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What is the process to apply for a green card from within the U.S.? What is the process outside the U.S.?

By March 11, 2022Immigration
Green Card and two passports

Foreign nationals may qualify to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. through many avenues, including employment, family, investment or humanitarian relief.  If you are applying for a green card while you are physically in the U.S., you will apply using Form I-485. If you apply for a green card abroad, the application will be processed at a U.S. Consulate in the country where you reside.

Applying for a Green Card while in the United States

Applying for a green card while in the United States is a called an adjustment of status. This application is filed on Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The application contains biographic questions as well as questions to help the immigration officer determine the applicant’s eligibility and whether there are any factors that would make them ineligible for the green card (for example, criminal issues or past immigration violations). The applicant must also submit supporting documents, a sealed medical exam and a filing fee. The exact documents & filing fee will depend on the category the green card applicant is applying under.

After the application is submitted, the applicant will receive a receipt notice with a tracking number for their case. Applicants can also apply for work and travel authorization when they submit this application and they may remain in the U.S. while waiting for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to process the case. Once USCIS has reviewed the application they will often call the applicant for an interview. After the interview, if the case is approved, the applicant should receive their green card in the mail within 60 days.

Applying for a Green Card at a U.S. Consulate

When you apply at a U.S. Consulate you go through a process called consular processing to obtain an immigrant visa. Under this process, the applicant will receive a notification from the National Visa Center to submit their supporting documents. After receiving this notification, the applicant will pay a visa fee and will submit Form DS260 and supporting documents. The required documents are similar to what is submitted for an adjustment of status but there are some differences, for example, you must submit a police certificate (and possibly more than one, if you have ever been arrested or lived in various countries in your life).

After the National Visa Center has reviewed these documents and is satisfied that they have all the required information, the case will be transferred to the U.S. Consulate for scheduling. The Consulate will then reach out to the applicant with the appointment date. At this time the applicant will also need to schedule a medical exam with a panel physician in their country of residence. The medical exam should be completed far enough in advance of the appointment that the results can be sent to the Consulate by the time of the interview.

If the application is approved, the applicant will receive a sealed visa packet and their passport will be stamped with the immigrant visa, which is generally valid for 6 months. The applicant must pay an immigrant visa fee and then enter the U.S. while the immigrant visa is still valid. When they enter, they will be taken to secondary inspection where an immigration officer will inspect their documents and put a I-551 stamp in their passport. The I-551 stamp is proof of permanent residency and provides work and travel authorization. The green card will then be mailed to the applicant within a month or two after their arrival in the United States.

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