The process of emigrating to the United States of America is fairly complicated and arduous.
The land of the free and home of the brave won’t let any old rabble across their gilded, bald eagle-guarded border.
The process can only begin if you have a US based sponsor. These can come in the form of an immediate family member or a prospective employer, although exceptions do exist. As applying for a US Visa can be quite daunting, this article aims to cover some of the most important points you need to know to get the ball rolling.
The first step on the road to immigration, after making the decision to move to the US, is to start assessing your circumstances. For example; you may have an easier time emigrating if you have immediate family living permanently in the US. If you don’t, it gets a little harder.
There are a number of requirements you must meet in-order to be eligible for a Green Card. A Green Card grants you the right to live and work in the US, typically for ten years, and allows you to ‘naturalise’ after a period of time and apply to become a full US Citizen, protected by the US constitution.
The requirements to obtain a Green Card are as follows:
In order to get a Green Card, you must already have an approved immigrant petition. An immigrant petition establishes the validity of your claims to be able to live in the US and is usually filled in by your US based sponsor.
There are certain circumstances in which you may self-petition but they are incredibly situational.
The two most common methods of obtaining permanent residence within the United States are employment-based and family-based.
Let’s start with family-based permanent residence.
Immediate family relationships are the highest priority within the category and allow for the most-rapid eligibility. Spouses, children over the age of 21 and parents may sponsor their respective immediate family members and shouldn’t expect the process to take too long.
Family relationships lower in the preference rankings naturally take longer and are not afforded the same priority, such as siblings.
Employment-based permanent residence gets complicated as there are a number of categories covering various circumstances.
If you are some form of virtuoso/best-in-field in your particular area of expertise, it may be possible to self-petition. Usually the likes of Nobel Prize winners, professional athletes etc. go down this route as the US values highly skilled individuals.
Typically a US based employer must prove it has made reasonable efforts to fill the offered roll locally. Then they must seek a labour certification that enables the company to file an employment-based visa on your behalf and that puts you on-track for your visa.
Investors/entrepreneurs that look to invest in a US business with the prospect of job creation may self-petition but they must invest significantly, somewhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000, in targeted low-employment or rural areas.
Once your petition has been sent to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and approved, your documents go to the National Visa Centre (NVC) for pre-processing. There are a limited number of visas available each year.
The NVC will contact you when required and ask you to submit your visa forms, documents and processing fees, only once your visa application becomes ‘current’ or is likely to become ‘current’ within 12 months. Each month a visa bulletin is released announcing the cut-off dates for various visa categories/countries of origin. If you miss the cut-off date or all visas have already been claimed, (remembering there are a limited number of visas available each year) you will have to wait.
Dealing with the National Visa Centre is multifaceted. First you must choose an agent to correspond with the NVC. This can be yourself or someone of your choosing, i.e. a US based sponsor, immigration expert, solicitor etc.
After you’ve made your choice of agent it’s time to cough up because Uncle Sam doesn’t run on freedom alone. You should be expecting to pay somewhere in the realm of $300 but fees do increase to over $700 within some categories.
After you have settled your bill with the USA, its time to submit your actual VISA application. You must fill out an Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration and return it to the National Visa Centre, however the application has not been officially made until you are interviewed by the US Consulate.
After the visa application comes the financial documents. If you are being sponsored by a US citizen they must sign an affidavit declaring financial responsibility for their sponsored party and provide evidence of their finances. These then get sent back to the NVC.
Supporting documents are also required for your full application. These can include; adoption documentation, birth certificates, court/prison records, marriage certificates, marriage termination documents, military records, petitioner documents, a copy of your passport’s biographic data page, photographs and police certificates. What documents you will need to send depends on your circumstances for immigration.
With all your documents collated, its time to send them to the National Visa Centre. There is a high chance your case will be significantly delayed if all the papers are not sent in one package, so it is recommended you do so. If you are sending the documents by email you MUST include your case number in the subject of the email and keep any attachments below 5mb.
Once the NVC has accepted all your files and processed them for completeness, it will contact the appropriate US embassy/consulate to schedule your interview. Once the embassy has confirmed the dates it will be holding interviews, the NVC fills slots in a ‘first-in, first-out’ manner.
travel.state.gov, the official US Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs website states:
‘Most appointments are set within 60 days of NVC receipt of all requested documentation. However, we cannot predict when an interview appointment will be available.’
A letter stating the date, time and location of your interview will be sent to you, your sponsor and your designated agent, if applicable. The date may be up-to and over six months in advance, depending on the circumstances.
After scheduling your interview appointment, the NVC’s last task is to send all your supporting documents to the appropriate embassy/consulate to be ready for your interview.
With that you are nearing the end of your emigration odyssey, however there are just a few more things to do and consider before your interview. Six actually, according to travel.state.gov:
In regards to documents, you MUST bring ALL relevant civil documents to your interview. This includes:
You MUST being any and all original documents and forms from your application.
It must be stated with importance, it is imperative you do not make any significant arrangements, i.e. selling your home or quitting your job, until you are in possession of your immigrant visa.
You will know by the end of your interview whether your visa application has been approved or denied and will be informed as to when you will receive your passport back along with your visa.
You will receive a Sealed Immigrant Packet to hand over to US customs at your port-of-entry which you MUST NOT OPEN.
Once you’ve navigated all these hurdles, the future is in your hands as you are all ready to start a new life in the land of opportunity and excess that is the United States of America.
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