Updated: July 31, 2020
Until March 31, 2020 it was possible for a US citizen living in the United Kingdom to sponsor his spouse for permanent resident status in the US by filing his ‘Petition for Alien Relative’ (the Form I-130) with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services at the US Embassy in London. The quick turnaround time and efficient processing of the London Field Office meant that spouses of US citizens could often be on their way to the US and a green card within as little as six months from the filing of the I-130. Alas, for most people this is no longer possible.
The closing of the USCIS office in London now means that US citizens living in the UK no longer enjoy the great advantage of quick processing to allow for a couple to swiftly move to the United States. They must now file their I-130 either with the Dallas Lockbox or online. Exceptions to this rule, where officers of the Department of State may adjudicate I-130s in the UK and other foreign countries, are available only in very limited circumstances, as set out in the relevant sections of USCIS’s amended Policy Manual.
When the USCIS has approved the I-130 the file will be sent to the Department of State’s National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The NVC will then require payment of applicable fees and the completion of the immigrant visa application (DS-260). The DS-260 requires a good deal of biographical information about the applicant, including all addresses where he or she has lived since the age of 16.
Applicants also need to collect a variety of ‘civil documents’ that must be sent to the NVC via its online portal. Originals of those documents must be presented to the Embassy on the day of the immigrant visa interview. For information as to which civil documents are required, please click here. Applicants must furnish police certificates to cover all periods of residence of 12 months or more since reaching the age of 16; the period of residence is just six months for the country of birth or of current residence. For some countries clearances are not available, and for others they must be obtained directly by the US Government rather than by the applicant.
Once the NVC has received the money, documents and information it requires it will schedule the applicant’s interview at the Immigrant Visa Unit of the Embassy in London. (Although nonimmigrant visa interviews are also held at the Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, immigrant visa interviews are held only in London.)
In the time between notification of interview date and the date itself all applicants need to have the required medical examination with the Embassy’s designated provider. When booking the medical examination, the applicant should keep in mind that the Embassy must receive the medical results before the immigrant visa interview (which takes at least five working days) and that the immigrant visa, if issued, will be valid for only six months from the date of the medical exam.
The examination screens applicants for certain types of communicable diseases of public health significance, such as syphilis and tuberculosis. Applicants are also checked to ensure that they are immunised against certain types of diseases. Before scheduling their medical examinations, applicants should review the Embassy’s website which contains information about the immunisation requirements, which vary according to the age of the applicant, and should contact the designated health provider (currently Visa Medicals) regarding the surgery’s own requirements of documents that must be brought to the medical examination.
On the day and at the time appointed for the interview the applicant takes to the Embassy the required documents including passport. The applicant is interviewed by a consular officer. At the end of the brief interview the officer will inform the applicant whether the application has been approved. If it has, the applicant then surrenders the passport to the Embassy so that the visa can be issued into it. The passport with the visa and a packet of documents is returned (according to the courier arrangements made previously by the applicant) approximately 10 to 15 working days after the visa interview.
All immigrants issued immigrant visas are subject to an additional Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fee of $220 to cover the agency’s costs incurred in creating the ‘green card’ that is proof of permanent resident status. Unless and until the fee is paid the DHS will not issue the card. The DHS suggests that the fee be paid online after the applicant receives his or her immigrant visa and before he or she enters the United States using that visa.
The immigrant visa is valid for up to six months following the date of the required medical examination, during which time the immigrant must travel to the US and present the visa to an immigration officer at the US port of entry. At the port of entry the applicant will then be processed by the immigration authorities and will receive a stamp in his or her passport. When the processing is complete and the immigrant visa has been endorsed with the immigration authorities’ stamp the applicant becomes a lawful permanent resident. The endorsed visa serves as a temporary proof of that status; it is a temporary ‘green card.’ The permanent resident card, Form I-551, is then sent by post to the applicant’s designated address in the United States.
Shakespeare tells us that ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’ Complex American immigration laws ensure that the course of emigration is likely to be similarly fraught.
We hope that this article has been a helpful overview of the procedures involved in obtaining an immigrant visa for the spouse of a US citizen and, by extension, in obtaining immigrant visas for unmarried children under 21 and parents of adult US citizens (aged 21 or older). However, it cannot possibly cover all permutations of the facts, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice tailored to the specifics of your situation. If you believe that legal advice would be helpful you should consult a qualified US immigration attorney.