01 Aug Love and Marriage: Spouse-based Immigrant Visas at the US Embassy in London
Update: Please note that this post was initially posted in 2016. In 2019 the USCIS London Field Office announced that it may be closing in early 2020 but we have not been advised of a specific date. Therefore, the process for US citizens who live in the UK to sponsor their spouse for an immigrant visa is likely to change in 2020.
Many of the UK-based clients we assist include US citizens who wish to sponsor their spouse to move back to the US with them. My first question usually is “where does the US citizen spouse live?” This is important because if the US citizen spouse has been living in the UK under a British visa or with a British or European passport, the process to obtain an immigrant visa for a spouse can begin at the US Embassy in London. This means that the timeline for the whole process will be shorter thank if they weren’t living in the UK.
The main reason for the shorter processing time is that a US Citizenship and Immigration Services or “USCIS” field office is located in the US Embassy in London. This is a significant advantage for people living in Britain because the form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative can be field with the London USCIS Field Office if the US citizen petition has been living in the UK for a period of time with either a UK visa, a British or European passport. This isn’t the case for US citizens who wish to sponsor their spouses in countries where the US Embassy or Consulate doesn’t have a USCIS field office or if the US citizen lives in the US. If there’s no USCIS field office or the US citizen lives in the US, the US citizen spouse must file the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the USCIS Service Center in the US. In certain rare situations, US citizens living outside the US, may be able to file the I-130 with the US Embassy or Consulate directly.
If the petition is field with the USCIS Service Center in the US, upon approval of the Immigrant Petition, the immigrant visa application will be sent to the US Embassy or Consulate via the National Visa Center, which, in recent years has been a bottle neck between the USCIS Service Center and the Embassy or Consulate outside the US, slowing down thousands of immigrant visa applications.
If the I-130 Petition is filed with the USCIS London Field Office and it is approved, the USCIS Field Officer walks the file to the Immigrant Visa Unit within the US Embassy. It will then take several weeks for the Immigrant Visa Unit to put the immigrant visa applicant into its system and issue a letter with the visa applicant’s case number. The case number is significant because it allows the visa applicant to schedule the medical exam with the Embassy’s designated civil surgeon, Knightsbridge Doctors, and also to start drafting the DS-260 Immigrant Visa application. The applicant will also need to have gathered all of his or her biographic documents and prepare the form I-864, Affidavit of Support and gather the supporting documents for the Affidavit of Support.
Once the visa applicant schedules his or her medical exam and has gathered all the required documents, the Immigrant Visa Unit will then schedule the immigrant visa interview. At the interview, the consular officer must ensure that the visa applicant is admissible to the US which means that the person can’t be barred from the US due to prior cautions or arrests for certain offences, prior US visa overstays of over six months, or if the applicant is likely to become a public charge.
On average, even with the quicker processing time, the total processing time as of the writing of this post is usually 3-4 months, assuming the visa applicant quickly gathers all the required documents. It is best to start as soon as possible to ensure issuance of the visa well before you plan to move to the US.
If you would like to meet with one of our lawyers for an initial consultation, we will talk about this process in much greater detail and advise you what information and documents are require for the application. Please note that this posting was written in July 2016 and the process described may change with the passage of time.
Please note, this information is not advice and cannot be considered formal advice. If you would like to meet with a US lawyer to discuss whether you or your spouse qualifies for a US immigrant visa, you can contact us on our contact page.