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What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing and adjusting status to permanent resident through filing an I-485?

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There are two steps to applying for a green card: the first is the I-140 or I-130, the underlying petition to establish your eligibility for a particular employment-based or family-based green card category. The second step is the actual green card application. The green card can be obtained either through an immigrant visa at a consulate abroad, or through adjustment of status within the US through submitting a Form I-485 to USCIS.

There are advantages and disadvantages for the consular processing option and the adjustment of status option, so it is important to choose the right option that best serves your needs. Please see the below table for a comparison.

Consular processing Adjustment of status (I-485)
Ability for concurrent processing with the underlying I-130 or I-140 There is no ability to concurrently process the I-140/I-130 and the immigrant visa. The underlying petition (I-140 or I-130) must be approved before the immigrant visa process can be started.


If the priority date is “current,” the adjustment of status petition (I-485) can be concurrently filed with the underlying immigrant petition (I-130/I-140). This can significantly save the total processing time it takes to get the green card.
Location of applicant The applicant will apply for the immigrant visa at the U.S. consulate at their country of nationality or primary country of residence. The consular processing option can be initiated by an applicant either from outside the US or from within the US. The applicant will need to travel outside the US to attend the immigrant visa interview at their home/residence country’s consulate. The applicant needs to be already inside the US and maintaining a valid non-immigrant status in order to submit an adjustment of status application. An I-485 cannot be submitted while the applicant is physically outside the United States. People who visit the US on ESTA also cannot adjust status (except immediate relatives sponsored by a US citizen).
Extension of authorized stay in the United States Applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing does not provide any extension of an applicant’s authorized period of stay in the United States. If the applicant wants to remain in the United States, they must independently hold and maintain a non-immigrant visa status. After having applied for an immigrant visa, it may be difficult to be apply and be approved for a new non-immigrant visa in certain categories because it may be challenging to prove non-immigrant intent. Having timely filed an I-485 before an applicant’s current status expires will extend the applicant’s authorized period of stay throughout the time the I-485 is pending, and the applicant does not need to independently maintain or extend their current non-immigrant status in order to continue staying in the US while the green card application is pending.
Ability to travel internationally An applicant may continue to travel internationally in and out of the United States on a different visa while their immigrant visa application process is ongoing. There is a risk the applicant may encounter more scrutiny at the US border regarding non-immigrant intent if they try to enter into the US on a non-immigrant visa while their immigrant visa process is ongoing, but an argument can be made that the applicant does not intend to immigrate during that particular visit. Once an I-485 is filed, in most cases an applicant cannot travel outside the United States without abandoning the application if they don’t have an advanced parole (AP) authorization. If the applicant is approved for an advance parole (AP), the applicant can use this to travel outside the United States and can be paroled back into the US without having abandoned their I-485 application. H and L visa holders are not subject to this restriction and may continue traveling on their H or L visas while the I-485 is pending.
Work authorization (EAD) possibilities Applying for an immigrant visa through a consulate abroad does not provide any independent basis of obtaining work authorization within the US. All applicants for an I-485, including dependent spouse applicants, can simultaneously apply for an employment authorization card (EAD), which authorizes the applicants to work for any employer in the US while their I-485 applications are pending. At the time of writing, the processing time for an EAD is several months.
Processing Times In many consulates, the immigrant visa process will take about a year counting from the approval of the underlying petition to scheduling the immigrant visa interview (assuming that the priority dates are current). In certain countries that are known for high demand on immigrant visas, the wait time may be longer depending on the consulate’s particular workload. The I-485 typically takes about a year to process, assuming the priority dates are current.
Interview In all immigrant visa cases, the applicant will attend an in-person interview with a consular officer. In some I-485 cases, especially in employment-based immigration cases, the USCIS has the discretion to waive the interview requirement. This means a case could go straight to approval without an interview.
Required documentation The applicant will be expected to bring originals of certain civil documents, such as a birth certificate and marriage certificate, to the interview. The applicant also needs to conduct a medical exam at their home/residence country by a panel physician approved by that particular consulate. The applicant will also need to obtain police clearance reports from their country of nationality or residence if they have lived there for more than 6 months, and from every country they have lived for more than 12 months after the age of 16. It is important to check the requirements for documentation as there are specific rules for each country. The applicant can submit legible scan copies of civil documents. The applicant needs to submit a medical report issued by one of the designated U.S. panel physicians, a Form I-693. Applicants with no criminal record does not need to submit a police clearance report, but if the applicant has received any criminal charges, arrests, or convictions, the applicant needs to submit certified police and court records. The applicant also needs to provide evidence they have continuously maintained a valid non-immigrant status throughout their stay in the United States.
Portability In employment-based immigration cases where an applicant is sponsored by a US employer, the original job offer must continue to be valid for the applicant to be approved for the immigrant visa. In certain employer-sponsored immigration cases, if a Form I-485 has been pending for more than 180 days in connection with an approved I-140, an applicant may “port” the green card application to a new employer for a new job offer in the same or similar occupational classification by filing a Form I-485 Supplement J.

As described above, there are important differences to how a green card application is processed under consular processing and under adjustment of status. Depending on an applicant’s priorities, such as the need for international travel, need to extend one’s stay in the United States, or a need for US work authorization, one option may work better than the other and would require strategic decision making.

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