NVC Process

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Created by VJ member Saylin on March 17th, 2014

Last update on March 12th, 2016 (updated interview thread link and dates in tax section)


This wiki will help guide you through the NVC stage, specifically for IR-1/CR-1 applicants and their derivatives. Along with this wiki, please read all official instructions. This wiki is merely to help you out and doesn't replace any legal advice.

  • Please note: all mentioned time frames are just estimates. Do NOT freak out if your case takes a little bit longer. The time frames are constantly changing. They also depend on NVC's work load for that day/week.


If you see anything that needs updating: please send me a PM letting me know and I'll edit the wiki to reflect the change.


Useful Information

NVC's website can be found here [1] and should be read in conjunction with this wiki.


Work Hours

NVC only works Mondays to Fridays. They do NOT work on Saturdays, Sundays, or US National Holidays. And despite what you may see or hear, they unlikely work any overtime.

And keep in mind, emails are automated and delayed. So, if you receive an email on the weekend, it does NOT mean they are actually working on the weekend. It's normal for it to take awhile to receive emails from NVC.


Phone Number

NVC - 603-334-0700 [HOURS: 7am - 12am EST, M-F]


Menu

For non-immigrant cases, call 603-334-0888

  • Press 1, for English
  • Press 2, for Spanish

After pressing 1 for English, the options are:

1, to verify priority date
2, to establish an agent, request fee bill or invoice number
3, to verify that they received your mail
4, to confirm date and time of interview
5, to update your mailing address, phone number, email address
6, if your case is at a US embassy or consulate overseas
7, for all other questions


Note: Either the petitioner or beneficiary can call NVC. Both are able to at this stage. Just make sure you have both names, dates of birth, as well as the USCIS receipt number (or NVC case number once it's assigned) on hand before calling.


Email Addresses

asknvc@state.gov - to email questions

NVCElectronic@state.gov - to email scanned packages for EP

NVCExpedite@state.gov - to email expedite requests


Links

Eligibility for Electronic Processing [2]

NVC for Montreal Beneficiaries - Electronic Processing and New Online Forms [3]

NVC Electronic Processing [4] [note: if doing EP in China, only enroll AFTER the invoicing of the AOS bill]

Thread on Ryan H's EP Experience through China [5]

Online Forms Portal (to fill out DS-261 and DS-260) [6]

Payment Portal [7]

Free Passport Photos [8]

Overview of NVC Process

To view a (NEW!!) flowchart of the below overview, you can find one I put together here [9]


-get case number and IIN, give email addresses over

-complete the online DS-261

-pay the AOS bill, once it's invoiced

-pay the IV bill, once it's invoiced

-complete the online DS-260

-submit both packages together

-respond to any checklists, if applicable

-get case complete

-get interview date scheduled

-case is sent to embassy/consulate

Step 1 - Case Number

Once your I-130 has been approved from USCIS, it will be sent to NVC (a part of the Department of State). Depending what service center the I-130 is coming from, this can take anywhere from a few business days to a few weeks. You may or may not get an email from USCIS/update on their website stating when it was sent.

You won't get correspondence from NVC when they receive your case from USCIS. You need to call an operator at NVC to find this out.

Once NVC does receive your case, it's currently taking around 3 weeks for a case number to be assigned..

If you'd like to stay on top of things, it's best to call about once a week after your NOA2 to see if NVC has received your case. Once they do have your case and about 2-3 weeks have passed since then, increase your calls to about 2-3 times a week (or even more if you wish) until you get a case number assigned.

  • Note: if your case doesn't arrive at NVC in a timely manner (timely manner being the current wait time), VJ member tokinaija suggests: "Call USCIS, and specifically request to be connected to a Tier 2 supervisor (bypassing the contract customer reps). When connected to a Tier 2 representative, request that you want confirmation that your approved case has been physically shipped to NVC. In amenable words, request for the specific date that the package was shipped. If you are lucky, you will get someone who would take the time to confirm this for you."

