Have you decided to apply for a green card? There are many different paths to permanent residence, and knowing what to expect from the process can give you invaluable peace of mind.
The way you obtain a green card will depend on many different factors—including your current location. Your location is what determines whether you will go through consular processing or adjustment of status. The following is a breakdown of both paths. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Kanu & Associates, P.C. for more personalized information.
Consular processing is when a foreign national applies for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. If your goal is to obtain a green card, you will apply for an immigrant visa, which will most likely require a family member or employer in the United States to file an immigrant petition as your sponsor. Once this petition is approved and a visa becomes available, you can apply for the visa and attend an interview at the appropriate consular office.
If the consular officer grants you a visa, you will present it to Customs and Border Patrol at a U.S. port of entry. Keep in mind that a visa is not a guarantee of entry into the United States. The CBP officer makes the final decision regarding whether you can enter the country. If you successfully pass through inspection, USCIS should mail you your green card, and you will be a lawful permanent resident.
Consular processing is also for nonimmigrant visa applications. If you obtain a nonimmigrant visa, your stay in the U.S. will be temporary, but you may be able to renew your status. Some nonimmigrant visas have dual intent, which means you may be able to obtain a green card through the adjustment of status process.
Adjustment of Status
While consular processing is for visa applicants who are currently living abroad, the adjustment of status process is for those who are already living lawfully in the United States. As with consular processing, the adjustment of status process will most likely require a sponsor to file an immigrant petition on your behalf. Once the petition is approved and a visa is available, you can apply to adjust your status to lawful permanent residence. All of this will occur without you needing to leave the country.
You may be able to adjust your status if you:
- Were granted asylum or refugee status at least one year ago
- Entered the U.S. on a K-1 nonimmigrant visa (the fiancé(e) visa) and married your sponsor within 90 days
- Entered the U.S. on a “dual intent” visa (i.e. a nonimmigrant visa that allows you to adjust your status to permanent residence at a later time)
Common dual intent visas include the H-1B, L-1, and O-1 nonimmigrant visas. You may be able to adjust your status if you obtained a nonimmigrant visa without dual intent, but this is a difficult process. Nonimmigrant visas without dual intent require you to prove that you fully intend on returning to your home country once you complete your work, study, or other qualifying activities.
Can Undocumented Immigrants Adjust Their Status?
Generally, adjustment of status is only available to those who are living in the U.S. lawfully. If you accumulate unlawful presence (either by entering unlawfully or staying in the U.S. after your visa expires), USCIS will deny your green card application, and you will need to leave the United States. Once you leave, you will not be able to enter the U.S. again for another three or ten years (depending on how long you lived in the U.S. unlawfully). You will then need to go through consular processing to obtain a visa.
However, some individuals who accumulated unlawful presence may qualify for a waiver. If you obtain a waiver, USCIS forgives a factor (e.g. unlawful presence) that would normally prevent you from qualifying for a green card. Obtaining a waiver is difficult, however, and professional assistance will be critical to your success.
Begin Your Process with a Seasoned Attorney by Your Side
At Kanu & Associates, P.C., our attorney has more than 15 years of experience guiding clients through consular processing, adjustment of status, and countless other immigration-related procedures. No matter what type of status or benefit you seek, we have the resources needed to maximize your odds of success.