My wife (US national) and I (Italy national) have been married for over two years and we are currently based in the UK. Her mom got really sick with dementia and we're thinking of moving back to the States to spend the last few years she has with her. I would like to ask if anyone in this forum has applied for a green card while outside of the States.

I have so many questions I thought I would list them one by one

  1. How long does the whole process take from start to finish?
  2. What was your timeline to get the I130?
  3. How did you get the I864? Did your US spouse have to move to the States before you? If you got the I864 through savings, how much do you have to have in savings?
  4. Did you get your green card before getting to the States? Or do you have to open an envelope at border patrol only to find out if you have been granted the green card?
  5. What kind of documents will I need to get if I have lived in 3 other countries in the last 10 years?

Other than all of the above questions are there any other things I should consider to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible?

  • 1
    This question belongs on Expatriates, but I can tell you about number 4: the contents of the envelope opened at the border are not a surprise. You only get the envelope after the petition is approved and the visa granted.
    – phoog
    Mar 15, 2019 at 10:53
  • More on #4: the actual green card is mailed to you after you arrive in the US, but the immigrant visa itself becomes a temporary green card "upon endorsement," that is, when the officer stamps it to indicate that the immigrant has been admitted for lawful permanent residence.
    – phoog
    Mar 15, 2019 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


I have not applied for permanent residency through Consular Processing, but I can answer some of these questions based on what I've read.

  1. It varies, but I believe it's on average about a year from the filing of the I-130 to receiving the immigrant visa, though it could be longer now as USCIS processing times have been increasing lately. Since she is residing in the UK, she qualifies to do Direct Consular Filing of the I-130 with the USCIS international office in London, which could be a little faster than filing the I-130 with USCIS in the US; although USCIS recently announced a proposal to close all international offices, so I'm not sure how much longer that option will remain available.

  2. Not sure what you mean by "timeline to get the I130". If you mean the time from filing of the I-130 until it is approved, I believe it is a few months; you can check the USCIS processing times online.

  3. The I-864 requires that the petitioner be domiciled in the US, or plans to reestablish domicile no later than when the immigrant immigrate. So it's possible for the petitioner to not move to the US before the immigrant, but then in that case the petitioner won't be able to show any US income. According to the I-864, since the immigrant is petitioned as the spouse of a US citizen, you need 3 dollars of assets for every dollar of insufficient income. If your wife's household income and assets are insufficient, you can try to find a "joint sponsor" who fills out a second I-864.

  4. A green card (I-551) is proof of permanent residency, and you do not actually become a US permanent resident until you enter the US with your immigrant visa, so obviously you cannot get a green card before you enter the US. You will receive a US immigrant visa at a US consulate abroad for you to travel to the US, and when you are admitted, you automatically become a US permanent resident, and your immigrant visa will turn into a temporary I-551 (proof of permanent residency) for one year, which you can use before you receive the plastic card. The immigration packet won't contain something that says whether to admit you or not -- if the consulate didn't think you were eligible, they wouldn't have given you an immigrant visa in the first place.

  5. I believe that if you are doing Consular Processing, you will need to submit a police certificate from your country of current residence if you've lived there for at least 6 months, and also need a police certificate from every country you've lived in for more than 12 months since you were 16.

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