Once a case number is assigned, get that number along with the IIN (Invoice Identification Number) from the operator. If the operator doesn't want to give over the IIN (some operators are finicky), then just call back up later and try again. And don't worry about the BIN (Beneficiary Identification Number) as it's no longer needed. You only need the case number and IIN.

At the same time, you can give over both the petitioner's and beneficiary's email addresses. By doing this, ALL correspondence (initial information package, invoices, instructions, interview letter, checklists, etc) from NVC will be sent through email. This does not necessarily mean that YOU can send THEM information by email though. Only those eligible for EP (electronic processing) can email the AOS and IV packages (link to eligibility in the first section, under links).

  • Note: there is a difference between EP and online forms. Online forms are just that, online forms. The DS-261 and DS-260 are NOT part of electronic processing. Electronic processing (EP) is emailing in documents. Not everyone can do this yet. You still have to be eligible for EP before emailing in packages. The link to see who's eligible is in the first section, under links. Everyone though (regardless of country) is required to fill out the online forms (DS-261 and DS-260).


How to Find Out WHEN Your Case Number was Assigned

For those that don't call every single day and want to know exactly what date their case number was assigned, there's an easy way to find out that simply involves looking at your case number. The first three letters are the three-letter consulate/embassy code. The next four numbers are the year the case number was assigned. The next three numbers are the Julian date it was assigned, plus 500. And finally, the last three numbers are the sequential order of when it was assigned that date. You can find a chart with Julian dates here [10].

For example: MTL2014815162. Let's put some lines in to divide it up. So: MTL|2014|815|162. This means that this case is going through Montreal and the number was assigned on November 11th, 2014, and it was the 162nd case that day to be assigned a number.

Step 2 - Submit DS-261

The DS-261 replaces the old DS-3032 (Choice of Agent form) and is filed by the beneficiary. You'll have to wait for the DS-261 to become available on the online forms portal (link in the first section, under links). This is currently taking around a week or so from the case number being assigned. Once it's available, fill it out. It's exactly like the DS-3032, except online.

If you wish to see screenshots of the DS-261, you can do so here: Saylin's DS-261 screenshots [11] (these are screenshots from 2011, but should still be the same, or at least similar). To go through all the screenshots, click on the 'next' button (there are 6 images in total). Please note: the BIN referenced in the screenshots are no longer required.

On choosing an agent, most people select the petitioner as one. Although, to be honest, due to giving over both email addresses to an operator (and thus having NVC email all correspondence), this form has become moot as, no matter who is selected as agent, both of you will receive correspondence.

Once you've submitted the DS-261, print out the confirmation page at the end. This is for your own records.

  • Note: if needed, yes, the petitioner can file the DS-261 on behalf of the beneficiary. This is very common, especially due to the language barrier and/or no/low internet connection.
  • Note: if you have a lawyer/attorney/legal representative from the I-130 petition, then they'll be automatically selected as agent for your case, thus by-passing the DS-261. This also means that the IV bill will be invoiced at or around the same time as the AOS bill.

*Important note: Once you fill in the DS-261 and it shows as complete, do NOT go back into the DS-261 as it will re-set the date and start the clock all over again for ~30 business days.

*Tip: if after a week of submitting the DS-261 and the IV fee hasn't been unlocked yet, you can try calling NVC and requesting they review the DS-261 over the phone. If the operator refuses to do so, try again until you get a nice operator that is willing to do so.

Step 3 - Pay AOS Fee

Currently, it's taking around a week or so from the case number being assigned for the AOS fee to be invoiced (about the same amount of time as the DS-261 to become available on the online forms portal).

The AOS fee is $120 per case. If you have multiple cases joined at NVC, then you'll only have to pay ONE fee for all of them. For the IV fee though, you'll have to pay for each applicant.

The fee has to be paid with a US banking account on the payment portal (site linked in first section, under links). See information here [12] about paying both online or, if you choose to do so, through mail.

