There are two methods of securing permanent residence in the US once a person’s immigrant petition is approved by immigration and a visa becomes available for that petition. One is called Consular Processing; the other is Adjustment of Status. As the name implies, consular processing applicants apply for and process an immigrant visa at a US consulate abroad, most often in their home country. Adjustment of status is the process by which a person already in the US has their immigration status adjusted to that of a permanent resident. The applicant determines the desired method of processing at the time the initial petition for classification as an immigrant is filed.
Consular processing was once the only way to obtain an immigrant visa. When adjustment of status was created, it became highly popular and that attraction only increased after reentry bars were created in 1996. Those bars prevent certain people who leave the US after overstaying a visa from reentering the US.
How does one apply to consular process?
USCIS forwards the approved immigrant petition to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is part of the State Department. When an immigrant visa number becomes available, the NVC will send instructions on how to pay the appropriate fees. After payment of the fees have been received and acknowledged, the NVC will send a receipt notice and instructions on submitting the Affidavit of Support application and the online form DS-260 visa application, as well as required supporting documents.
Once the NVC has confirmed that all required fees, applications, and supporting documents have been submitted, they will send the file to the consulate to be scheduled for an interview. The NVC will send an interview appointment notice, which includes instructions on what documents the applicant will be expected to bring to the interview, as well as instructions on how to schedule the medical examination, which must be completed prior to the interview.
Are any other forms required?
Applicants will have to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) along with their complete federal tax returns.
Where do I send correspondence to the NVC?
The address for the NVC is:
National Visa Center
32 Rochester Avenue
Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801-2909
Depending on which consulate you will be applying through, you might be eligible to submit your supporting documents via email.
All correspondence with the NVC for a particular case should include the applicant’s case number in the upper right hand corner.
After the paperwork and interview are completed, what is the next step?
If the application is approved, the person will be issued an immigrant visa, which is good for only six months. If the person does not enter the US within that period of time, the visa will expire and the opportunity to immigrate will be lost.
If the application is denied, the principle consular officer at the post reviews it. If the officer desires, he can get a second opinion from the State Department. However, if, after this point, the denial is upheld, there is no appeal available to the applicant.
ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS
How does one apply through adjustment of status?
A person applies for adjustment of status with the USCIS from within the US. Adjustment applications are filed with a USCIS regional service center or a USCIS lockbox, depending on what type of immigrant petition, or other basis, the application for adjustment of status is based on. The filing addresses can change, so be sure to check at uscis.gov before a case is filed. Along with the adjustment form and biographic information form(s), results of a medical examination, an affidavit of support, if required, evidence of the approval from immigration and a copy of the applicant’s passport should be submitted. Evidence of any familial relationships must also be submitted, if family members are seeking to adjust their status with the principle applicant. Additional documents may also be required depending on the basis for the adjustment application. For example, an adjustment based on marriage to a US citizen should be accompanied by documents demonstrating that the marriage is genuine. In some situations, the adjustment of status application may be filed together with the immigrant visa petition.
Are any other forms required?
If the applicant wishes to work or travel abroad while the adjustment of status application is pending, additional forms must be filed. A person can receive work and travel authorization for either one or two years at a time, so in some cases, because of USCIS processing delays, the applicant must renew these documents.
Do adjustment of status applicants have to appear for an interview?
Not all adjustment of status applicants are interviewed, although the law provides that any adjustment applicant may be interviewed. Interviews are always conducted in marriage cases, and are common in other family relationships. Interviews are much less typical in employment-based cases.
After the forms and interview are completed, what is the next step?
After approval for adjustment of status, it usually takes a few weeks before the physical green card is obtained.
If the decision takes longer than 180 days, because of portability, an employment-based applicant may, in some situations, change employers without having to file new applications.
Applicants should note that even without the physical card, once adjustment has been granted, the applicant IS a permanent resident.
CHOOSING BETWEEN CONSULAR PROCESSING & ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS
Deciding whether to pursue consular processing or adjusting status can be a difficult choice.
Adjusting status has several advantages. First, processing can take place with no traveling abroad. Also, the applicant can obtain work authorization to allow them to work while waiting for processing to take place. Additionally, if the decision takes longer than 180 days, because of portability, an employment-based applicant may, in some situations, change employers without having to file new applications. Finally, processing in the US sometimes means that potential bars on reentry can be avoided that would keep an applicant outside the US for several years.
Another key advantage of adjusting status is that an I-140 employment based immigrant application and I-130 petitions for immediate relatives can, in some cases, be filed simultaneously with an adjustment of status application.
However, not everyone is eligible to apply for adjustment of status in the US. Also, some people would trigger a bar of inadmissibility when they travel abroad for consular processing, causing them to become ineligible for the visa. So it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before applying for either adjustment of status or consular processing.