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Do you intend to move to the USA? Let us answer your questions about the process to obtain a green card

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By Ana Laura Castro, Ana Carolina Gorrera e Juliana Dias

WHAT IS A GREENCARD

A Green Card is an authorization to live in the United States that confers the status of permanent resident (“Lawful Permanent Resident” or “LPR”).  In some cases, Green Cards can be conditional.  To better understand your particular case, it is essential to consult with a lawyer that specializes in immigration.

With a permanent resident status it is possible to live and work anywhere in the United States.  The majority of Green Cards must be renewed every 10 years, without the need to show merit again, by simply applying for a renewal of the document, as is done with passports and other documents.

FIRST STEPS

A request for merit assessment of the case must be presented to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), the US government agency responsible for approving applications of Green Cards and work visas. This means that the petition and forms that make up the application for the immigrant visa are sent for analysis by a USCIS official. Some Green Cards may need a Labor Certification, which must be done before the Department of Labor (“Department of Labor” or “DOL”).

The approval date of the petition sent to the American government will determine the processing time for your Green Card. In cases where it is necessary to submit a Work Certification to the DOL, the date of the certification of this authorization will act as an important milestone. The relationship between the dates and available Green Cards is given in the Visa Bulletin (Priority Date) which is made available each month.

STATUS ADJUSTMENT X CONSULAR PROCESS

The processing of Green Cards, following the approval of the merit assessment, can be done in two ways: through an Adjustment of Status, when the recipient is already  in the United States (“Adjustment of Status”) or with the Consular Processing (“Consular Processing”) done at the NVC (“National Visa Center”).  It is worth noting that this decision is made beforehand, when submitting the merit request, and must be in accordance with the applicant’s case.

The option for Adjustment of Status is considered when the applicant is already located on American soil with a non-immigrant visa.  Normally, the processing time for this case ranges from 8 to 14 months.

The Consular Process happens with an agent from the American consulate located outside the United States, which means that the process is done in the country of residence of the applicant.  With regards to the consular process, from pre-processing through the NVC to the emission of the Green Card, it usually takes 12 months on average.

Below we will explain in detail the specifics of each kind of process.

HOW IS THE PROCESS WITH THE ADJUSTMENT STATUS

An Adjustment of Status is the process of altering the status of a non-immigrant visa to an immigrant visa, which confers the status of permanent resident to recipients that are already physically present in the United States. This way, the person can change from one type of visa to another without the need to leave the country.  An application for Adjustment of Status could be submitted with an application for travel authorization (Travel Document) and, in addition, with the request for Work Authorization (EAD).

It is important to note that this request for status adjustment can also be made in conjunction with the submission of the merit petition, that is, at the time of the analysis of the merit.  This decision must be made on the basis of the analysis of the case with the assistance of your lawyer. 

For this reason, before proceeding with the application and request for status adjustment, it is recommended to conduct an analysis of the applicant’s specific case, since for the approval of the request for adjustment of status, the beneficiary must be considered eligible.

There exists a list of requirements for eligibility, for example:

  1. The beneficiary must be physically present in the United States;
  2. Has legally entered the country;
  3. Prove that they don’t fit into the new policy of “public burden” analysis, among others.

It is also necessary to analyse the dates indicated in the Visa Bulletin, a tool made available by the American government, which shows which visa categories have Green Cards available for emission according to the request for adjustment of status that will be carried out.

Finally, the request for adjustment of status must be accompanied with a package of documents, put together based on the applicant’s case, including various supporting documents, as required by each USCIS form.

HOW IS THE CONSULAR PROCESS CARRIED OUT?

Once USCIS approves your petition for an Immigrant Visa, it will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) in order to start the pre-processing of the request for permanent residency.

Within approximately 2 months, from the date of your case approval, the NVC will create a case number for your Consular Process (“NVC Case Number”).  This case number will be sent to you by email.

With this NVC Case Number it is possible to access and send invoices for payments of your filing fees (and for each member of your family) and proceed with the payment.

It is important to note that there exist “quotas” that  are enforced in granting of the Green Card depending on the visa being applied for. Your application will only be awarded by NVC if it is in accordance with the availability and with the dates indicated in the Visa Bulletin.

When the payment is processed by NVC you will have access to the online forms.  Once the forms are duly completed and revised, you can start the submission of the forms online and send the support document package to the NVC. 

The NVC will receive the documents and inform you if it is necessary to submit any additional documents.  If not, they will hand over your case to the United State Consulate in accordance with the country of residence of the beneficiary, in order to make available a date to conduct the consular interview.  The NVC will send you emails to keep you informed on the status of your case.

About 2 months after receiving your case, the Consulate of your country of residence will make available a link for scheduling.  After the consular interview, the Consulate will send a bill for payment of the emission fee for the Immigrant Visa, which must be paid at the bank branches available to the designated consulate.  After paying and delivering the receipt to a consular official, the visas will generally be sent out within 10 working days.

With the visas in hand, there is a deadline (which ranges from 6 months to 1 year, depending on the visa emitted) to enter the USA and start your permanent residence. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VISA BULLETIN TO OBTAIN A GREEN CARD

The American government possesses a limited quantity of Green Cards (immigrant visas) available for emission every year: 226,000 for family-based visas and 140,000 for work-based visas.

The law limits the percentage of this number that can be used by each country and each category.  That being said, there could be some variations in the number of available visas depending on the year, this is because quotas that are not approved in one fiscal year can be carried over to the following year.

Therefore, the US government uses the Visa Bulletin monthly to manage these numbers and, based on that, determine and inform when it will be possible to apply for a Green Card processing request in your case, or even when it can be analyzed and approved.

In essence, the Visa Bulletin should be used to understand the final step of the Green Card Process, whether with regards to the consular process (NVC) outside of the United States or the status adjustment from within the country.

It is important to keep in mind that the Visa Bulletin, as previously mentioned, is a public tool published monthly and is in effect only during the month it was made available.  When the month is over, a new Visa Bulletin will be sent out and will come into effect.

Click here to access the official USCIS link and get access to the tool Visa Bulletin.

If you are interested in starting the process to obtain your green card, get in touch with the professionals at Drummond Advisors to help you.