petitions for persons who last resided in a country where there is no American consular representation?
What is the waiting time for an immigrant visa after the National Visa Center or the foreign service post receives the approved petition?
What is a priority date?
How does an applicant obtain police certificates?
What fees are involved in obtaining an immigrant visa?
How long is an immigrant visa valid? What if the applicant must delay arrival in the U.S.?
Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident file a petition at any foreign service post for the immigration of a relative?
What must be done to invite someone for a visit to the United States?
What does an applicant need for a visitor visa?

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Q: What is the process for obtaining an immigrant visa?
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A: A relative or employer of the alien must sponsor the alien by filing the appropriate petition with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS). The Bureau approves the petition, and it is forwarded to the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Visa Center then informs the beneficiary that an approved petition has been received and provides instructions on the next steps to take. As soon as a visa number is available on a preference petition, or as soon as the Bureau approves an immediate relative petition, the National Visa Center sends the beneficiary instructions on the next steps to take.

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Q: What documents are required for the immigrant visa interview?
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A: Requirements may differ slightly from post to post, but the basic requirements include:

  • A passport
  • Three photographs
  • Birth and police certificates
  • Marriage, divorce, or death certificates
  • Proof of financial support
  • Medical examination
  • More detailed information would have to come from the National Visa Center or the processing post.

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Q: What foreign service post handles approved immigrant visa petitions for persons who last resided in a country where there is no American consular representation?
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A: People from countries that don't have an American embassy or consulate are considered "homeless" because they cannot return to their home country to be interviewed for the immigrant visa. When the National Visa Center receives an immigrant visa approved petition on a "homeless" case, it assigns the case to an embassy or consulate that has been determined is capable of handling the additional workload. The petitioner or beneficiary will be informed by the National Visa Center of the post that was chosen.

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Q: What is the waiting time for an immigrant visa after the National Visa Center or the foreign service post receives the approved petition?
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A: Several factors influence how long the process may take. Immediate relative visas are not numerically limited by statute so, workload permitting, the post may begin processing the approved petition upon receipt. Preference visas are numerically limited, so the post must wait until the priority date on the petition is available before starting to process the case.

The major reason for lengthy waits - priority dates that are months or several years earlier than your inquiry - is the fact that each year many more people apply for immigrant visas than can be satisfied under the annual numerical limit set by law for preference cases. Certain categories, such as the family fourth preference, are heavily oversubscribed.

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Q: What is a "priority date"?
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A: The priority date, in the case of a relative immigrant visa petition, is the date the petition was filed. In the case of an employer-sponsored petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification was filed with the Department of Labor. The Visa Bulletin -- under the Visa Services homepage -- gives the changes in availability of priority dates.

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Q: How does an applicant obtain police certificates?
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A: Each country has its own requirements for obtaining police certificates or clearances. Specific information is available from the U.S. consulate processing the case.

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Q: What fees are involved in obtaining an immigrant visa?
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A: The cost of an immigrant visa is $260 (U.S.) for application and $65 (U.S.) for issuance per person, regardless of age. There may also be fees to obtain required documents, for certifying or notarizing documents, and for the medical examination. The cost of the immigrant visa itself remains constant, but other fees vary from post to post. The applicant will be informed of fees by the processing post. The fees are payable in U.S. and equivalent local currency. Cash is acceptable at all posts. Other methods of payment must be determined by the processing post.

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Q: How long is an immigrant visa valid? What if the applicant must delay arrival in the U.S.?
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A: The consul may issue an immigrant visa with a maximum validity of six months. If an applicant must delay travel to the U.S. beyond six months, he or she should contact the U.S. consulate and arrange to have the interview scheduled closer to his or her possible departure. If an immigrant visa has already been issued and circumstances force the alien to remain abroad longer, the applicant should contact the U.S. consulate and request an extension of the immigrant visa's validity. If the validity of an immigrant visa expires, a new one may be issued upon payment of the statutory application and issuance fees (U.S. $325).

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Q: Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident file a petition at any foreign service post for the immigration of a relative?
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A: Authority to accept a petition rests solely with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS). The Bureau has determined that petitions must be filed in the petitioner's place of residence. So if the petitioner resides in the U S., the petitioner must file at his or her local Bureau office. If the petitioner resides abroad, the petitioner must file at the U.S. embassy or consulate that has jurisdiction.

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Q: What must be done to invite someone for a visit to the United States?
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A: A U.S. host can help by sending the guest a letter of invitation. The letter should include the invitee's name, reason for visit, period of stay in the U.S. and method of payment of expenses. If the guest is paying his or her own expenses, he or she must be prepared to show the consular officer that sufficient funds are available for the trip. If the American host is paying the expenses, an affidavit of support may be included.

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Q: What does an applicant need for a visitor visa?
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A: An applicant must have:

  • A passport, valid for six months beyond the duration of the proposed visit
  • One passport-size photograph
  • Proof of social, economic, professional or other compelling ties to a residence outside the United States to which he or she will be expected to return after the visit.

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Information courtesy of the State Department.



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