  • Note: if you're getting an error message ("Please be advised that the case that you have attempted to access is not eligible for further processing by the National Visa Center at this time…" or "This case is in the process of termination. Fee payments and online forms can no longer be accepted…" or "You cannot make online payments for your case at this time. Please contact the NVC if you have questions or need further information."), do NOT panic. This is actually good news! If you just got your case number, then this message means NVC is inputting your case in their system. If you get this message a few days after case number generation, then it's a good possibility that NVC is invoicing your AOS bill. And if this message appears a few days after DS-261 acceptance, then there's a good chance the IV bill is being invoiced.

Step 4 - Pay IV Fee

A few weeks after after you complete the DS-261, NVC will accept and add it to your case file. A few days after that, the IV bill will be invoiced and available to pay on the payment portal. You won't get an email of acceptance, so you need to call to find out when it's been accepted and added to the case file.

The IV fee is $325 per applicant.

The fee has to be paid with a US banking account on the payment portal (site linked in first section, under links). See information here [13] about paying both online or, if you choose to do so, through mail.

  • Note: if you're getting an error message ("Please be advised that the case that you have attempted to access is not eligible for further processing by the National Visa Center at this time…" or "This case is in the process of termination. Fee payments and online forms can no longer be accepted…" or "You cannot make online payments for your case at this time. Please contact the NVC if you have questions or need further information."), do NOT panic. This is actually good news! If you just got your case number, then this message means NVC is inputting your case in their system. If you get this message a few days after case number generation, then it's a good possibility that NVC is invoicing your AOS bill. And if this message appears a few days after DS-261 acceptance, then there's a good chance the IV bill is being invoiced.

Step 5 - Submit DS-260

The DS-260 replaces the old DS-230. As before, you will still submit the IV package, just without the DS-230. The DS-260 will be done online. It's only available once the IV appears as PAID in the payment portal. Like the DS-261, it'll be on the online forms portal (link in first section).

  • Note: depending on how prepared you are, the DS-260 can take a few hours. You can always save and return, if you wish; it doesn't need to be all done in one sitting. But, it'll take an hour at the least (30 minutes maybe if you're really fast). My suggestion is to have a DS-230 pre-filled out (found here [14]) and that way you can just copy over the answers. This will shave off quite some time if you prepare ahead. But be warned, there are some differences between the DS-230 and DS-260 where the DS-260 asks for more information. You can view screenshots (and thus the differences) here [15] from when it was first released back in 2010. NVC also has a page with DS-260 screenshots (from October 2013) found here [16].

As with the DS-261, print out the confirmation page at the end. But make sure to bring this one to the interview as NVC states it's required.

  • Note: if needed, yes, the petitioner can file the DS-260 on behalf of the beneficiary. This is very common, especially due to the language barrier and/or no/low internet connection.


How to answer the vaccinations question: Since there are some people having issues with answering this question, I thought it'd be good to explain it a little further as there's not just one right answer. If you have your vaccinations AND the record to prove it, then just explain that. If you don't have the vaccines and/or the record to show it, then again, just explain that, and add everything will be done at (or before) the medical. People are over-thinking this question when you really shouldn't be. Just answer honestly.

Step 6 - Gather AOS Package

The AOS package is all about the petitioner and whether or not they can financially support the intending immigrant(s).

Don't forget, it's highly recommended you write your case number on the top right of ALL documents (except the bar-coded cover sheet and the cover letter). This is in case NVC misplaces one of your documents. If it has the case number written on it, it has a much better chance of being reunited with the case.

Note: it is currently normal for it to show as N/A under affidavit of support documents and civil documents on the CEAC site. It's assumed NVC will use this feature in the future, but currently doesn't display anything.

Note: for petitioners living and working abroad, put $0 for the question on current income (unless your income will continue, then put the amount). In either case, include an employment letter with all the details and if your job will NOT continue, make sure it is stated as such in the letter. It'd also be a good idea to mention this in the cover letter.


