What Is DCF?
Direct Consular Filing (DCF) is the unofficial term for filing an I-130 petition via a Consulate overseas, rather than through the US Service Center. While not everyone will qualify to do so, this process can expedite the speed in which a beneficiary can enter the United States and become a Green Card Holder (US Permanent Resident).
Current DCF procedures state that if a US Citizen lives overseas they may file the I-130 for a foreign spouse, child or parent at the US Consulate / USCIS Field Office governing their place of residence. In most cases permanent residence abroad must be legally established for a period of six months prior to submitting an I-130 petition (reference). In addition, emergency cases, such as life and death of health and safety, and cases determined to be in the national interest can be processed without the residency requirement being met. Examples of family emergencies include minor children who would be unexpectedly left without a caretaker. Examples of national interest include facilitating the travel of United States military and other USG direct hire employees assigned overseas who are pending transfer on orders and need to petition for immigrant classification of their spouse and minor children at posts overseas.
Note: There may be a few rare cases where a non-resident US Citizen overseas may be able use the DCF procedure. For more information please visit the DCF Forums Section.
Finding Information on DCF at your Consulate
Visit the US Department of State website to find your consulate. Once at their homepage you should visit the Immigrant Visa (IV) section to look for information on direct filing of an I-130 (DCF).
Contact the Consulate via phone and confirm what you are wanting to do with them. Many consulates have different procedures for DCF so you will want to be sure that you confirm any details with them. Keep your questions very clear and fully describe your case.
If you are engaged and not yet married contact the Consulate prior to getting married to see if they can send you instructions in the mail (or refer you to them on their website). Often you can begin to collect information or complete certain required actions (such as a medical) in advance of being married. Only the consulate can confirm this so make sure to ask if this is possible.
Regardless of your case, if you qualify, ask the consulate what documents are required and can be collected in advance. This will save you a lot of time when you are ready to file. Examples of things you might collect in advance are: birth certificates, previous divorce documents, medical records, etc..
Important Note: A US Citizen living overseas that wishes to complete the I-864, Affidavit of Support, for their spouse (as part of the DCF process to get an Immigrant Visa) will be required to have U.S. domicile/intent to reestablish domicile to qualify as a Sponsor for the I-864. In addition to having a US domicile/reestablishing domicile the US Citizen must either have employment that will continue (from the same source) when they move/return to the US, or, per the instructions on the I-864, the US Citizen and their spouse may use assets to qualify if the income requirement is not met. In many cases however a couple may need to get a joint sponsor to successfully fulfill the requirements on the I-864.
How long does the DCF Process Take
Every consulate is different however in many cases the processing time frame can be measured in weeks. For consulates with a higher case load or instance of fraud the processing time could be months. Regardless, DCF will almost always be faster than filing with the USCIS in the US. Additionally when you enter the US your spouse will immediately become a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) and their Green Card will be mailed to them shortly after arriving.
Finding other DCF VisaJourney Members
Sometimes it is nice to find other couples going through the same Journey. You can find a list of other DCF VJ members here. You can also visit the Direct Consular Filing Forums to discuss DCF and other related topics.
Typical DCF Procedure
1. You (and your spouse) will visit the US consulate to file your I-130 and required documents. Some consulates will accept the petition and supporting evidence via mail. Please confirm this via the consulate's website (or on the phone if possible). The following thread on the forums contains example cover letters for I-130 and visa applications: DCF Cover Letter Thread.
2- The I-130 will be adjudicated and either approved or denied. If it is approved the foreign spouse may apply for an IR-1 or CR-1 Visa (Immigrant Visa).
3- The foreign spouse will be required to submit a DS-230 Part 1 (visa application) as well as several required items on a checklist that the consulate will provide. The checklist will include items such as a Police Certificate, Birth Certificate, Previous Divorce Records, an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), and others.
Note: As suggested above, if you had spoken with the consulate early on you may have already collected certain required documents. If you have them with you when filing for the Immigrant Visa you may be able to submit them with the visa application and thus expedite the processing of your case. As a general note, submit photocopies of all original documents unless otherwise directed by the Consular staff. Be sure to bring originals when visiting the consulate in case they need to see them. Remember that you must sign all documents in ink. Pay attention to certain documents that ask you NOT to sign until witnessed by a consulate officer!
4- The US Citizen's spouse will have their Immigrant Visa Interview. The US Citizen Spouse does NOT have to be present at the final interview. Once all paperwork and background checks are complete and assuming the interview goes well, the Immigrant Visa will be issued and attached inside the beneficiaries passport. The time delay from the interview to the visa being issued is typically a few days. Immigrant Visas are typically valid for six months and can in some cases be extended (you must request this in advance of the visa expiration and receive approval by the embassy -- do not assume this is possible unless confirmed by the consulate). The first entry into the US must be made before the expiration date on the Visa. This is very important.
5- The foreign spouse can now legally enter the US. At the Port of Entry they will have their Visa/Passport stamped indicating their legal status in the US. Their status is now that of a US Legal Permanent Resident. Within a few weeks an official Permanent Residence Card (Green Card) will arrive in the mail. Additionally, if on the visa application DS-230 II you applied for the Social Security number your Social Security Card will be mailed to you within a month of entering the US. If you did not apply for the SSN on your visa application you can visit your local Social Security Agency to apply for one. Make sure to being your passport/Visa and Green Card if you have received it.
Note: Make sure to read the Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants document by the USCIS. This document explains your rights as a Legal Permanent Resident. It explains your right to work legally within the US as well as travel in and out of the country with your Green Card.