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The Immigrant Visa Process

After Your Petition is Approved

Petitions (Forms I-130 and Forms I-140) approved by USCIS in the United States are sent to the Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC) for pre-processing. When your petition becomes current, or is likely to become current within one year, the NVC initiates immigrant visa pre-processing, including collecting visa fees, forms, and documents from sponsors (petitioners) and immigrant visa applicant(s).

Number of Visas Each Year is Limited in Some Categories

United States laws limit the number of immigrant visa numbers available each year in certain visa categories. This means that even if USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition for you, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In addition, U.S. law also limits the number of visas available in certain categories by country. For limited categories, the availability of immigrant visa numbers depends on the date your petition was filed. This is called your priority date. 

Next Steps

The next steps in the process for family and employment based petitions varies by immigrant category, as explained below:

If a petition was filed on your behalf as:


Spouse of a U.S. citizen

Number is not limited. Next: Begin NVC Processing

Unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen

Parent of a U.S. citizen who is age 21 or older

Adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens

Number is limited each year. Next: Check Priority Dates

Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens

Spouses and children of U.S. lawful permanent residents

Employment based, except for certain special immigrants

The NVC performs immigrant visa pre-processing, including collecting visa fees, forms, and documents from sponsors (petitioners) and immigrant visa applicant(s). Therefore, it is important to await contact from the NVC for next step instructions before you pay fees or submit any forms or documents.

NVC will notify you when your case becomes current or is likely to become current within a year, and will ask you to begin next steps in processing your approved petition.


Who's Involved

National Visa Center: After petition approval, the National Visa Center (NVC) handles processing for certain kinds of documents, sending them onward to U.S. Embassies & Consulates. When and how to Contact NVC

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS oversees immigration to the United States and approves (or denies) immigrant petitions, and more. Learn about USCIS.

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