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Understand the Immigrant Visa Number, Priority
Date, Medical Examination, and Immigrant Visa Interview

1. The Immigrant Visa Number and Priority Date

For the alien spouse, once the Form I-130 petition is approved, you must wait for an immigrant visa number. If you married a U.S. permanent resident, the you will be placed in category F2A of the family visa category as a spouse of U.S. permanent resident, and you may have to wait several years for the F2A Priority Date to become "current", depending on the number of people from your home country also waiting for immigrant visas in the category of U.S. permanent resident's spouse and children.

U.S. immigration law limits the number of immigrant visas that are available every year. This means that even if the USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition for an alien spouse, the alien spouse may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In some cases, several years could pass between the time USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition and the U.S. Department of State gives the alien an immigrant visa number. In addition, U.S. immigration law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country. This means an alien may have to wait longer if the alien comes from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of visas available under a particular category, that category is considered oversubscribed.

The "Priority Date" is the date that the U.S. permanent resident file the immigrant petition of Form I-130 on behalf of the alien spouse. If you have already filed an immigrant petition, you can find the "Priority Date" on the top, left-hand corner of the Form I-797 Receipt Notice or Approval Notice you received after your filed Form I-130 with USCIS. 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 State Department Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication that gives the changes in visa availability for priority dates. 

2. An Immigrant Visa Number Is Available If the Priority Date Is Current  

If a Priority Date is "current", it means that there is a "visa slot" available for your spouse. U.S. immigration law limits the number of people who enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders) on the basis of sponsorship by a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident. Specifically, the U.S. has 114,200 "visa slots" per year reserved for individuals who are immigrating as the spouses and unmarried children (regardless of age) of U.S. permanent residents, plus unused visas from the First Preference. Each year, the number of approved immigrant petitions may exceed the number of "visa slots." Because of this, a backlog has occurred.

The U.S. Department of State processes visa applicants on a "first-come, first-serve" basis, which is determined by when the immigrant petition was filed. The Department of State allows visa applicants whose immigrant petitions were filed earliest to fill all the available slots. For this reason, it is important to file the immigrant petition as soon as possible.

The Department of State publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin that tells applicants when their Priority Date is current. You can check if the Priority Date is current by comparing the Priority Date that appears on the left-hand corner of the I-797 Approval Notice for the I-130 Immigrant Petition with the date that is published in the Department of State’s monthly Visa Bulletin. You spouse can figure out what the current Priority Date is by looking at the row marked "F2A" and the column that indicates his or her country of nationality. If the Priority Date on the I-797 Approval Notice is the same as or earlier than the date that appears in the cell reserved for applicants from your spouse’s country in the "F2A" Family preference category, then a visa number is available and your spouse can proceed with the "Green Card" application.

The U.S. permanent resident can file for a spouse under the 2nd family preference category, and it will take years of time. Numbers of available visas in the preference categories are limited. This waiting time cannot be speeded up. It it really a question of supply and demand. And as you can see from the Visa Bulletin waiting times, demand is a lot higher than the supply. It depends entirely on what country the person is from. 

3. How to Use the "Dates of Filing Applications" in the Via Bulletin

The procedures regarding immigrant visa availability have changed by U.S. Department of State, for the benefit of intending U.S. permanent resident (i.e., greencard) applicants. These changes are reflected in the Visa Bulletin which may be viewed at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin.html

The U.S. Department of State’s (DOS’s) monthly Visa Bulletin will now include two charts per visa preference category for Family-based and Employment-based applicants as "Application Final Action Dates", and "Dates for Filing Applications." In Sections 4.B. (Family-Sponsored Preference Cases) and 5.B. (Employment-Based Preference Cases), “Dates for Filing Applications” are listed.

The chart for "Dates for Filing Applications" reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date in the chart may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The cut-off date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa. If a category is designated “current,” all applicants in the relevant category may file applications, regardless of priority date

4. The Requirement of Form I-130 Supporting Documents and Medical Examination

All applicants must submit certain personal documents such as passports, birth certificates, police certificates, and other civil documents. The consular officer will inform visa applicants of the documents needed as their applications are processed. Also, all applicants need to submit an Affidavit of Support (USCIS Form I-864) if your adjustment of status application is based a relative visa petition (USCIS Form I-130) filed by your relative.

U.S. immigration law requires immigrant visa applicants to obtain certain vaccinations prior to the issuance of immigrant visas. In preparing for your interview, you will need to schedule and complete your medical examination and any required vaccinations before your visa interview. Before an immigrant visa can be issued, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination which must be performed by an authorized panel physician. Applicants are provided instructions by NVC regarding medical examinations, including information on authorized panel physicians.

The costs for such examinations must be borne by the applicant, in addition to the visa fees. The cost of each immigrant visa application processing fee (per person) will change from time to time. Fees must be paid for each intending immigrant regardless of age, and are not refundable. Local currency equivalents are acceptable. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless requested specifically. 

5. The Requirement of Immigrant Visa Interview

Once the National Visa Center determines that the files are complete with all the required documents, they will schedule the applicant’s interview appointment. NVC then sends the files, containing the applicant’s petition and the documents, to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where the alien applicant will be interviewed for an immigrant visa. 

