Service centre filing is the method used by applicants when the US citizen is currently residing in the US. It is the slightly simpler method, in that there are no problems proving US domicile and, if the USC is working, then proving sufficient income is simpler. For this reason some families may decide for the USC to move back to the US rather than applying in their current country of residence. This method used to take a lot longer, however recently the system appears to have become more efficient. (The fees have gone up, and it seems maybe they're being used well!)
From sending off the first form till entering the US could take as little as 4 months. I took 6 months, as I had to delay my interview by a month and faffed around for a few weeks between sending off forms!
The petitioner is the US citizen, and the applicant is the intending immigrant. This time-line will focus on the case where the immigrant is the spouse of the USC.
1. Send the I-130 to the appropriate USCIS service centre. The form and instructions can be found here:
The current filing fee is $355. With this form you must also send a completed form G-325A for both the petitioner and the applicant. This form can be found: You will need to send the petitioner's birth certificate, so obtain a copy of this in advance if you need to. Also the marriage certificate, a recent passport photo of each of you, and other proof of your relationship.
For couples who are getting married and then starting the immigration process, my advice would be to complete as much of the forms in advance as possible. Then the only interruption to the immediate aftermath of the wedding will be to obtain the wedding certificate as soon as possible and then mail the forms.
2. You will receive notice that your forms have been received, for me this took 2 weeks. But don't start worrying if it takes longer!
3. You will receive notice that your petition has been approved and your case has been forwarded to the National Visa Center. For me this was 3 weeks after (2).
4. A couple of weeks after this, the NVC should contact you by mail. The petitioner will have to pay the fee for I-864 (Affidavit of Support) and the applicant will have to return form DS3032 (Choice of Agent).
4.1 The current I-864 fee is $70. Once payment has been received the petitioner will be given instructions to mail off this form. If you need copies of your tax transcripts then you can obtain these in advance (free) from the IRS by calling 1-800-829-1040. They take a couple of weeks to obtain. Request the past three years. If the petitioner's income is below the level needed then you may need a joint sponsor, check the levels here and research the I-864 so that you are ready to fill it in by this point.
4.2 The DS3032 lets the applicant tell the NVC how to contact them. This form will be sent to both the petitioner in America and the applicant at their address. For some reason international mail is very slow when the NVC is involved, so you may not want to wait to receive it. As soon as the petitioner has received the DS3032, you can either get them to fax you a copy, or just download it off the internet and mail it off. The most important thing is the email address: this is probably how you will receive future communications, and is the fastest and surest method.
5. Once the NVC has received the DS3032, they will then invoice you for the immigrant visa processing fees. These are currently $400. Once you have paid these online the applicant will be able to download and complete the DS230. With this form you will need to send two passport photos, a photocopy of your passport's biographic date page, and both originals AND photocopies of the following documents: birth certificate, marriage certificate, and police certificate for all countries in which you've lived. To avoid delay, obtain the police certificate in advance. For the UK, you can find the form to request it here: . Standard service is £35 and takes 10 working days; premium service is £70 and takes 2 working days. This doesn't include the time allowed for it to be posted. With premium mine was dated a Sunday, so might be worth it if you're in a rush!
6. I received the email with my interview date less than a month after sending off the DS230. (NB: I did not receive the letter at my UK address until AFTER the interview date.) The interview was for 3 weeks in the future. The Embassy now requires receipt of your medical results before they will conduct the interview. So having the medical any time over about a week prior to your interview date should suffice. However you can have it much earlier: as soon as you receive your case number you can book an appointment. I don't recall ever receiving any information on the medical, other than "we must have your medical results" in my interview appointment letter. The medical must be carried out with Knightsbridge Doctors in London. . The medical currently costs £190. Make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations in advance, if possible.
After your interview, if your visa is approved, you will have to pay about £14.50 for courier service for delivery of your passport. You should received this about 2 working days later.
Summary: Obtain birth certificates, etc. as needed. Mail I-130. Whilst waiting, research the I-864 and obtain any tax transcripts, sponsors, evidence of assets needed. Once you've been invoiced for the I-864 you can obtain police certificates and book a medical.
Be aware that waiting time for an interview is a lot less than it used to be, so once you've sent off your last form aim to be in the UK from 5.5 weeks after and onwards.
Normally, you will want to make this process as fast as possible. If however at any point you need to delay the process, then you can simply hold off on sending the next form. If the NVC doesn't hear from you for a year, then you will have to start the entire process over again. Once your case has been forwarded to the Embassy and you have received an interview date, you can still delay and request a later date. Once you have been issued your visa you must use it within 6 months. You can still return to the UK for a short time after this if you need to finish selling a house, etc., however being absent from the US for too long, or too often, is not allowed.