Last updated on August 8th, 2018
Commonly referred to as “getting a green card,” gaining permanent residency is an important step for any immigrant to the United States. Generally, immigrants already living in the country will file for an “adjustment of status,” while applicants living in foreign countries will instead petition through their local consulate.
In both cases, you’ll have to attend an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer before receiving your green card.
These interviews vary in length and subject matter, but are generally much simpler than you’d imagine. For example, if you’re applying for a marriage-based green card, the interview might focus on your wedding or your relationship with your spouse.
The interview is the last step you’ll have to complete in the permanent residency application process, but there are a few things which happen afterwards. In this article, we’ll go over a few things you can expect to happen in the weeks after your green card interview takes place.
Make note, however, that the timeline we’ll be covering in this article is only the way the process is supposed to work. It’s not unusual for USCIS’s decision, or even the green card itself, to be delayed for weeks, and even sometimes months.
After the Interview
Typically, the USCIS officer is supposed to tell you whether or not you’ll receive a green card as soon as the interview finishes. As you leave the interview, the USCIS officer will usually also give you instructions on how to check your green card status both online and over the phone.
If you’re approved, you’ll receive an I-551 stamp on your passport. This stamp can act as proof of your permanent residency status until your official green card arrives in the mail. If you’re denied, the officer will generally explain the reasons for this denial. However, you should wait until your official denial paperwork arrives in the mail before making any decisions about your next steps.
In addition, approved applicants living in foreign countries will receive a sealed immigrant packet. Do not open this packet. You’ll give this packet to an agent at the border upon your arrival in the U.S. They will not accept your packet if it’s already opened.
Even if you pass the interview you won’t receive your green card immediately. USCIS only sends green cards out through the mail.
In many cases, however, USCIS will put off their final decision due to a lack of evidence. In this case, they’ll issue a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE). USCIS generally issues RFEs if something unusual comes up in your interview, or if they simply think something is missing from your application. You’ll usually have between 30 and 90 days to respond to a RFE with the requested information.
Only after USCIS has all the information they need will they issue a final decision on your green card application.
For marriage-based green card applicants, the officer may also request a fraud interview. The fraud interview usually takes place immediately after the formal green card interview. In it, the officer will separate you from your spouse and ask each of you several questions about your relationship. They will then compare your answers for any discrepancies.
If USCIS asks you to perform a fraud interview, you shouldn’t worry too much. Sadly, marriage fraud is fairly common, and USCIS prefers to be thorough with applicants applying under this type of green card.
A Few Weeks Later
There is no set timeline for when USCIS will send you a response for your green card interview. However, if there are no complications you should hear from them within a few weeks. A few common issues that might hold up this process include the RFEs mentioned earlier, as well as two additional security measures:
- Additional Security Reviews – USCIS will not send out your green card until all you pass all relevant background checks and other security measures.
- Processing Times – Sometimes you finish your interview before other parts needed for your application finish processing. In these cases, USCIS won’t send you your green card until these other processing times finish. For example, if the FBI is still processing your fingerprints, you won’t receive your green card until they finish.
During this waiting time you should check the status of your green card through the myUSCIS Case Status Search. You can do this both online and over the phone by entering the receipt number for your case.
Notification of Decision
USCIS is supposed to send out an official notification of their decision within 30 days of your interview. If USCIS approves your application, this notification will include a welcome letter. If they deny your application, the notification will include the reasons why, as well as documents detailing how you might appeal this decision.
However, this timeline is extremely optimistic. Often, USCIS pushes this timeline back due to the RFEs and other factors mentioned earlier. In reality, you might have to wait several months before receiving a notification of decision.
Notification of Approval
If you are approved for permanent residency you will receive a welcome letter from USCIS describing your new rights and responsibilities as a resident of the United States. They will then send you your green card through the mail. You might receive your green card as soon as 30 days after your notification of approval, however in most cases it may take several months for the package to arrive. You should periodically check myUSCIS for more information on this process.
Once you receive the green card in the mail, you may begin applying for jobs using the green card as proof of eligibility to work in the United States. You will not need any other employment authorization documents.
You may also apply for an unrestricted social security card and a drivers license. Your green card also allows you to travel abroad. However, USCIS requires that you return to the U.S. within a year.
Generally, your green card will not expire for 10 years. Near the end of your 10th year, you should file Form I-90 to renew your green card. Conditional permanent residents must instead renew their green card before their second year of permanent residency.
Notification of Denial
If USCIS denies your application, they’ll send you a letter in the mail stating the reasons for their decision. The letter will also indicate whether you can file an appeal.
In some cases, you may be able to file a motion to reopen or reconsider. However, only the petitioner (or sponsor) may file a motion or appeal, not the beneficiary. The motions to reopen and reconsider must be filed with Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.
Not every denial decision can be appealed. If your notice of decision letter doesn’t include this appeals section, you must accept the decision. For some residents, this means you must also leave the country.
With few exceptions, USCIS decisions are made “without prejudice.” This means that you may reapply for a green card as many times as you like. Of course, you should address your original reason for denial before spending the money and time on another application.
You will not receive your green card immediately after your interview, even if the officer approves your application. While USCIS may state that you’ll receive your green card within 60 days of your interview, this is rarely the case. In a more realistic timeline, you’ll receive your green card several months after the interview.
Sadly, the green card process is usually not quite as simple as we’ve made it out to be in this article. When applying for a green card you should always hire an experienced immigration attorney to make sure the process goes smoothly. An attorney can help you navigate the common pitfalls which tend to surround the immigration process, and make sure that your application is filed correctly and completely the first time. Further, they can help you deal with the inevitable delays which pop up in all green card applications.