If your green card application goes through consular processing, it means that U.S. immigration officials at an embassy or consulate in your home country handled your application. Consular processing is the default application method for green card applicants filing from outside the United States. Direct Consular Filing (DCF) is a fast-track process for filing Form I-130, the foundation of every family-based green card application. This article is a deep dive into direct consular filing, discussing eligibility, the application process, and processing time frames.
What is direct consular filing (DCF)?
Direct consular filing (DCF) allows the sponsoring U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to file a Form I-130 petition (“Petition for Alien Relative”) from outside of the United States for their immediate relative. With DCF, the sponsoring U.S. citizen spouse can file the I-130 immigration petition at a U.S Department of Homeland Security or U.S. Department of State agency. This process is usually much faster than filing Form I-130 at a domestic U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lockbox facility in the United States. You can also avoid incurring specific fees to the National Visa Center (NVC).
However, there are certain requirements to qualify. U.S. immigration law states that only certain sponsoring spouses with United States citizenship or permanent residence who temporarily live outside the United States qualify. Also, this only applies to filing Form I-130. It won’t help speed up any other forms in the green card filing process.
You should also keep in mind the potential outcomes of your immigration visa application. First, if you are applying based on “exceptional circumstances,” you can’t appeal the USCIS decision. If the consular officer decides your case doesn’t qualify as an exceptional circumstance, you can’t appeal that decision. You will have to resubmit your I-130 at a USCIS lockbox in the United States.
Also, it won't necessarily be faster if your case is more complicated. Suppose the consular officers are unsure whether to approve your I-130. In that case, they will send it to a USCIS office in the United States for review. The additional review will make the processing time for your case longer.
Who is eligible for direct consular filing?
You and your spouse must meet all these requirements to be eligible for direct consular filing:
- Your sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen currently residing outside the United States, or your spouse is a lawful permanent resident who has been outside the United States for an extended period.
- Your spouse can prove they are temporarily living abroad and not just visiting the country outside the United States. Your spouse will have to prove this by showing documents such as resident permits, apartment leases, and visas.
- Your spouse’s permanent home is, or will be, the United States. In other words, your spouse must be “domiciled” in the United States. They will need to prove this so that they can file Form I-864 or the financial support form. This form may be complicated if your spouse previously lived abroad. However, there are exceptions for U.S. citizens employed overseas by the U.S. government, research groups, religious organizations, and international organizations. Green card holders who filed Form N-470 or “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes” do not have to file Form I-864. If your spouse plans to establish a U.S. domicile before or at the same time as your arrival in the United States, they may also be exempt.
- You and your spouse have exceptional circumstances. However, if an international USCIS field office is available where your spouse currently lives, you may be able to use DCF without an exceptional circumstance.
These situations qualify as exceptional circumstances:
- A medical emergency that affects you or your sponsoring spouse, and requires imminent travel. This emergency could include a pregnancy where the mother may soon be unable to fly.
- A military deployment, if the member of the military received shorter notice than normal.
- An employment change for your sponsoring spouse where their job requires them to move to the United States urgently.
- A threat to personal safety, if either you or your spouse feel unsafe.
What is the process for filing Form I-130 through direct consular filing?
You can file Form I-130 through direct consular filing at a U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy to begin your immigrant visa application. Your process will depend on whether or not you have exceptional circumstances.
Filing through consulate/embassy
If you have exceptional circumstances, you should contact your local consulate or embassy. They can help determine if direct consular filing will work for you because not all consulates can handle immigrant visa processing. They will also help you decide whether you should send your Form I-130 to the consulate or embassy or an international USCIS field office.
Afterward, you will submit your Form I-130, proof of your spouse’s temporary residency in the foreign country of your location, the standard filing fee, and any other supporting documents you need, including certified translations. You should check with your local consulate or embassy about the proper documents and means of payment.
Filing through USCIS field office
If you don’t have exceptional circumstances, you should check if your country has a USCIS international field office. If your country does, you can submit your Form I-130, proof of your spouse’s residency, the $535 filing fee, and other supporting documents to the field office.
If your consulate or embassy does not have a USCIS office, you can file your petition by mail. You can file these petitions with the USCIS Chicago Lockbox.
How long does direct consular filing processing take?
The wait time at many international USCIS field offices is less than one month. The wait is much faster than the processing times of visa petitions at domestic service centers, which often take seven to fifteen months.
You can check the average processing times at your current foreign country’s field office. These times can vary depending on your particular facility. Unfortunately, you cannot check the wait times for U.S. embassies or consulates. However, this process should be quicker and will take weeks, not months.
Direct consular filing can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!