Communication from USCIS to Consulates
An alien cannot enter the U.S. simply because USCIS issues an I-797 approval notice. A beneficiary must first obtain a visa from a consulate based on the I-797, or be permitted to enter through a U.S. port of entry (POE) or preflight inspection facility (PFI) based on the I-797. For this to occur, USCIS must somehow communicate the approval to a consular post, POE or PFI.
With the implementation of the Petition Information Management Service, upon approval of the petition, USCIS used to forward a copy of the approval and duplicate petition to the Kentucky Consular Center, which uploaded the approval and petition into PIMS. Now that USCIS no longer requires a duplicate copy of I-129 petitions and supporting materials, it may be that the service centers in Vermont and California are directly scanning the petition into PIMS. In any case, on the day of the beneficiary's interview abroad, the Consular officer accesses the approval and petition by entering the EAC or WAC number found in the upper left-hand corner of the I-797. In general, it takes approximately 72 business hours for PIMS to reflect the approval information. Note, though, that consular posts are prohibited from issuing visas if the approval information is not in PIMS, even if the applicant(s) is armed with the original approval notice. If the approval information is not in PIMS at the time of the interview, the consular post will contact USCIS, but this may result in an additional delay.
Although the consular officer has access to a full copy of an approved petition in PIMS, it may be beneficial for the beneficiary to bring a hard copy to the interview.