From watching old movies, one gets the impression it is so easy, to fall in love, marry, then whisk your new spouse onto a Pan Am jet back to the USA.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. There are many steps needed to bring a foreign spouse to the USA and the just start after the honeymoon.
Before you decide on the spouse visa path, it is essential you understand just how long it will take before you make any irrevocable decisions or actions.
Many of my clients were shocked and surprised after they returned from their honeymoon to start the visa process to find out not only is the spouse visa slower than a Fiance Visa, but in fact the time it takes is measured in years not months or weeks.
Today I will share with you the actual facts.
I am Fred Wahl the VisaCoach and I help you get through a confusing and frustrating Immigration process so you can have a happy life together in the USA with your foreign partner.
Now, lets talk about:
How long does it take to get a CR1 Spouse visa?
As of 2019, the answer is 14 to 18 months on average.
6 to 8 months USCIS
5 to 7 months NVC
2 to 3 months Consulate
I regularly get calls from people saying those numbers must be wrong, because they found a website or person who promised a MUCH shorter processing time so what’s their secret?
Well the secret is they are either telling you what “you want to hear” so they can get your money, or just referring to one step of the process, not ALL the steps from initial submission of your petition, to visa embossed onto your spouse’s passport
When I give time estimates I always use what is relevant to the couple, and that is starting from the day USCIS receives the petition, ending on the day your foreign spouse gets the visa.
Two different departments of the US government are involved, USCIS (homeland security) and the Department of State.
From Mid 2017 through now Homeland Security recently is getting their job done relatively slowly, currently taking 6 to 8 months. (this compares to processing times of a 2 to 3 months years ago)
Why is USCIS now taking 2 to 3 times as long?
I call this the Trump Effect. President Trump after taking office in January 2017 has mandated that USCIS vigorously enforce and administer immigration laws, take no short cuts. The goal is to restrict Legal immigration while stopping illegal immigration.
“We have to get much tougher, much smarter, and less politically correct,” Trump said.
What this means is that they are very closely examining and scrutinizing all cases looking for reasons to deny. In addition cases that regularly had their interviews waived now specifically there is an Executive order that no interviews regardless of the strength of their evidences, may be waived.
The result is USCIS has more work to do, has more bases to touch in the processing of EACH case. And while President Trump has promised to hire more staff to handle the increased load, so far no new staff has been hired, but the workload has increased.
This is the Trump Effect. More work, with same staff. The result is that USCIS processing times for spouse visas have stretched to take at least 6 to 8 months. And it is possible this may even get worse, depending on how many new steps USCIS is asked to take, such as “extreme vetting” and “social media data mining” that are new labor intensive steps that have been proposed but not implemented yet.
USCIS Processing includes a background check by the FBI
In addition to the general slow down due to the “Trump Effect” what also affects how long it takes for USCIS to approve your case is a function of how complete your petition is, how busy the processing center is, how current your FBI file is, and a bit of luck.
The most obvious source of added delay is caused by incomplete and sloppy petitions. When USCIS finds a problem, processing grinds to a halt, and it is stopped until the problem is fixed. Sometimes the errors are so big that they don’t bother asking for corrections and simply deny a case outright.
Once USCIS finishes their part, the case is passed to the US Department of State.
The Department of State has a processing center in New Hampshire, called the National Visa Center or NVC.
NVC has now completely revised the way spouse visas are processed there. Previously one submitted a hard copy package of civil and financial documents for NVC to review. Now NVC has instituted a fully online system where all documents are submitted electronically over the Internet.
So far this system has been fairly buggy. With frequent technical outages and problems.
I believe they are trying to reduce manpower via automation using automatic scanning devices versus humans to review documentation. This has caused a lot of submissions of evidences that a human would instantly recognize as to what it is, to be rejected by the automatic system. This has caused a lot of frustration and delays as many documents need to be resubmitted numerous times, before being accepted.
Hopefully, the bugs will be ironed out soon.
Once NVC is satisfied that all required documents have been presented, it forwards your case on to the American Consulate responsible to issue the visa. And at the same time notifies you and your spouse the date and time your spouse’s interview has been scheduled for at the consulate.
This is usually about 2 to 3 months later.
The Approval/Denial decision is made during the interview.
This is where the higher VisaCoach standard, for crafting “front loaded presentations” wins the day. The consular officer always reviews the case file before the interview starts. Our plan is that he will find many good reasons why he should trust you and approve the visa. Even before he invites your spouse to sit in front of his desk, he should already be mentally prepared to say “yes”. This makes the interview a fast and friendly, formality. Most VisaCoach clients hear “Welcome to the USA” in just 3 to 4 minutes
Then in about 2 weeks the passport with its new CR1 visa is returned.
Just as in medicine commercials on TV. “Your results may vary”.
Some of my clients get their visas faster, some slower.
If in 2019 you plan for between 14 to 18 months average CR1 Spousal Visa processing time you won’t be far off.
By Fred Wahl