The applicant will receive appointment emails or letters, containing the date and time of the applicant's visa interview along with instructions, including guidance for obtaining a medical examination. Applicants should bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation not already provided to NVC, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, digital fingerprint scans will be taken. Generally, applicants will receive their original civil documents and original translations back at the time of interview.

If the beneficiary misses the interview appointment, the Immigrant Visa Unit will reschedule the interview appointment, generally one or two months from the date when the new appointment is requested. The beneficiary will be notified by mail for the new date.

An alien spouse must prove that your marriage is real, not a sham just to get a Green Card. Collect and photocopy as many of the following items as possible. Do not send originals to USCIS. You should prepare the wedding invitations, church certificates, or other reliable documents that show the required relationship including:

    * Joint bank accounts;
    * Joint credit card statements;
    * Joint club memberships;
    * Joint federal and state tax returns;
    * Copies of actual credit cards, health insurance cards, or other "joint" cards that you have together, showing same account number;
    * Photographs of you and your spouse taken before and during your marriage, wedding photographs preferably those that include parents and other relatives from both families.

6. How to Fill the Electronic Immigrant Visa Application Form DS-260

The Form DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application (also called "Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application") replaces the paper-based DS-230 Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (parts I and II); while the Form DS-261 Choice of Address and Agent will replace the DS-3032 Choice of Address and Agent.

The Department of State (DOS) has implemented use of the DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, and the DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. These two forms are used for immigrant visa applicants processing at all U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. The online forms are submitted to DOS through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC) website at https://ceac.state.gov/ceac/. In order to access the online forms, the applicant must input his or her NVC case number and invoice I.D. number.

All of the information entered online is accessible by the National Visa Center (NVC) and the consular posts, the applicant is not required to submit a paper version to the NVC or bring a copy to the visa interview.

    *  Most fields on the DS-260 must be completed before the application can be submitted to DOS. The system will not allow you to continue without providing the required information unless the field is specifically marked "Optional."

    * If a mandatory field is left blank, an error message will appear and the applicant must complete the required field before proceeding with the form. A partially completed application can be saved by clicking on the "Save" button at the bottom of each page.

    * It is recommended that data be saved often to ensure information is not lost. A saved application can be accessed by returning to the website and selecting View/Edit from the Alien Registration section of the Immigrant Visa.

    * The applicant can continue completing the form by clicking on the "Edit" button on the right side of the application's listed status. Once all of the fields are completed, the applicant submits the form by clicking on the "Sign and Submit Application" button.

    * Should the applicant need to make any changes to the form after submission, he or she will have to contact the NVC to request access to the form. If a case has already been sent by NVC to the appropriate U.S. embassy or consulate interview, any changes to the form will have to be made at the post. 

7. Application Related Fees for Filing USCIS Form I-130

Immigration application related fees are charged for different services, such as fees for Department of State government services, fees for Visa Services, and fees for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • Filing an immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, this fee is charged by USCIS;
  • Processing an immigrant visa application, Form DS-260;
  • Medical examination and required vaccinations - costs vary.
  • Other costs may include: translations; photocopying charges; fees for obtaining the documents you need for the immigrant visa application (such as passport, police certificates, birth certificates, etc.); and travel expenses to go to the embassy or consulate for the interview. Costs vary from country to country and case to case.
Also, Form I-864 is required for most family-based immigrants and some employment-based immigrants to show that they have adequate means of financial support and are not likely to rely on the U.S. government for financial support. There is no fee when filed with USCIS or abroad with the Department of State (DOS). DOS does charge a fee when this form is filed in the U.S. 

8. The Differences Between Sponsor, Joint Sponsor, and Substitute Sponsor for USCIS Form I-864 - Affidavit of Support

An affidavit of support, USCIS Form I-864, is a document an individual signs to accept financial responsibility for another person, usually a relative, who is coming to the United States to live permanently. The person who signs the affidavit of support becomes the sponsor of the relative coming to live in U.S.  The sponsor is usually the petitioner of an immigrant petition for a family member. An affidavit of support is legally enforceable; the sponsor's responsibility usually lasts until the family member or other individual either becomes a U.S. citizen, or can be credited with 40 quarters of work - usually 10 years.

A joint sponsor is someone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting the family member with you. A joint sponsor must meet all the same requirements as you, except the joint sponsor does not need to be related to the immigrant. The joint sponsor, or the joint sponsor and his or her household, must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with that of a joint sponsor to meet the income requirement.

If the visa petitioner has died after approval of the visa petition but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides to let the petition continue, a substitute sponsor must file a Form I-864 in place of the deceased visa petitioner.

Some other eligibility requirements apply to the substitute sponsor as well. He or she must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of at least 18 years of age who has a domicile in the U.S. And the sponsor must be a relative of yours. In order to be a substitute sponsor, you must be related to the intending immigrant in one of the following ways: Spouse; Parent; Mother-in-law; Father-in-law; Sibling; Child (if at least 18 years of age); Son; Daughter; Son-in-law; Daughter-in-law; Sister-in-law; Brother-in-law; Grandparent; Grandchild; Legal guardian of the beneficiary.

