Getting a visa to live or work in the United States usually begins with submitting a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the petition, it transfers it to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC then handles the visa application process, which includes receiving forms, collecting fees, reviewing documents, and setting up the consular interview.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated September 1, 2022
What Is the National Visa Center (NVC)?
The National Visa Center (NVC) is a branch of the U.S. Department of State. It’s located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The NVC handles immigrant visa application pre-processing. After USCIS receives and approves your visa application, it will forward your application materials to the NVC. The NVC is responsible for holding your application until an immigrant visa number becomes available for you.
If you are applying for an immigrant visa or a green card from outside the United States through consular processing, you’ll interact with the NVC throughout your application process.
What’s the NVC’s Role in the Immigration Process?
The NVC’s primary role is to process and approve your immigrant visa. To initiate most visa applications, you will need to have your U.S. relative, employer, or partner sponsor you. As your sponsor, your U.S. relative, employer, or partner will file the appropriate petition on your behalf, explaining why you qualify for an immigrant visa. In some cases, you may also self-petition under specific employment-based categories or through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) if you have an abusive relative.
Typically, two parties are involved in your USCIS and NVC application processes. You, the prospective U.S. immigrant, are the “beneficiary.” Your U.S.-based sponsor is your “petitioner.” Once your petition arrives at the NVC, you’ll need to handle the rest of your application process, unless you’d like your petitioner to do so.
Once your sponsor has completed their petition for you and submitted it to USCIS, USCIS will receive and review the petition. Two of the most common petitions include Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. Only after USCIS approves a petition will the NVC begin to play a role in your case. Once your case moves to the NVC, you’ll need to complete additional online forms and upload documents to the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).
What Does the NVC Do After It Accepts Documents From the USCIS?
After accepting your documents from USCIS, the NVC requires you to complete two major forms. These forms are DS-260: Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and DS-261: Online Choice of Address and Agent. You may complete these forms virtually on the CEAC portal. You will also need to pay filing fees for these forms.
Filing Form DS-260
Form DS-260 is the main immigrant visa application managed by the Department of State. To file Form DS-260, you’ll need to gather some information in advance, including your NVC case number, beneficiary ID number, and invoice number. You should be able to find these details in the welcome letter the NVC sent to you.
You’ll need to include biographical information and information about your address history. You must list every address you have physically lived at since the age of 16, even if it was not a permanent address. You’ll also need to provide information about all of your children on the form, regardless of their ages or whether they are immigrating with you or not. You’ll need to provide a reliable U.S. address where you’d like to receive your green card. Note that it may take several months for your green card to arrive, so you’ll want to make sure you can access this mailing address when needed.
Be sure to print out the confirmation page once you’ve completed DS-260 online. You’ll need to bring this page to your visa interview at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. If you discover that you’ve made any mistakes on your Form DS-260, you should inform the consular officer at your visa interview. They will be able to correct the mistake for you. You won’t be able to re-submit the form online, so be sure to let your officer know about any concerns.
Filing Form DS-261
Filing Form DS-261 should be much simpler than completing Form DS-260. All you need to do for Form DS-261 is tell the State Department how you prefer them to communicate with you.
You’ll need to provide your full name, email address, and contact information for any other people or attorneys involved in your application process. Note that it may take the NVC a few weeks to process your Form DS-261.
The State Department has an application processing fee of $325. Note that you’ll also have other costs in the process, including $120 for your Form I-864: Affidavit of Support fee and $85 for biometric services.
What Happens After the NVC Processes the Immigrant Visa Application?
After the NVC processes your immigrant visa application, they will send you one of two responses. They will either send you a “Corrections Required” or “Documentarily Complete” response. If you receive a Corrections Required response, you’ll need to clarify certain facts about your case or paperwork with the State Department. You may need to upload or re-upload any missing documents from your CEAC portal. You’ll also need to make sure you’ve paid any required fees.
After you receive the Documentarily Complete response, the NVC will schedule your consular interview appointment. Your local U.S. consulate or embassy will mostly determine your interview date. Consulates schedule interview appointments on a first-come, first-served basis.
What Is The Consular Interview Process?
The NVC will send you an interview appointment letter informing you about your visa interview date. After receiving this letter, your last few steps in the immigrant visa application process include going in for a medical exam and completing an interview at your consulate. For your interview, you’ll need to prepare all necessary documents in advance.
