USA Visa Application – How to Obtain a United States Immigrant Visa

Jacquelyn Vadnais
Last Edited Feb 28, 2023

The United States policy on immigration follows some core principles: admitting immigrants with skills that can boost the economy, protect refugees, and reunite families.

The last principle of unifying families is one of the main reasons for family-based immigration. Any immigrant working in the United States can petition a family member to join them.

You need to know the requirements and the proper process to successfully obtain an immigrant Visa to the U.S.

Consider the chart below to understand the evolution of the path to obtaining a legal immigrant visa in the United States:



Applying for a U.S. Immigration Visa

The United States issues immigration visas to non-citizens through its embassies and consulates. There are different types of visas you can apply for, and it depends on your reason for traveling to the country.

An immigration visa is issued when a non-citizen wants to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. This is also called family immigration and requires the following:

  • The person must have a sponsor living in the United States who is already a citizen or a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder).
  • The sponsor must petition the government to issue the visa to their relative.
  • The sponsor must be at least 21 years of age.
  • The person should be a relative that fits these categories:
    • Immediate Relative – these include spouses, children, or parents.
    • Family Preference – these refer to distant relatives, such as cousins or grandparents. The government limits the number of immigrants in this category.

Sponsors who are U.S. citizens can file a visa petition for the following:

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Brother/sister

Sponsors who are lawful permanent residents in the U.S. can only file a petition for the following:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried son or daughter

Steps in Applying for an Immigrant Visa

Here’s the step-by-step process of what you need to do for your visa petition:

Step 1: Submit a Petition (Sponsor)

The sponsor must complete a petition for alien relative form (Form I-130) through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The sponsor can file the petition if they live in the U.S., but they can also do so out of the country under certain conditions.

The petition must include documents that prove your status in the United States and the relationship between you and the relative:

  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence status:
    • Birth certificate
    • Valid passport
    • Certificate of citizenship or naturalization
    • Consular report of birth abroad (CRBA) from a consulate or embassy
    • A copy of the front and back of your green card
  • Evidence of family relationship:
    • Marriage certificate (for spouse)
    • Birth certificates (for children)
    • Sponsor’s birth certificate (for parents)
    • Sponsor and relative’s birth certificate (for siblings)
  • Evidence of marriage between sponsor and spouse:
    • Documents showing joint ownership of property
    • Lease showing joint tenancy
    • Evidence of combined finances
    • Birth certificates of children born to sponsor and spouse
    • Affidavits from third-party individuals who can attest that they have personal knowledge of the marriage between the sponsor and the spouse. This should detail how they knew about the marriage between the sponsor and the petitioner.
  • Two passport photos of the petitioner

If you are filing for an adopted child, you need the following:

  • Final adoption decree
  • Evidence you have had custody of the child for at least two years
  • Evidence that you shared a residence with the child for at least two years.

The USCIS will review the petition and the accompanying documents before it is approved and sent to the National Visa Center.

Step 2: Processing at the National Visa Center (Sponsor and Applicant)

Once submitted to the Visa Center, your case is created in the system, and you will receive notification through email or traditional mail. The applicant and sponsor can review their status and manage their case through the system.

Step 3: Pay the Processing Fees (Sponsor and Applicant)

The applicant should pay the processing fee for Immigrant Visa Application. This requires a bank routing number or a check or savings account number. Payments are also accepted on the CEAC page.

Step 4: Affidavit of Support Completion (Sponsor)

The sponsor must submit a completed affidavit of support (Form I-864). This assures the government that the sponsor will take financial responsibility for the petitioner when they arrive in the country.

This form must be completed to prevent delays in the application process. If the sponsor cannot fully support the petitioner, they could add a joint sponsor to complete the affidavit.

Step 5: Submission of Financial Evidence and Supporting Documents (Sponsor)

The sponsor must provide evidence of their finances. The specific documents depend on the sponsor’s situation and their visa application type. Some sponsors need to submit an IRS tax transcript or a completed and filed tax return copy. Along with this, they might need to submit a Form W-2.

Use the Financial Evidence Assistant to get an accurate list of the documents you must submit.

Step 6: Completing the Online Application (for Applicant)

The applicant must complete the Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration (Form DS-260). This should be completed on the CEAC page of the applicant and submitted with the IV Application.

Once submitted, you will receive a scheduled appointment for an interview. This form should be printed and brought along during the interview.

Step 7: Civil Documents (for Applicant)

The applicant should collect all civil documents supporting the application. Applicants can use the Document Finder for a list of the document requirements for their origin country.

For documents not in English, an official translation must be included and certified authentic and accurate by the translator.

Step 8: Submit Documents (Sponsor and Applicant)

The applicant must scan all the necessary documents and submit them through the CEAC page. Once submitted, the National Visa Center will begin the review.

Step 9: Interview Preparation (Applicant)

Once the applicant receives an interview appointment from the NVC, the applicant should do the following:

  • Get a complete medical examination with an embassy-approved physician or healthcare facility.
  • Register for a courier service to receive additional instructions.
  • Gather documents required for the interview. You should bring the application forms and original or certified copies of relevant civil documents, certificates, and photographs.

Step 10: The Interview (Applicant)

Go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country on the scheduled date of your interview. All traveling applicants named in the NVC letter should participate in the interview, depending on the schedule they receive from the NVC.

The consular officer will ask for your supporting documents and forms.

If you cannot attend the interview, you need to inform the embassy immediately. Failure to attend the interview can result in the termination of your case and petition.

What Happens After the Interview

Once an applicant completes the process, the embassy will evaluate your case. If your Visa is approved, you can schedule a trip to the United States once the embassy returns your passport.

You need to pay another fee to the USCIS for your green card, as you will be entering the country as a lawful permanent resident.

Note that a Visa to the United States does not guarantee entry to the country. The government has the authority to deny admission under the Department of Homeland Security.

If your Visa is denied after the interview, the embassy will inform you of the reasons and the missing documentary evidence you might need to file for additional processing.

Concluding Remarks:

Applying for a United States immigrant visa does not have to be a painful process. The key to the success of this is that the applicant needs to be diligent and have their affairs organized. If they do not, the United States is known for refusing applications right and left. To avoid these setbacks, be sure to carefully understand what you need if a family member/spouse is petitioning for you or an employer.

By doing this, you will be able to zero in on what you need to do to get your application successfully process and be on your way to the path of United States citizenship.


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