Green Card Pathways Can Begin Inside or Outside U.S.

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For immigrants from around the world to live in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the pathway to green card status can consist of either consular processing or an adjustment of status. Immigrants who understand the similarities and differences between the two approaches can decide which process is more likely to result in obtaining the green card goal.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) describes consular processing as an avenue designed for those who’ve been granted approval of an immigrant petition and where an immigrant visa number is available immediately. In these cases, immigrants can apply to gain entry to the United States with green card status by applying at the U.S. Department of State (DOS) consulate abroad.

For immigrants who are already inside the United States and who want to remain in the United States while the application makes its way through appropriate channels, the process of applying for a green card is called an adjustment of status. Immigrants who pursue adjustment of status toward the goal of getting a green card can do so without returning to their native country.

It’s worth noting that the consular processing approach is an option also available to immigrants already living in the United States. Because this option requires that applicants leave the United States, the adjustment of status option tends to be the preferred option for those who are already inside the country’s borders.

Filing an adjustment of the status application instead of going through consular processing likewise lets immigrants avoid travel expenses and family separations.  A trip outside the country to complete the consular processing usually entails one week to ten days for the required interviews and medical exams.

While both the consular processing and the adjustment of status approaches are pathways to the same ends, the differences between the two are fairly stark. And while initial applicants should be filed only after a well-thought-out decision about the approaches, neither process is set in stone as applicants can abandon one approach for the other even after the process has gotten underway.

Just in terms of processing time, for instance, consular processing requests usually turn around in only four to six months. The adjustment of status process, on the other hand, can take several years to complete.

What’s more, each approach also trends toward different outcomes. The risk of refusal in the consular processing approach is less than the risk of refusal in the case of an adjustment of status application. A particularly compelling reason for this is that consular officers are prohibited from denying an immigrant visa based on discretion.

A faster turnaround time and also a reduced risk of denial come down on the plus side of the consular processing side of the equation for green card-seeking immigrants. At the same time, it’s worth noting that a visa denial from a U.S. Consulate is almost completely absolute. In contrast, immigrants inside the United States who pursue an adjustment of status course of action can challenge a denial through the administrative or judicial appellate processes.

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