What is the National Visa Center? (And What Does it Do?)

The National Visa Center (NVC) is part of the U.S. State Department and is based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your Green Card petition (for example a Form I-130), USCIS forwards it to the NVC for Green Card pre-processing. Importantly, the NVC pre-processes both family and employment-based green card applications for applicants living outside the United States.

“NVC” is probably one of the most frequently used acronyms that you hear during a U.S. immigration journey, especially if you’re applying for a Green Card outside of the United States through consular processing.

This guide helps you to understand what the NVC is and the role it plays in the Green Card journey in the following sections:

  1. When does a Green Card application reach the NVC? 
  2. What does the NVC do with a Green Card application? 
  3. How long does the NVC take to process the Green Card application? 
  4. Contacting the NVC 
  5. Is the NVC process different for U.S. citizens sponsoring family members? 
  6. Can I use the NVC if I am adjusting my status in the United States or if I am already in the United States? 

When does a Green Card application reach the NVC?

The NVC is part of the U.S. State Department and doesn’t handle the initial approval process for your family or employment-based Green Card petition (for example, Form-130 or Form I-140).

Instead, you send your petition to USCIS, and they decide whether to approve or reject it. After your petition is approved and if the applicant is based outside the United States, USCIS notifies the NVC that your petition is approved and that Green Card application pre-processing can begin.

Now here is where it gets a little tricky. Depending on your priority date, the NVC will either start pre-processing your application or will wait until your priority date is current (meaning there is now more waiting). If your priority meets the most recent cut-off date in the visa bulletin or is likely to become current soon, the NVC will proceed.

However, if your priority date doesn’t meet the most recent cut-off date, the NVC will notify you and hold your petition until your priority date becomes current or is likely to become current soon. As your priority date gets closer, the NVC will contact you to start processing. The U.S. State Department regularly updates these dates and you can find a summary of each bulletin on Travel State Gov’s webpage at all times.

What does the NVC do with a Green Card application? 

The NVC is designed to take the paperwork processing pressure from individual U.S. embassies and consulates and ensure that only complete applications are sent to them. After USCIS sends your petition to the NVC, the NVC creates a case in its system and assigns you a case number.

After this is complete, the NVC sends you a Welcome Letter by email or mail. This notice will include your case number, a beneficiary ID number, and an invoice number. You can use the information from this message to log in to your Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) to check your status, receive messages, and manage your case.

Assuming you have no priority date (for example, you are the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen), the next step is to file the DS-261 form (technically called the “Online Choice of Address and Agent”). This is a relatively simple form that tells the State Department how to communicate with you, and there is no fee to file it. It can take up to three weeks for the NVC to process the DS-261.

After the NVC has processed your DS-261, you need to pay two required fees online, for a total of $445: the State Department’s application processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120). However, the application processing fee is $345 if applying for an employment-based green card. For up-to-date information about visa fees, see Fees for Visa Services on the U.S. State Department website. Processing the visa fees usually takes about a week.

After the fees are paid and processed, you can go online to file the DS-260 (immigrant visa application). This is the primary Green Card application for relatives living abroad and is administered by the U.S. Department of State.

After you submit your DS-260, the NVC sends out a notice by mail or email confirming receipt of your DS-260. You will then need to submit the supporting documents to the NVC as well.

Depending on which U.S. embassy or consulate is processing the application, you will either upload, email, or mail all of the supporting documents to the NVC. The NVC is responsible for gathering all the forms and documents needed to process your Green Card application and forwarding them to the consulate.

It’s important to submit these documents in the way the NVC instructs you to — some U.S. consulates require physical copies, while others allow for emailing or uploading digital copies.

The NVC then checks your DS-260 form and the supporting documents and forwards them to the consulate that is responsible for scheduling and conducting your immigrant visa interview. The embassy or consulate then makes the final decision on your immigrant visa petition after the interview.

How long does the NVC take to process the Green Card application?

This depends on many different factors, including your priority date (if applicable), any delays in processing your payment, any errors on your DS-260 form, and whether you have all the required supporting documents.

For a general processing timeline, see NVC Timeframes on the U.S. State Department website, which provides up-to-date times for the processing of applications by the NVC.

Contacting the NVC

The NVC no longer responds to requests sent by mail, so you can only contact it by phone or by using the Public Inquiry Form.

For up-to-date contact information for the NVC, see NVC Contact Information on the U.S. State Department website.

Is the NVC process different for U.S. citizens sponsoring family members?

Yes, it’s typically faster because U.S. citizens are not impacted by priority dates for immediate relatives (for example, spouse or children). They do, however, still have to follow priority dates for non-immediate relatives, such as parents or siblings.

If you apply for a family-based green card and your sponsor then becomes a U.S. citizen before your priority date, they can submit proof of citizenship to the NVC so it can update your visa category. Scan and save one of the following items as a PDF or JPG file and send it as an attachment to the U.S. State Department’s Public Inquiry Form:

  • A copy of the biodata page of your U.S. passport; or
  • A copy of your certificate of naturalization.

Can I use the NVC if I am adjusting my status in the United States or if I am already in the United States?

No, you only use the NVC if you’re applying for a Green Card and are outside the United States. If you are inside the United States and want to adjust your status (for example, from a K-1 visa to a Green Card), then USCIS will handle the entire process through the adjustment of status (AOS) process.

Regardless of your personal situation, we are happy to help you assess your next steps with a Green Card and the requirements you need to meet. 

Please contact us for further information and assistance with your particular matter at immigration [at] tomgallagherlaw.com

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