What To Do Before the Interview Appointment
There are two main things you’ll need to do before your interview appointment: complete a medical exam with a qualified doctor and gather the required paperwork.
Complete a Medical Examination
First, you and any dependent family members immigrating alongside you will need to schedule medical appointments with authorized physicians in the country where you will be interviewed. Be sure to only schedule an appointment with a U.S. embassy-approved doctor. The NVC will not accept results from any other physicians for the U.S. immigration medical exam. To review each embassy’s instructions for medical exams, visit the U.S. Department of State’s List of U.S. Embassies and Consulates.
Your physician will either give you your exam results in a sealed envelope or send them directly to the embassy. If you receive an envelope, do not open it. You should bring it to your interview, where your consular officer will open it.
Be sure to also complete any required vaccinations before going in for your immigrant visa interview.
Gather Necessary Documents
Before your interview, you should gather all required documents. You’ll need to bring photographs and the original documents or certified copy versions of any civil documents you submitted to the NVC. Civil documents may include birth certificates, marriage certificates, and police certificates, if applicable. You won’t need to bring any financial evidence or the Affidavit of Support your sponsor submitted to the NVC.
It is very important that you double-check the documents you bring with you to your interview. If you are missing any documents, your consular officer will not be able to process your visa. You may need to go in for additional interviews if you forget a document the first time.
What To Expect During the Consular Interview
During the consular interview, you’ll need to show your assigned consular officer your supporting documents and answer any of their questions. You, along with any of your dependents or a partner immigrating with you, will need to be present for the interview. The NVC will indicate who needs to be present on the interview appointment letter they send you. Note that your sponsor won’t need to attend the interview.
If you cannot attend your scheduled interview, you should contact your U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as possible. If you do not contact them, you’ll risk the U.S. government terminating your application and canceling your petition.
In most cases, your visa interviewer will tell you their decision on your application at the end of the interview. However, interviewers do not always disclose their decision, or they may require additional time to determine your immigrant visa case. If your interviewer approves your visa, you can expect to receive an immigrant visa on your passport page. Before traveling to the United States, you’ll need to pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee, which is $220. You won’t receive your green card until you have paid this fee.
If your interviewer denies your visa, this means they found issues with your application or visa eligibility. In the consular process, there is no way to appeal the decision after a denial. Typically, the quickest way to receive a green card after an initial denial is to restart the application process. Your consular officer should have told you the first time what the issue was with your application. Be sure to address this the second time. If your reason for denial was more serious, you may want to consult with an immigration lawyer.
How Long Does It Take To Process Visa Applications?
You won’t be able to proceed with your application until a visa number becomes available for you. The waiting period for a visa number to become available will vary. Depending on your petitioner’s status and relation to you, a visa number may be immediately available. If you are an immediate relative of your U.S.-based sponsor, you will likely have a short processing period. You fall into this category if you are the spouse, parent, or unmarried minor child of a U.S. citizen. However, many applicants who are not immediate relatives face long waiting periods.
If you face a waiting list or a visa quota, it could take years before the NVC begins processing your application. You can visit the USCIS website to check your estimated processing time.
The NVC usually begins processing visa applications for spouses and immediate family members of U.S. citizens immediately after receiving their cases from USCIS. However, the NVC holds lower preference categories, such as spouses of U.S. green card holders, until their “priority date” arrives. To determine priority dates, the State Department publishes a Visa Bulletin on its website. Check out our Visa Bulletin guide to learn more about finding your priority date.
How Do I Contact the NVC if I Have an Issue?
You may have a few questions or concerns about your application. To address applicant concerns, the NVC maintains a Public Inquiry Form hosted on the State Department’s website.
Do not use the form if you have a question about your case status. To check your status, you may log into your CEAC portal at any time.
You should keep in mind that the NVC’s response times to public inquiries can be long. The NVC publishes its response timeframes. If they have not answered your inquiry within the NVC timeframes, you may make a second inquiry.
An immigrant visa is the first step toward obtaining U.S. lawful permanent resident status. Working with the NVC from abroad will be essential to ensuring your process moves smoothly. Applying for a green card can be complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the green card process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit or you just have immigration questions you need answered, you can speak with an independent attorney for just $24/month through our Ask an Attorney program.