Where to apply for your green card and why.
There are two procedural ways to apply for your green card: applying from within the US, and applying from abroad.
Applying from within the US involves adjusting your status to that of a lawful permanent resident by submitting Form I-485 to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This path is called “Adjustment of Status”. The alternative is applying for an immigrant visa from your local US Embassy or Consulate abroad. If you’ve already been lawfully admitted to the United States, both paths may be available to you.
Most people who are already lawfully present in the US prefer to apply from within the US. It eliminates the need for any family separation and allows the green card applicant to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, commonly called a “work permit”) to use while the case is in process. The eligibility criteria for adjustment of status are spelled out in Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Sometimes, however, people violate their immigration status and become ineligible to adjust their status. This might happen, for example, if an applicant in an employment-based or family based preference immigration case has worked in the United States without authorization. Immediate relatives of US citizens (spouses, parent and children under 21) are forgiven for overstaying or working without authorization. However such a violation would render other types of green card applicants ineligible to apply from within the US. In that case, the applicant would only be able to get their green card by applying from abroad.
Currently, green card applications that are filed from within the US take several months to process to completion. However, in the past there have been periods where such processing took longer than a year. If the processing time were to lengthen again, it’s possible that applying from abroad could be faster than applying from within the US.
If you apply from abroad, it typically would not take longer than a few months from the time that you submit your documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center until you are scheduled for an immigrant visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate. Assuming there are no grounds of inadmissibility, you would generally receive your immigrant visa within a matter of days after your immigrant visa interview. You could then promptly proceed back to the United States and be admitted as a permanent resident upon arrival at the airport.
As a result, if you have the option of applying either from the US or from abroad and there are no grounds of inadmissibility, you may wish to use consular processing because of the certainty that having an appointment date provides.
When applying for adjustment of status in an employment-based case, an interview is usually not required. By contrast, a personal appearance is always required at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The interview will generally take up an entire day.
Furthermore, you are required arrive at the city in which the U.S. consular post is located at least several days before the interview to allow time for a medical examination. If you don’t live in a city with a U.S. consular post, that could mean taking at least a week off from work and staying in a hotel. On the other hand, you may be required to travel to the embassy or consulate on short notice, which could mean paying a high price for a last minute airline ticket. And if any problem arises at the interview, you could be stuck outside of the United States until the problem’s resolved.
There are some other considerations to keep in mind. If you apply from abroad, you will need to submit of additional documents including police clearances for every country where you have lived since age 16 and military service records. You don’t need to submit these documents if you apply from within the US.
Also, if the US consular officers decide to deny your application for an immigrant visa, you have no right to review or appeal. In contrast, if an Adjustment of Status application from within the US is denied, the applicant can make a “Motion to Reopen” to try to correct the problem, or renew the application in removal proceedings. Generally the applicant may remain in the United States with employment authorization while those proceedings are pending.
Applicants for immigrant visas abroad must not have previously overstayed or otherwise remained illegally in the United States for longer than 6 months or they will be subject to either a three year or ten year bar to admission. The bar is three years if someone was unlawfully present for longer than 180 days but not more than one year. The bar is ten years if the duration of the unlawful presence was longer than one year, even by a single day. A waiver of the unlawful presence ground for inadmissibility is available if the applicant can show that denial of readmission will result in extreme hardship to the applicant’s parent, spouse or child, who is a US Citizen or Permanent Resident.
Finally, applying from abroad is normally done in the applicant’s country of citizenship. If you want to apply for a green card at a US Embassy in a country where you aren’t a citizen, you’ll need advance permission of the consular officials at that US Embassy and you’ll need to have permission to legally reside in that country.
If you’re eligible to apply for your green card from within the US, you have a lot to consider. All in all, there are some very good reasons to apply from within the US: you can legally work and remain with family while you wait to become a Permanent Resident, and if you’re applying for an employment-based green card you probably won’t even need to be interviewed. However, if you don’t have family or a job lined up in the US, applying from abroad is still a reasonable option.