Serving as a substitute sponsor is a primarily financial relationship, and it involves filling out an Affidavit of Support on USCIS Form I-864. The Affidavit must indicate that the new sponsor is able to support the immigrants and his/her own household, at a level that is at or above 125% of the federal Poverty Guidelines. In fact, by filing Form I-864, the substitute sponsor promises the U.S. government to pay back any need-based public assistance that the named immigrants receive for approximately the first ten years of their having a green card.

9. How to Prove a "Bona Fide" Marriage or Relationship for the Immigration Purpose

To obtain a U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card) based on marriage, the petitioner has to prove that the marriage is real or "bona fide". This means a marriage in which the two people intend, from the start, to establish a life together as husband and wife.

Although marriage can mean different things to different people, a marriage entered into for the sole purpose of getting the immigrant a U.S. Green Card is clearly not bona fide. It’s called a “sham” or “fraudulent” marriage.

Uncovering sham marriages is a top priority of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which believes that a high number of the marriage-based green card applications it receives are fraudulent. USCIS is well aware that some U.S. citizens accept money to marry a foreign-born person, and some even create illegal, organized services that arrange marriages between U.S. citizens and green card seeking foreign nationals.

The result is that, when it comes to deciding whether a marriage is "bona fide", USCIS will take a hard look, and expect the applicant to provide plenty of solid proof that their marriage is real. Below are some ways that you can prepare to supply the needed proof, including steps you can take far in advance.

    * make your spouse a beneficiary on your retirement account or other accounts that require or allow a payout to a beneficiary upon the holder’s death;

    *  make sure that both spouses are covered under your health insurance policy, if the other spouse doesn't have his or her own insurance;

    *  if you live together, add your spouse to your house deed, mortgage, or apartment lease;

    *  if you live together, add your spouse’s name to your garbage, utility, cable, and other bills;

    * take out a joint credit card;

    *  open a joint bank account;

    *  file joint tax returns;

    *  join a gym or club together.

10. The Form DS-260 for Online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration

After your form I-130 is approved by USCIS, the form U.S. Department of States form DS-260 is used to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa. The form DS-260 is an online Immigrant Visa Application and Registration form used to collect the needed application information from persons seeking U.S. immigrant visas. This form is completed and submitted online to the Department of State via the Internet through the Consular Electronic Applications Center (CEAC).

You can access the DS-260 from the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website, by going to Immigrant Visas.state.gov and clicking on “Submit Visa Application and Civil Documents,” or on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will apply.

After you pay your fees, you and each qualified family member immigrating with you must complete the Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (Form DS-260) in the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You may wish to preview a sample  DS-260 before beginning.

    * Submitting Form DS-260 does not formally execute a visa application.  The visa application is not formally made until the visa applicant is interviewed by a U.S. consular officer.

    * You will need your NVC Case Number, Beneficiary ID Number, and Invoice ID Number from your NVC Welcome Letter, to access CEAC.

    * After submitting Form DS-260 online, you must print the confirmation page and bring it to your interview. You can print this from CEAC any time after you complete your DS-260 application.

It is important to distinguish the mandatory use of the DS-260 for processing at all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide from the "Electronic Processing Program" used for electronic submission of documents and the I-864 Affidavit of Support for processing at select embassies and consulates. Under this program, the I-864 is downloaded, completed, signed, scanned, saved as a PDF file and e-mailed to the NVC.

Also, the required civil documents and supporting documents must be converted to PDF files and then e-mailed to the NVC. For these select consular posts it is not required to mail the I-864, civil documents, and other supporting documents to the NVC, but the applicant must be prepared to present the original physical documents at the time of the visa interview. For all other posts, the I-864 and documentation are still mailed to the NVC.

For additional information on the DS-260, DS-261 and Electronic Processing Program, you should go to travel.state.gov and read the FAQs on DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and the instruction pages on Required Electronic Processing and Optional Electronic Processing.

11. How Long Does It Take to Get My U.S. Citizenship

A: Most U.S. Permanent Residents have to wait 5 years after receiving Green Card to qualify for U.S. Citizenship. However, the immigration law gives a break to spouses of U.S. Citizens.

If you are a U.S. permanent or conditional resident, you cannot apply for U.S. citizenship until you have lived in U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. That means exactly five years to the day. You can check your U.S. permanent resident card for the exact date on which you became a permanent resident.

If you start out as a conditional resident rather than a permanent resident, because you got your residence through your marriage to a U.S. citizen, your two years as a conditional resident count as permanent residence.

If you have been married for at least 3 years, and your spouse has been a U.S. Citizen for at least 3 years, you are eligible for citizenship 3 years after you become U.S. Permanent Resident. Actually, you are allowed to apply for naturalization 3 months before the end of your 3 year residence.

The U.S. citizenship application must be submitted by mail, using USCIS Form N-400. USCIS will take a long time to process the N-400, to arrange for you to be fingerprinted, and to call you in for the interview at which it actually reviews your application, tests you on your knowledge of English and U.S. government, and makes a decision on whether to approve or deny you. USCIS may take at least 90 days to call you in for your interview.


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