Path to Residency: Understanding the Immigrant Visa Process in the USA

Immigrating to the United States is often seen as a pathway to expanded opportunities, freedom, and a better quality of life. However, navigating the immigrant visa process can be complex for prospective immigrants. 

This guide will provide an overview of immigrant visas, green cards, and the steps involved in applying for permanent residency in the USA.

What is an Immigrant Visa?

An immigrant visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the United States and apply for lawful permanent resident status (a green card). There are different types of immigrant visas, including:

  • Family-based immigrant visas – For U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents sponsoring a relative.
  • Employment-based immigrant visas – For U.S. employers sponsoring a foreign worker.
  • Diversity visa program – For applicants from underrepresented countries selected through a lottery system.

In most cases, an immigrant visa applicant must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or U.S. employer. Once issued, the visa allows the applicant to travel to the United States and complete the process for adjustment to permanent resident status.

Who Can Apply for an Immigrant Visa?

In general, a foreign national wishing to immigrate to the US must have sponsorship from a US citizen, a relative who is a lawful permanent resident, or a potential employer. 

Some key requirements include:

  • Family relationship – The sponsor must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder petitioning for a qualified family member.
  • Employment offer – The applicant must have an offer of permanent employment from a U.S. employer.
  • Diversity visa – The applicant must have been randomly selected in the diversity visa lottery and completed the required paperwork.

Immigrant visas to the United States are processed at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Candidates interested in learning more about the various categories of immigrant visas should consult our directory of visa categories on

How to Apply for an Immigrant Visa

Follow these steps to begin applying for an immigrant visa to the United States:

1. Petition Filed by Sponsor

The U.S. citizen, green card holder, or employer sponsoring the applicant must file Form I-130 or I-140 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Review instructions on the USCIS website for filing guidance.

2. Petition Approved by USCIS

Once the petition is approved, USCIS sends it to the National Visa Center (NVC). Applicants can check their case status on the USCIS website.

3. Submit Required Documents to NVC

NVC will provide instructions on submitting required documents, including financial affidavits, police certificates, and more. Follow all guidance carefully.

4. Pay Visa Application Fees

Pay all required visa application fees to the NVC. Fees may include processing charges and the immigrant visa fee.

5. Complete Visa Application Forms

Use the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) to complete your DS-260 immigrant visa application. Make sure all information is accurate.

6. Schedule a Visa Interview

Once NVC completes pre-processing, you can schedule a visa interview at the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate.

7. Attend Visa Interview

Attend the visa interview and provide any requested documents. If approved, you will receive your immigrant visa.

8. Travel to the United States

You can then travel to the United States within the validity period of your immigrant visa and apply for a green card.

Potential To learn more about the various kinds of immigrant visas that are available, prospective U.S. immigrants may want to browse our directory of visa categories on

Understanding the Green Card Application Process

Once you have been issued an immigrant visa, you can travel to the United States and apply for lawful permanent residency (a green card). 

Here is an overview of the green card application process:

  • Entry on Immigrant Visa – You must enter the U.S. before the expiration date on your visa, usually within 6 months.
  • Apply for a Green Card – File Form I-485 to adjust your status to permanent resident, along with other forms and documents.
  • Biometrics Appointment – Attend a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photo, and signature.
  • Green Card Interview – Attend an interview with a USCIS officer, if required, to verify eligibility for a green card.
  • Approval and Card Production – If approved, USCIS will produce and mail your permanent resident card.
  • Rights and Responsibilities – Review materials USCIS provides on the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of being a green card holder. 

Some applicants may be eligible to file for adjustment of status and a green card without leaving the United States if they entered on a valid nonimmigrant visa. Check with an immigration attorney to see if you qualify.

Key Steps in the Immigrant Visa Process

To summarize, here are some key steps in the immigrant visa application process:

  • U.S. sponsor files petition with USCIS
  • Petition approved and sent to National Visa Center
  • Submit required documents to NVC
  • Pay all applicable fees
  • Complete DS-260 and submit to NVC
  • Schedule embassy interview appointment
  • Attend visa interview at U.S. embassy/consulate
  • Obtain immigrant visa if approved
  • Enter U.S. before visa expiration
  • File for green card after entering the United States

Prospective immigrants should be aware this process may take several months or longer. Applicants should maintain contact with their sponsor and carefully follow instructions provided by USCIS and the National Visa Center.

Finding Legal Help for Your Immigrant Visa Case

Navigating the complex process for an immigrant visa and green card can be challenging. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney is highly recommended.

The immigration lawyers at the Law Office of Lina Baroudi in California have in-depth knowledge of U.S. immigration laws and procedures. They have helped numerous clients obtain immigrant visas and permanent residency.

If you are seeking a family-based immigrant visa or were selected for the diversity visa lottery, they can help smooth the way. Contact their team today to schedule your consultation.