A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Contact: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Who is afraid of the National Visa Center?

The United States is a land of immigrants.  Although there are different ways to obtain the American green card, overseas applicants ultimately must go through a consulate interview process before they may travel to the U.S. as landing immigrants.  And before an intending immigrant's file is sent to an overseas American consulate for local processing and interview, it must first be cleared by the National Visa Center (NVC).  NVC processing can be challenging and laden with pitfalls, causing unnecessary delays if not handled properly.

What is the National Visa Center?
Created in 1994, the National Visa Center (NVC) is a branch agency under the U.S. Department of State. It's main function is to pre-process all immigrant visa petitions for final consular processing. After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves an immigrant visa petition, it sends the petition to NVC for immigrant visa pre-processing. Immediate relative categories (U.S. citizens' immediate relatives) do not have yearly numerical visa limits and, therefore, their cases are processed as soon as administratively possible. Other categories of cases have numerical limits each year, and will be processed only if visa numbers are already available or visa numbers will likely be available soon.  

My case has been sent to NVC - now what?
As mentioned, NVC will only start processing a case if it estimates that visa numbers will be available soon.  Therefore, it is possible that you may not hear from NVC for months or even years. It is extremely important that you keep the NVC and your attorney updated of any changes in your address and other personal information.  When a case is ready to proceed, NVC processing involves several major steps: (1) Invoicing and payment of  the visa application fees; (2) Processing of visa applications and supporting documentation (civil documents and affidavit of support); and (3) Holding the visa petition until an interview can be scheduled with a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

It is very important that the visa fees and affidavit of support fees are paid correctly and promptly. Without correct payment, NVC will not proceed with the case.  If electronic payment is made, be sure to return to the payment website after several days to print out the payment receipts.  Each visa applicant must pay for his or her visa fee but only one affidavit of support fee is needed for each family.

Visa Application  DS-260
After an applicant paid the visa fees, the next step is to submit a visa application to NVC electronically.  In an effort to transition to more paperless processing, NVC mandated the use of  the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application on September 1, 2013, replacing the old paper-based DS-230 Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (parts I and II).  The DS-260 form requests for more detailed personal information from the applicant and also contains more security-related questions.  Applicants should review and verify all answers very carefully before submitting the form to NVC.  Once submitted, there is no easy way to make changes.

Civil Documents
Civil documents are required by NVC for each immigrant petition, including birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce judgments, police clearances, criminal record documents, passports, etc.   For many years, originals or certified originals of civil documents are required by the NVC. This policy changed as of November 12, 2014.  NVC now on longer requires or accepts original documents from visa applicants.   Instead, applicants will have to bring with them the originals to the U.S. consulate office during the visa interview.  If a document, e.g., a birth certificate, is not available, an applicant may use secondary evidence to meet the legal requirements.  However, a qualified immigration attorney should be consulted in such situations.

Affidavit of Support (Form I-864)
Many immigrants find the I-864 Affidavit of Support form one of the most confusing forms out there. Their feelings are well justified - many visa petitions are delayed because of mistakes and problems relating to the I-864 form.  Although there are thirteen (13) pages of instructions to the I-864 form, completing the form correctly according to the NVC requirements still proves to be a daunting task for most people.  Part of the confusion may be attributed to the different languages used in the immigration field and in the tax field.  Not only must the petitioners complete the forms correctly, they must also produce all required supporting documents such as tax returns, proof of employment, etc., to NVC.  Things become even more complex for petitioners who need to rely on joint sponsor income or personal assets to meet the financial support requirements.

The "Checklist" letters
Any meaningful discussion of NVC must include its famous checklist letters.  The NVC uses checklist letters to inform the parties about various issues of the case - missing documents, wrong documents, forms incorrectly completed, etc. The checklist letter is similar in nature to the Request for Evidence (RFE) letter issued by the USCIS.  Because of the checklist letter is based on pre-defined format, its content can sometimes be confusing.  Thus far, NVC has not imposed any deadlines for checklist responses, although cases not responded to within one year will be considered abandoned.  Sometimes, NVC may use multiple checklist letters to get the case ready for consular processing, resulting in substantial delay.  

NVC processing is an important phase of the U.S. immigration process for overseas applicants.  It is also a rather complicated process with many legal and documentary requirements.  Intending immigrants and their sponsors should handle the process carefully.  Whenever in doubt, one should seek legal advice from a qualified immigration attorney to avoid problems and unnecessary delays.

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