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If you are a citizen of a foreign country and want to live in the U.S. permanently, an immigrant visa is a must for you to obtain. Unlike nonimmigrant visas that allow a person to stay in the country for a limited period of time, the person who has obtained an immigrant visa is eligible to live in the U.S. indefinitely and seek employment.

It’s important to note that which type of visa is needed under U.S. immigration law for a foreign citizen depends on the purpose of that person’s intended travel together with other facts. As a visa applicant, the person needs to establish that he/she meets all requirements to obtain the particular category of visa for which he/she is applying. A consular officer at a U.S. consulate or embassy determines whether a person is eligible to obtain a visa, and if so, under which category, based on laws.

Obtaining an immigrant visa is the first step to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. In this post, you’ll learn everything about the immigrant visa process.

The process

Immigrant visa categories are divided into different types, such as family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, and several other categories. To learn about all visa categories, you can check out 9 FAM 502.1, the Foreign Affairs Manual.

In order to start the process of obtaining an immigrant visa, a citizen of a foreign country has to be sponsored by a U.S. lawful permanent resident, U.S. citizen relative, or a prospective employer, with a couple of exceptions.

Filing an immigrant petition

The immigration process is started by the sponsor by filing a petition on behalf of the foreign citizen with USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

Obtaining a decision on the petition

The next step involves obtaining a decision on the petition. The petitioner is notified of a decision by the USCIS. If the petition is denied, the notice mentions the reasons for the denial and whether the decision may be appealed by you. If your petition is approved, it is then sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) by USCIS.

Processes associated with NVC

After the petition is received by NVC, a case record is created, and a case number is assigned. The petition remains at NVC until there is an availability of an immigrant visa number for you. It’s important to note that petitions may remain there for several months or for several years based on the visa applicant’s country of birth and visa category.

NVC collects visa application fees together with supporting documentation, and when an applicant’s immigrant visa number is likely to become current, it starts and completes the processing of the applicant’s case. At this stage, you must submit the immigrant visa processing fees together with supporting documentation. Remember that you must submit all the documents to NVC. If you fail to submit all of the documents in a single package, your case may be delayed significantly.

It’s important to note that you must not send your original civil documents like marriage, and birth certificates or original passport. Instead, you should submit photocopies of those documents to NVC. However, you have to bring all the original documents to the visa interview regardless of the method you utilize to submit your documents to NVC.

You can submit the documents to NVC in three ways. The method you utilize depends on the letter you obtained from NVC and where you are interviewing.

The first method is uploading documents online. If you’ve received a letter from NVC that states “You May Begin Online Processing,” you can upload your documents to CEAC account online. CEAS refers to the Consular Electronic Application Center. This method is applicable for visa applicants who obtained this letter from NVC.

The second method is email processing. In case your NVC case number starts with one of these prefixes – AKD, BGH, AMM, GZO, DMS – you need to send all your documentation as attachments to the email id If you have multiple case numbers, you need to use different email messages for different cases.

The third method involves mail processing. If none of the online uploading and email processing apply to your case, you need to mail all the documentation to the NVC address.

Once the processing of the petition is completed, NVC forwards it to the appropriate U.S. Consulate or Embassy that holds the jurisdiction over that beneficiary.


If your priority date is current, you’ll receive an “Appointment Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants.” This package contains Immigrant Visa Appointment Letter, Supplement, Photograph instructions, Medical exam instructions, and Vaccination requirements.

If you know that the documents will not be complete or you cannot make this appointment, you must notify the Consular Section immediately for the appointment to be rescheduled. Once your interview is over, your case will be processed by the consular office, they will decide if you’re eligible for an immigrant visa.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to contact the NVC about the petition. Instead, they’ll contact you if they require any information. However, you should contact the NVC if your address is changed or your marital status is changed, or you were under 21 but now have reached the age of 21. Notifying NVC about these changes is important as they may affect your visa availability or eligibility.

After you have a granted immigrant visa

You’ll receive a “Visa Packet” if you’re granted an immigrant visa. You will have to pay a “USCIS Immigrant Fee” which will be used by USCIS to process your immigrant visa packet, as well as, produce your Green Card. Upon your arrival in the U.S., if you’re admitted by the CBP officer, you’ll then have permanent lawful resident status and will be able to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

Travel to the U.S. without a visa

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens from participating countries to enter the country for a maximum period of 90 days for the purpose of pleasure or business without having a U.S. nonimmigrant visa first.

ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization determines the visitors’ eligibility to travel to the U.S. under the VWP. It’s important to note that authorization via ESTA doesn’t determine whether the traveler is admissible to the country. The admissibility is determined by the U.S. CBP officers upon arrival of the travelers.

You can apply for a new ESTA if,

  • You’re an eligible national or citizen of a participating country of VWP.
  • You don’t have a visitor’s visa currently.
  • Your intended travel is for a maximum period of 90 days.
  • You plan to travel to the U.S. for pleasure or business.

Documents required to secure an ESTA include:

  • Valid passport from a VWP country.
  • Valid PayPal or credit card to pay the ESTA application fee.
  • Your latest employment information.
  • Your contact information.

An ESTA Application is instantly processed and can be approved in a couple of seconds. However, it’s always recommended that you apply a minimum of 72 hours before departure. Ideally, you should apply for ESTA prior to paying for your trip, just in case your travel authorization gets denied.