Immigration is a complex subject, often with more questions than clear answers. Below are some of the most common questions asked about United States immigration.
- What is the USCIS?
USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and is the federal agency overseeing U.S. lawful immigration. According to the Department of Homeland Security, each day the USCIS adjudicates some 26,000 requests for immigration benefits, processes about 200 refugee applications across the globe, and grants asylum to 45 individuals who are already in the U.S. Another 150 or so people are screened for protection based on fear of persecution, and immigrant information and supporting documents are verified on a daily basis. At more than 137 Application Support Centers across the United States, fingerprints and photographs are taken to verify identity, then security and background checks are run. An application, request, or petition can be denied if an individual fails to appear for their biometrics appointment. USCIS also ensures employment eligibility of new hires in the U.S. and welcomes new citizens at naturalization ceremonies.
- What’s a USCIS Number?
Everyone who applies for a green card will be issued an Alien Registration number. This does not include those who are in the U.S. temporarily, say on a business or tourist visa. (Those on an F-1 student visa with a work authorization will be issued an Alien Registration Number even though they are not applying for a green card). You can find your USCIS Alien Registration Number on the notice that tells you your green card application has been received, as well as on any approval notices or correspondence from USCIS.
- What is a Green Card?
A “green card” is officially a Permanent Resident Card that allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. The card received the nickname “green card,” because, in the beginning, the cards were actually green, and were in paper form. Today, they are a yellowish-beige colored plastic card with many upgrades, including the individual’s photo on both sides, embedded holographic images to discourage counterfeiting, and an image of the Statue of Liberty. Optical stripes on the back are no longer used for green cards.
- How Do you Obtain a Green Card?
Once you have determined you are eligible for a green card, you will file Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence Status) with USCIS. You will be required to include any fees required, as well as all supporting documents. Once the USCIS receives your application they will review it to determine whether you have filled out the form correctly and included all required documents. An interview will be scheduled, and if everything checks out, you will be issued a green card.
- What Happens at the Green Card Interview?
As the final step in acquiring your green card, the interview is the step that most individuals fear the most. If you are obtaining a green card through marriage, the interview is likely to be more vigorous than for other green card categories to ensure you are not committing marriage fraud. You may be asked certain questions that will ensure you are who you claim to be and will be asked to swear to tell the truth under oath. You’ll be asked your full name, and similar questions as to your date of birth and the date you entered the United States. You’ll be asked about your criminal history and asked whether you have ever voted in the United States. Furthermore, you will probably be asked whether there have been any changes in your life since you submitted your green card application. If you have any requested documents, you will show them to the person interviewing you (you will receive instructions prior to the interview). While it’s normal to be nervous, do your best to relax, and answer the questions honestly.
- Is a Green Card Permanent?
Your green card (USCIS Form I-551) is generally valid for ten years, although some green cards may have no expiration date. If you have only been granted conditional permanent resident status, your card is valid for 2 years.
- What are the Most Common Reasons for a Green Card Denial?
The most common reasons green card applications are denied include:
- Health-related reasons, such as a communicable disease, failure to provide proof of required vaccinations, you are a known drug abuser or addict, or you have a physical or mental disorder that is a threat to yourself or others.
- You have a criminal conviction on your record.
- You are deemed a security threat because you have engaged in terrorist efforts, have a former involvement or membership in Nazi or totalitarian parties, or are a participant in any group adverse to U.S. policies. Likewise, you may also not have engaged in espionage, sabotage, or any activity to overthrow the U.S.
- You are seen as a likely public charge—that is, you are deemed likely to become dependent on the U.S. government for financial support or long-term care.
- You are an immigration violator because you have entered the U.S. illegally, gained entry via misrepresentation, or abused the visa process.
- You don’t meet the requirements for the application you have submitted. It is crucial that you supply all documents requested and follow the instructions for the application to the letter.
- You failed to attend the required appointments. After you file your green card application, you will be scheduled for fingerprints and an interview appointment. You must attend these appointments—or any other appointments set by USCIS.
- Your underlying reason for your green card application is denied. As an example, if your application is employment-based, then your sponsor will have filed a petition on your behalf, or if your application is family-based, your sponsoring family member will have filed a petition. If USCIS determines that the underlying petition is not legitimate, then they will deny your green card application.
- You changed jobs after filing an employment-based application.
- Your denial was made in error. If this is the case you can file a Motion to Reopen or an Appeal.
- Can I Work While I’m Waiting on My Green Card?
If you are currently living in the United States, you can apply for a work permit while you are waiting on the outcome of your green card. If you already have a valid work visa (H-1B or L-1), you can continue working in the U.S. while your green card is being processed. If you are a relative of a U.S. citizen, applying for a green card under family-based, your work permit application is usually filed as part of your green card application package. Relatives of green card holders must wait until they are eligible to file their green card application before they apply for a work permit.
- What is a Marriage Green Card?
A marriage green card allows spouses of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders) to live and work in the United States under permanent resident status until they decide to apply for U.S. citizenship (three years after receiving a marriage green card). To obtain a marriage green card, the marriage relationship must be established, then an application for the green card is made. You will then attend the required interview then wait for the decision.
- What is an Employment-Based Green Card?
Gaining LPR status via employment requires that you fall into one of three “preference” categories. The first preference includes an extraordinary ability in athletics, education, business, arts, or sciences or being an outstanding researcher, professor, multinational manager, or multinational executive. The second preference includes being a member of a profession with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, and the third preference includes being a skilled worker, a professional, or “other” worker.
- What is the Visa Bulletin?
Each month the U.S. Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin that shows which green card applications can move forward, based on when the petition was originally filed. Since Congress caps the number of green cards that can be issued in certain categories each year, there are always backlogs.
- What is Conditional Permanent Residence Status?
A conditional green card is usually issued to a spouse who has been married less than two years at the time their green card was initially approved. A conditional green card is valid for two years, then the holder of the conditional green card must file Form I-175 to remove the conditions and obtain a permanent green card.
- What is a “Bona Fide” Marriage?
Bona fide literally means “in good faith” but is generally taken to mean “real” when applied to marriage-based green cards. During an interview, the interviewer will attempt to discover whether the couple is genuinely in love and intend to stay married—as opposed to a marriage entered into for the purpose of circumventing immigration laws.
- What is an Affidavit of Support (I-864)?
An Affidavit of Support is a contract an individual signs, pledging to use his or her financial resources to support the immigrant named on the application. This is a legally enforceable contract—the sponsor’s responsibility usually lasts until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, or is credited with 40 quarters of work (10 years).