Generally, the following is needed:


With no joint sponsors:

-Bar-coded cover sheet from payment portal

-Cover letter (optional)

  • You can find a sample cover letter I wrote here [17]

-Original completed, signed, and dated I-864 form by petitioner

-Tax information^^ of petitioner (either just the last year OR the last 3 years)

-Employment letter of petitioner (optional, but good proof of CURRENT income)

-Pay stub(s) of petitioner (optional, but good proof of CURRENT income)


With joint sponsors:

-All of the above of the petitioner

-Original completed, signed, and dated I-864 of joint sponsor

-Tax information^^ of joint sponsor (either just the last year OR the last 3 years)

-Proof of US citizenship/residency of joint sponsor (ex: copy of US passport, US birth certificate, US naturalization certificate, or front & back of green card)

-Employment letter of joint sponsor (optional, but good proof of CURRENT income)

-Pay stub(s) of joint sponsor (optional, but good proof of CURRENT income)


^^You have two choices here of what to send in:

- Tax return transcripts ordered from IRS (preferred by NVC and of most consulates/embassies) RECOMMENDED

OR

- Tax returns (1040), W2s, 1099s, and any other schedules/worksheets (if applicable)

Note: If you haven't filed this year's taxes yet and filed for an extension instead, you can submit the tax extension letter in lieu of an entire tax return or tax transcript. Please be warned though, the consulate/embassy may request for this year's taxes to be filed despite applying for an extension.


Which I-864 Form to Use

If you look at the USCIS website, there are a multitude of I-864 forms listed: I-864, I-864EZ, I-864A, I-864W, and even I-864P.

The I-864 is the most common of the forms used. This is what petitioners and joint sponsors use.

The I-864EZ has three different criteria points that need to be met before a petitioner can use it. Remember, if you do meet all the criteria, it doesn't mean you have to use it; you can still use the I-864 if you wish. But, since the I-864EZ is shorter (and thus easier) to fill out, if you can use it, I suggest it as there's lower chances of messing up and getting a checklist.

The I-864A is used for household members of sponsors. Typically, the only time I recommend using the I-864A is for spouses of joint sponsors who are deciding to contribute their income as well. So, in these cases, the petitioner would file an I-864, the main joint sponsor would file an I-864 as well, and then the joint sponsor's spouse would file an I-864A.

The I-864W is rarely used. The only time I see it used is for children immigrating (with one of their parents) who will become US citizens upon POE. Please read the I-864W and its instructions for more information.

The I-864P, which really isn't a form, is the poverty guidelines and is used to see how much income is needed for different household sizes.


Domicile

Please note, if the petitioner lives with the beneficiary abroad, you'll need to provide proof of US domicile with the AOS package, as well as bring it with you to the interview. Please read the I-864 instructions (pages 3 and 4) for information about it. This is NOT needed if the petitioner is living in the US. Here is a sample cover letter to include in the package (it lists MANY possible documents, some may not be applicable, of course, to prove that you have, or will re-establish, domicile in the US):


NAME

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

Form I-864

Part 4, Question 5: Country of Domicile


I, XXXX, am currently residing in FOREIGN COUNTRY with my spouse, SPOUSE'S NAME. Below you will find a list of attached documents to show that my principal residence is in the US and the steps that I have taken to return to the US with my family.


Steps I have taken to maintain US Domicile:

• Maintained my XXXX voter registration

• Maintained my XXXX credit card registered in the US with a US PO box

• Maintained my bank account at the XXXX Credit Union

• Maintained my bank account at XXXX Bank

• Maintained my XXXX drivers license

• Maintained my US retirement fund through XXXX

• Maintained my US investment account with XXXX

• Maintained my US PO box

• Maintained licensure by the XXXX

• Maintained membership in the XXXX

• Maintained my automobile in care of my parents


Supporting Documents for the above steps I have taken:

• Voter registration card showing permanent US address

• XXXX credit card statement showing US billing address

• XXXX Credit Union statement showing permanent US address

• XXXX Bank statement showing permanent US address

• XXXX drivers license showing permanent US address

• Retirement fund statement showing permanent US address

• Mutual fund statement showing permanent US address

• XXXX license currently up to date

• Renewal of XXXX membership

• County tax bill showing I still own a vehicle


Steps I have taken to return to the US to take up residence:

• Made arrangements for us to have a house to live in

• Contacted schools for requirements of things to bring to register my children in school

• Contacted my auto insurance company to find out about re-instating my insurance on my car

• Contacted shipping company for estimate of costs to ship belongings


Supporting documents for the above steps I have taken:

• Lease agreement for our house

• Email from schools regarding registration requirements

• Email from my former auto insurance company regarding my inquiry

• Email from XXXX with estimate and correspondence regarding shipping our belongings


I declare that I intend in good faith to re-establish my domicile in the United States no later than the date of spouse's admission into the US.

