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How to Obtain an Immigrant Visa for a Family Member

The Immigrant Visa Process: An Overview

If you would like to live permanently in the U.S., you must obtain an immigrant visa (IV) - permission to seek entry into the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).

There are three key stages that almost all prospective immigrants must go through to obtain an immigrant visa. While the length of time and procedures may change depending on the visa category, all prospective applicants pass through some version of each of the following stages to obtain an immigrant visa.

  1. Petition approval
  2. Preparation for the IV Interview
  3. The IV Interview
  4. Returning the Passport and IV Packet

These stages are described in general terms below.

Stage 1: Petitions

In most cases, the immigration process starts with someone filing a petition on your behalf with the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The purpose of the petition is to establish that you fit into one of the classes of individuals permitted to legally immigrate to the U.S.

Diversity Visa (DV) applicants do not have to file a petition. Instead, your entry into the Diversity Visa Lottery will serve as your petition. The person or business that files the petition is called the petitioner, and the person on whose behalf it is filed is called the principal beneficiary. Spouses or children who might be permitted to travel based on the beneficiary's petition are called derivatives.

Petitions must be filed with the USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction over the petitioner's place of residence. To obtain more information about how to file a petition and the required documentation, please click here.

If you are an American citizen and have been legally resident in Zimbabwe for at least six months immediately preceding your filing date, you may file your petition for an immediate family member at the U.S. Embassy in Harare. Click here for instructions.

Stage 2: Preparation for the Immigrant Visa Interview

Once USCIS approves your petition, you will be notified that the petition is being sent to the State Department's National Visa Center (NVC) or Kentucky Consular Center (KCC). NVC and KCC will assign the beneficiary a case number starting with HRE, followed by the year (HRE2009123456). KCC will assign case numbers for Diversity Visa applicants that begin with the year, and AF in the middle (2009AF12345).

If your petition is current, meaning that the State Department can process your visa application, NVC or KCC will send you instructions on how to prepare for your interview. If NVC or KCC has notified you that your case file has been sent to the U.S. Embassy in Harare and you have not yet received instructions, please email and include your case number in the subject line of your email. Once we receive your case file, we will email you instructions on how to prepare for and schedule your immigrant visa interview.

Not all beneficiaries move immediately from petition filing and approval stage to the preparation stage. Some classifications of immigrants are subject to annual numerical limits. If your classification is numerically limited, you will be giving a priority date based on when your petition was filed and may have to wait anywhere from two to twelve years before the State Department can process immigrant visas with your priority date. The State Department issues a Visa Bulletin every month listing the priority dates being processed. To see the current Visa Bulletin, click here.

Stage 3: The Immigrant Visa Interview

In some cases, NVC and KCC will schedule your interview in Harare once your case file is complete and, for numerically limited classifications, as soon as your priority date is reached. In other cases, the U.S. Embassy in Harare will send you information about your interview. If you missed your interview or would like to reschedule your interview to a later date, please send an email to: .

The purpose of your interview with a consular officer is to evaluate your and any of your derivatives' eligibility for IV. At this time, the consular officer will confirm that all required documents have been presented and that you have a legal basis for immigration. A legal basis can be the required family relationship with the petitioner, the required professional skills, or the educational or work requirements for a diversity visa. You may bring an attorney or family member to your interview, but the consular officer may request that the individual remain seated.

The consular officer must also review your file for any legal ineligibility you may have that would prevent you from receiving a visa. This could include, but is not limited to misrepresenting a material fact either in your current or a previous visa application, criminal convictions, overstaying a previously issued visa, or a medical ineligibility.

At the end of the interview, you will be told whether you have established your eligibility for the IV. If you have not brought a required document such as a police clearance or your medical examination, you will be given a 221g letter with instructions on how to schedule a second interview once you have all of your required documents. If you have not established your eligibility for an IV, your case will be referred to the consular section's eligibility review unit for further evaluation.

Stage 4: Return of Passport and Documents

If you establish your eligibility at the time of your interview, the consular officer will retain your passport and documents. If you would like your original documents returned, you must provide a clear copy of your documents at the time of the interview. The passport then has the visa placed inside it and the documents are placed in a sealed packet. You can pick up your passport and sealed packet any Monday through Thursday after your interview at 3:00 p.m.

When you receive the sealed document packet it must not be opened by anybody. It must remain sealed. If the document packet is opened, you must schedule an appointment to have the packet resealed. You can use the visa and accompanying document packet to travel to a U.S. port of entry and seek admission as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).