Immigrant visas, or "green cards," entitle aliens to lawful permanent residence status in the United States. There are two methods of obtaining an immigrant visa: Either through adjustment of status or the consular process.
ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS
Aliens meeting the requirements set below may be eligible for permanent residency by applying to adjust their status while still in the United States.
The requirements for adjustment of status are generally:
- Legal entry into the United States:
- The alien seeking adjustment of status must have been admitted or paroled into the U.S. after being inspected by an INS officer at the port of entry. There is a 'Grandfather' exception to this rule, in which he/she can pay a penalty of $1,000 if the 'petition' was submitted to the INS before January 14, 1998., when the law "sunset".
- Continuous lawful status:*
- It is required that the adjustment applicant has never violated his/her status in any way. There are a few exceptions to this 'basic rule.' Otherwise, he/she has to pay a penalty (if petition was submitted before January 14, 1998), as explained above.
- Legal status at filing time *
- Further miscellaneous requirements:
- (a) not admitted into the U.S. as an alien crewman
- (b) not entered the U.S. in transit without a visa
- (c) not entered under the Visa Waiver Pilot Program ( except immediate relatives )
- (d) not admitted to the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident based on a spousal relationship or an investment
- (e) adjustment application is not based upon marriage enterd into during pendency of removal or related judicial proceedings
Please note that these are just a few common requirements and are only intended for general information. There may be more requirements depending on the individual immigration case of an applicant. Besides, some requirements allow exceptions and waivers.
- Eligibility ( through an approved petition ):
- The alien is eligible for immigration as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, as a person selected under the diversity program or as a preferred immigrant sponsored by family or employer.
- No inadmissibility grounds
- The alien mustn't be subject to inadmissibility grounds.
- No foreign travel:
- While the greencard application is pending, the alien shouldn't leave the U.S. unless an advance parole is approved. If he/she does leave without an approved advance parole, the greencard application will no longer be valid.
The advantages of adjustment of status:
- Time and expense of returning to applicant's home country for consular processing are avoided.
- The alien may receive a temporary work permit at the time of filing.
The adjustment of status procedure:
Each INS office has its own procedure for filing the application. Generally, however,
- The applicant must file an application with the local INS office either in person or by mail.
- INS will review the application and may interview the applicant at time of filing or on a later date. Some INS offices may waive the interview.
- Applicant will receive a visa number upon completion of a satisfactory interview.
Aliens who do not qualify for adjustment of status may apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate.
THE CONSULAR PROCESS
This is the process of obtaining an immigrant visa from U.S. consulates abroad. Eligibility is determined by priority dates and numerical limits of eligible persons based upon applicant's home country. According to a recent law change, aliens staying unlawfully in the U.S. may be barred from re-entering the U.S. This law starts counting the days of unlawful status from April 1, 1997. Thus, persons who left before September 27, 1997 weren't affected by this law. Otherwise, an illegal stay for more than 180 days bars the alien from re-entering the U.S. for three years. A ten year bar applies if the alien stays illegally in the U.S. for one year or more.
- The applicant must file at a consulate in the consular district in which the applicant resides or last resided. In a few cases, a consulate in a third country, i.e. a country where the applicant neither resides nor last resided, could be used.
- The application will be sent to the Immigrant Visa Processing Center. This Center will determine preferential order in which consideration will be given.
- If it is determined that a visa is not available for immediate processing, the applicant will receive a letter stating when he/she may anticipate an appointment.
- If a visa is available for processing, the applicant will receive a Packet III which includes a request for biographical information and a showing of the applicant's financial support. Some consular posts may even require fingerprints.
- If the request is satisfied, the applicant will receive a Packet IV which includes a request for a medical examination. The applicant must appear in person at the proper consulate with the requested items.
- A visa interview will be held at the consulate, at which time the appropriate fees will be due.
* Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, "special immigrant" physicians, diplomats or their family members, juvenile and Armed Forces service persons are exempt from the penalty requirement.
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