I certify under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the statements in this letter and all accompanying evidence are true and correct.

Signature: ____________________________________________________ Date: ______________________

Step 7 - Gather IV Package

The IV package is all about the beneficiary.

Don't forget, it's highly recommended you write your case number on the top right of ALL documents (except the bar-coded cover sheet and the cover letter). The writing of the case number on documents is in case NVC misplaces one of them. If it has the case number written on it, it has a much better chance of being reunited with the case.

Note: it is currently normal for it to show as N/A under affidavit of support documents and civil documents on the CEAC site. It's assumed NVC will use this feature in the future, but currently doesn't display anything.


Generally, the following is needed:


-Bar-coded cover sheet from payment portal

-Cover letter (optional)

  • You can find a sample cover letter I wrote here [18]

-Two passport-style photographs (2" x 2") of beneficiary (on the back, write: beneficiary's full name, date of birth, and case number)

-Copy of bio-data page of beneficiary's unexpired passport

-Photocopy of beneficiary's birth certificate

-Photocopy of marriage certificate

-Photocopy of police certificate(s)


Please read the link here [19] for additional documents if applicable (such as petitioner documents in IR-5 cases or divorce/military records or proof of permanent residency, etc).

Also read the country-specific documents found here [20] (start typing the beneficiary's country in search box, choose it, then click 'Go'). There may be additional documents needed not listed above.

Don’t forget: You’ll need to bring the original civil documents to the interview.


Translations

NVC's website states:

"All documents not written in English, or in the official language of the country in which application for a visa is being made, must be accompanied by certified translations and submitted to the NVC. The translation must include a statement signed by the translator stating that the:

-Translation is accurate, and

-Translator is competent to translate."

Despite this, I have seen cases of people getting checklists for not having translations of non-English documents. I'd suggest you get everything translated anyways to be on the safe side. It's not needed, but highly recommended.

Additionally, embassies/consulates in some countries require translations of documents into English even though they are written in the official language of the country, so it's best to check with the embassy/consulate to see what document translation requirements are.

Step 8 - Send in AOS and IV Packages

Once both fees have been paid and you’ve collected everything, send both packages together to NVC.

I suggest putting each package in a separate manila envelope (and clearly mark it and write "AOS" or "IV" on each one), then putting both manila envelopes inside one shipping envelope.

The address to send the package can be found on the bar-coded cover sheet from the payment portal. And it doesn't matter where the package is sent from (either in the US or abroad). As long as NVC receives it, that's all they care about.

  • Note: there may be two different addresses on each bar-coded cover sheet. Just pick one and send it there. It’s essentially the same address, just different departments. There’s absolutely no reason to stress about which address to choose as it’ll be directed to the correct department once it gets there.

Step 9 - Review: Checklists and Case Complete

It can take up to 60 calendar days to review packages. This INCLUDES checklists. So, this means 60 days to review the initial packages and, if you get a checklist, another 60 days to review that once they receive it. This is why it's important to make sure your packages are PERFECT before sending them off.

You will not get an email if your packages have been accepted. You have to call NVC every day (or as often as you want) and ask for updates on your case to find out if a package has been reviewed and accepted.

  • Note: if you're in the EP program, people have been getting acceptance emails, but don't ever rely on receiving emails from NVC. Call, call, call.

If you call and an operator says they haven't received your package(s) yet (even though tracking says it was delivered), don't panic! Unfortunately, the package may not show up in the operator's system until the package has begun to be reviewed. At that point, it's entered in the system. So, don't fret. If your tracking says it arrived, it arrived.


