The below provides an overview of the timeline and various stages associated with the immigrant visa process when pursuing an immigrant visa (green card) based on marriage to a US citizen. This green card route is a bit different than the green card marriage adjustment of status route undertaken in the US.
There are three stages to this process and three separate governmental entities that play a role in the adjudication of this process.
Stage 1: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The first step in the process is to file an immigrant petition on behalf of your foreign spouse with the USCIS. Within approximately two weeks of submission of the petition, you, the US citizen spouse, will receive a receipt notice acknowledging receipt of the petition you submitted on behalf of your foreign spouse.
After the receipt notices arrives, it would be another 5-6 months until you hear anything further from the USCIS in regard to your immigrant petition.
At the present time, the processing time for an I-130 petition is approximately 5-6 months from the time of petition submission. After you receive the approval notice for your immigrant petition the case is then transferred by the USCIS to the National Visa Center (NVC).
Stage 2: National Visa Center (NVC)
The NVC can take anywhere from 1-2 months to contact you regarding next steps after the approval of your immigrant petition by the USCIS. When the NVC receives the immigrant petition file, they will reach out, typically by email, with requests for the payment of the affidavit of support fee and immigrant visa fee.
They will also request that the foreign applicant complete a Form DS-260 online and that both spouses provide specifically requested documents and forms, such as the affidavit of support. After you and your spouse pay all the necessary fees, submit the DS-260 online and collect all requested documents, the supporting documents can be sent to the NVC.
After the NVC receives your documents it can take them approximately 2-4 months to review your file and supporting documents. If everything submitted is sufficient, the NVC will confirm receipt and will request an interview date from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where your spouse will have their immigrant visa interview.
The length of time it takes for an interview to be scheduled depends on the availability at that particular U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Most interviews are scheduled within 1 month after the NVC confirms receipt of your supporting documents, but in some cases it can take as many as 2-3 months for an interview to be scheduled. You will receive a notice for your spouse’s immigrant visa interview date approximately 1 month prior the actual interview date.
Stage 3: U.S. Consulate or Embassy
Once the immigrant visa interview date arrives, your spouse needs to attend their appointment at the appropriate U.S. Consulate or Embassy. If your spouse is approved, after a few days your spouse will have an immigrant visa in their passport and will be given a sealed immigrant packet.
Upon entry to the US, your spouse will display a copy of the immigrant visa to the Customs and Border Patrol officer (CBP) and he/she will give the CBP officer the sealed immigrant packet. The CBP officer will then provide your spouse with a temporary I-551 stamp in their passport that they can use to evidence that they’re a permanent resident of the US. That stamp can be used for work and travel until the physical green card arrives at your residential address. It can take approximately 2-4 months for the green card to arrive. If your marriage was less than two years old at the time of approval, you will receive a two-year conditional green card.