Consular processing is one of the legal immigration services we have been offering for several years at Catholic Charities. A fair share of my case load is made up of clients who are petitioning for relatives who are living abroad and are hoping to bring them to the U.S. as immigrants. Lately, there has been an uptick in the number of clients calling or stopping by to discuss the outcome of their relative’s interview. For the most part, these interviews have a positive outcome which means the family member who is in the US (the petitioner) is about to be reunited with their family member who is abroad (the beneficiary). When this happens, it’s a joyous occasion and there’s cause to celebrate. One client was so happy about his wife’s successful interview that he brought me flowers the other day. Those flowers (pictured above) greeted me when I got to work this morning and actually inspired me to write this blog.
There are two ways a foreign national can become a lawful permanent resident through family- based immigration: adjustment of status in the U.S. or consular processing. Consular processing is a 2-step process which starts with filing an I-130 application and fees with USCIS and the evidence necessary to establish the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. The case then moves to the National Visa Center (NVC) where the actual immigrant visa will be applied for and once all documents and fees are collected and approved, the case moves overseas where it will be consular processed and if all goes well, a green card will be approved.
A fair amount of my caseload, as I mentioned above, is preparing family- based petitions. For cases that will go through consular processing, my client is the petitioner on the case and is either a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. I work closely with the petitioner to gather all of the necessary documents required by USCIS and the NVC following their guidelines and regulations. Some cases are fairly straight forward while others can be quite complex. But at the end, the consular interview awaits and as the legal advocate, this is the part that is tricky because I need to help prepare the relative who is abroad for an interview that might make or break the case even though I have never met this person.
There are several tips I give to the petitioner in order to make sure their foreign national relative is fully prepared for their interview. I do my best to ensure the relative will have as much knowledge as possible before attending their interview, as well as alleviate any fears they might have. With that said, there is something almost ironic about preparing someone for an interview who I have never met, have had little or no communication with and rarely share a common language with, and who will be questioned in a country I have most likely never visited.
In order to provide the best counsel I can to the petitioner (who will be relating the information I am providing to their relative) I have to do my homework. This usually starts by looking at the specific requirements of that particular embassy. To do this, I start with reading through the Foreign Affairs Manual – the FAM – to see if there is anything specific I need to address for whatever country the interview is scheduled in. I had never heard of the FAM until I started providing legal advocacy services but quickly became aware of what a valuable resource it is for a legal practitioner. I then have a detailed conversation with the petitioner in order to provide interview tips and strategies – we discuss things like how important it is for their relative to be punctual, to dress and behave in a respectful manner, to have all documents well organized, to write down the officer’s name, and not to volunteer any more information than asked for.
I often get push back from the petitioner saying their relative isn’t “experienced,” has little education, or has never traveled out of the countryside to the city. These kinds of concerns are valid but I try to reassure them that while going to the Embassy might be quite daunting and intimidating, the consular officers are there to apply the law, detect fraud and make a decision on a case. I also strongly encourage spouses or fiancés to attend the interview since it can potentially raise a red flag with a Consulate Officer if the relative goes to the interview alone. As I previously stated, the majority of cases we file that go through consular processing go smoothly. I’ll write a second part to this blog at a later date about those that don’t.
Consular processing can be a long, arduous process for everyone involved. However, one of the best parts of my job is when a client brings in his/her family member who went through consular processing and has now arrived in the U.S. I have had numerous introductions to husbands, wives, and other family members from all parts of the world including China, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, Cuba, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, Russia, and the Ukraine. Meeting them is so special – and I have to admit, receiving that bouquet of flowers was also pretty special; especially since it signifies another consular interview was a success.