Avoiding Checklists

Here are a few common checklist items I see all the time:

-Use the correct numbers on the I-864/I-864EZ for past year's incomes. As it states RIGHT IN THE QUESTION, if you filed a 1040 (or 1040A), then use total income, and if you filed a 1040EZ, then use adjusted gross income. If you filed jointly, then make sure you use the combined income (since it doesn't separate the incomes) and then submit W2s to show individual income.

-Although the I-864 instructions say if the answer is none or N/A, then to leave it blank, do NOT do this. I have seen countless people get checklists for leaving things blank, specifically the question asking for place of residence on the I-864EZ. Although it says to fill it out only if it's different from the mailing address, I have seen dozens and dozens of people getting checklists for leaving it blank.

-Make sure every single question has been filled out. I quite frequently see people get checklists for skipping a question. Please take your time reviewing the form. And make sure everything is dated and signed.

-After printing out the forms, double check again that everything is filled out properly. I've heard that sometimes after printing, a box that was checked on the computer gets unchecked after it's printed. If this happens to you, just check it off by hand.


False vs. Real Checklists

If you sent the packages, then get a checklist asking for one of the packages, just ignore it; it's a false checklist. Please understand that as soon as NVC reviews a package, they very frequently generate a checklist for the other package, without even checking if they have it in the building first.

The only time a checklist is real (and not false) is if it asks for something very specific missing in a package (like a police certificate, for example). If it asks for something general, like the entire package, then you can assume it's false. Call up an operator at NVC to confirm either way.


Case Complete

There's currently a way to know (not 100% guaranteed though) if you have case complete by looking on the CEAC site. If the AOS fee changes from PAID to N/A, then I'd suggest calling NVC up pronto as most, if not all, people who have reported seeing this have a case complete.

Although case complete emails used to be rare for non-EP folk, it's becoming more common (it might even be that everyone is getting them now). But, they're severely delayed (sometimes a week or more!), so do not rely on it (unless you're in no rush to find out). The fastest way to find out if your case is complete is to call an operator at NVC and ask.

After the case is complete, the case is put in a queue to get an interview date scheduled.


Warning: If you apply for an expedite, be warned that if you have any pending packages (re: not reviewed yet), then NVC may not go around digging for it when they forward your package off. If that's the case, then NVC should return the package to you once they do get to it, but it may be past the interview by then. So, you'll need to re-create the package to bring to the interview. So, if you want to apply for an expedite, it's best to do it BEFORE sending any packages.

Step 10 - Interview Date

The time frames for case complete to interview date scheduled vary by country and consulate/embassy. Some people find out within a day or two, others a few weeks, then the few unfortunate that wait a few months.

To best way to get an estimate for your beneficiary's country is to search, using the timeline feature, when others got case completes and when they got their interview dates scheduled. To do this, go here [21] and choose the beneficiary country's from the drop-down (leave the service center drop-downs alone). Then, sort by interview date by clicking on the down arrow to the left of the 'Interview' column. There's no 'Case Complete' column (or even when the interview date was scheduled), so you'll have to open each individual member's timeline. This may sound like a lot of work, but if you want to get a good idea of estimates for your beneficiary's country, you'll crunch the numbers.

Not only can the above be helpful, but if you join VJ member dwheels76's case complete/interview threads, you can wait along with others (and often others of the same country) to see when interview dates start getting assigned. The current thread is for April, found here [22]. She has her own spreadsheet (found here [23]) and if you want to be added, fill out the form here [24].

Once an interview date is scheduled, NVC will then ship out your case to the consulate/embassy. Typically, this is done the next day after the interview is scheduled, but it can take up to a week or more in rare cases. You can find out when NVC ships your case by simply calling and asking.

After NVC

Medical

After you have the interview letter, you can schedule a medical.

  • Note: there are a few countries (like the Philippines, for example) that allow advance medicals (ie: you can get the medical done as soon as you have the first piece of correspondence from NVC, instead of waiting for an interview date to be assigned). Check with your panel physician to see if they're one of the few.

From NVC's website, you can find a list of FAQ on the medical here [25].

You can also find country-specific medical information here [26] (choose the three letter consulate/embassy code from the drop-down).


Interview

You can find country-specific interview information at NVC's website here [27] (choose the three letter consulate/embassy code from the drop-down).

For an extensive list of possible interview questions, read this wiki here [28].

For ideas on proof of relationship evidence to bring to the interview, read this ENTIRE thread here [29] (don't just read the first page!).

And you can also get some good ideas on how to organize everything for the interview if you read this thread here [30].


POE

After you get approved at the interview, there is one more fee to pay. It's for the actual green card and the current cost is $165. You'll receive a letter about this at the interview, which you can read in advance here [31]. This fee can either be paid before or after POE, but it's recommended to do it before, so as not to cause any delays.

It may also be possible to get a tracking number for the green card. Follow VJ member Darnell's advice:

"Call USCIS, get a human, ask for the TRACKING NUMBER on the green card. Yes, such a thing exists, and they will give it to you when asked. Then call USPS and inquire for status. In the end, if USPS sent it back to USCIS, you'll need to call USCIS again, talk with an ISO about 'returned mail pieces', go over your address again on the telephone, and ask to have all returned mail pieces sent back to you."

Extra: Tax Information

Here are two frequently asked questions and my answers in regards to tax season:


Do I have to file 2015 taxes before I can fill out the I-864 form?

No. Up until April 18th, 2016 (tax deadline), you can still use 2014 as the most recent tax year. If for whatever reason you want to use 2015 as the most recent year instead (due to whatever reason), then yes, you can use 2015 as the most recent year as well. Both are valid options.

Keep in mind though: if you submit 2014 tax information as the most recent year and your interview is scheduled after April 18th, then 2015 tax information will likely be required at the interview.


As the petitioner, what filing status do I use for my tax returns?

You have three options: married filing separately (MFS), married filing jointly (MFJ), or head of household (HOH).

For HOH, there's some criteria you need to meet to be able to use this. Please see the IRS website for more information. For most people though, it's either between MFS or MFJ.

Before I continue, I will say this once and only once: YOU CANNOT FILE SINGLE. If you are married, you are married. Doesn't matter where in the universe your spouse is, YOU ARE STILL MARRIED. You will be lying to the IRS if you file as single, and if caught, could cause serious issues. If you have already filed taxes, either this year or last, and were married, yet filed as single, amend your tax return ASAP. If at the time of the interview, there are tax return transcripts in the case file showing the petitioner filed as single, this can be a HUGE red flag. The CO will have to wonder why the petitioner filed as single when they're trying to get a spousal visa. In their eyes, your relationship can be seen as a fraud and could be reason for denial.

For both MFS and MFJ, the petitioner will have to file a paper tax return. Electronic submissions won't be possible the first year.

Filing MFS will probably be the easiest for most people as it doesn't require any extra documents from the foreign spouse, nor does it require their signature. On the tax return, where it asks for the spouse's SSN, you would put 'NRA' for Non-Resident Alien. Continue filling out the rest of the return as normal. That is all you have to do. (And if desired, once the spouse has immigrated to the US and has obtained a SSN, the petitioner can then amend their tax return to MFJ, to possibly get a bigger refund, but this isn't required.)

Filing MFJ will typically mean a bigger refund up front, with no need to amend. This route takes a little more work though as the beneficiary will have to fill out a W7 (available on the IRS site), which requires a signature, and include document(s), so they can obtain a ITIN (it's like a SSN, but for the sole purpose of filing taxes, and is available for those not currently living in the US). This would then be included with the tax return, and sent to a special address for ITIN generation. For most countries, it may be hard to get the needed documents. (For Canada, it was uber easy, and this is how my husband did his taxes while I was still in Canada, waiting for my interview). Please view the instructions for the W7 form on the IRS website to see what documents will be needed.

For more information, please read this page on IRS's website here [32].


--Saylin