The green card interview is a big moment, and a lot is at stake. People are understandably nervous. Adding to the emotion are dramatic recreations of interviews in the media. If, however, you are prepared, the green card interview can be quite painless – and sometimes even pleasant!
Pelton + Balducci is a Louisiana-based team of experienced immigration lawyers, and we are prepared to help you ace your green card interview.
The Green Card Interview Process
In most instances, green card interviews occur in family-based “adjustment of status” cases (“adjustment of status” or “adjustment” refers to the process of applying for permanent residency from within the United States).
Of these, most of the cases scheduled for interview are those based on an applicant’s marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) conducts the interviews at their field offices across the country. The interview should generally take place at the field office closest to the residence of the adjustment of status applicant.
The most important part of being ready for the interview is the proper preparation of your forms and documentation of your case.
When preparing your applications, it’s good to think about trying to make the USCIS officer’s job as easy as possible. Follow the directions for the forms and provide all the required information and relevant documents to prove the qualifying family relationship and the applicant’s eligibility for permanent residence. Have quality copies of the documents that are easy to read, and make sure that your documentation is well organized.
Of course, the applicant will in fact need to be eligible for adjustment. Many factors impact eligibility, including the qualifying family relationship, an applicant’s immigration, and criminal history. It’s important to note that not all individuals who are eligible for an I-130 petition are eligible for adjustment of status.
Therefore, it can be helpful to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine the best path to permanent residency and whether you’re eligible for adjustment.
Important Questions About Your Green Card Interview
So, you’ve confirmed your eligibility for adjustment, and you’ve done a great job of completing the forms and of documenting your case. You’ve filed forms and you’ve waited the long USCIS processing times. Now you’ve finally received the notice for your green card interview!
Here are some FAQs about the interviews that we’re answering based on our decades of experience representing adjustment applicants, and we hope that they’ll help to eliminate some of the mystery – and maybe some of the anxiety – about the interview.
Do I have to go to court for my green card interview?
As noted above, the adjustment of status interview will be at the USCIS field office. This is not a court, and USCIS officers are not judges. They are federal employees. They have individual offices, which is where they conduct the interview. Some adjustment cases do occur in court, but this is only for cases that are filed in court.
What are the officers like?
In our experience, the officers are often very decent people who are trying to do their job well. Many of them have government backgrounds, including experience in the military, law enforcement, the State Department, or other USCIS offices. A number of them have international experience and are genuinely interested in people from different backgrounds. Some are lawyers, but most are not.
The officers are also instructed to maintain a professional and impartial demeanor. They have a lot of files to get through, since USCIS is chronically backlogged and is currently understaffed. So you’ll sometimes get an officer who is focused on adjudicating the case, but might not have the warmest disposition. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
How do I prepare?
You should be familiar with the forms and documents you have submitted. You must bring your interview notice. Read your interview notice carefully, and follow its instructions to prepare for your interview.
In addition, you should bring a copy of everything that you filed, along with the originals of all the documents submitted. You should include any updated identification and government documents, as well as updated documentation of your relationship.
Generally, documents you should bring to the interview include:
- Appointment notice from the USCIS
- Government-issued photo ID
- A complete copy of I-130/I-485 package
- Originals of all documents submitted to support your case
- Any other travel documents if you traveled while waiting for your interview
- Civil Surgeon exam (if not previously provided)
- Updated documentation of your relationship
It’s also advisable to know important dates (e.g., wedding anniversary, family members’ birthdays). However, remember that much of the interview will likely focus on things that you are very familiar with (i.e., your relationship with your spouse). A lot of memorization is usually not necessary.
What do officers ask about? How nosy are the officers about a couple’s personal life?
The officers will review with you the I-130 petition and I-485 application for adjustment of status. Usually, they don’t review the forms in their entirety, but be ready for questions from any part of these forms.
The forms address:
- Basic Personal Information, including your legal name, other names or aliases, your date of birth, your place of birth, your address, your phone number, your email address;
- Residential History, including your current address, addresses from the past five years, last address outside the U.S., and dates at each address;
- Family History, including your parents’ legal names, your parents’ place of birth, where do your parents currently live;
- Employment History, including your current job, if any, dates at your current job, former jobs, dates at former jobs, unemployment history;
- Criminal and Prior Immigration History, including arrivals and departures from the U.S., your status within the U.S., records of arrests, charges, and convictions in any country of residence.
Officers are instructed not to ask unnecessarily about delicate topics. The officers are specifically instructed not to ask about sex. Such inquiries should not be necessary to determine whether there is a real relationship. If sexual discussions, or other inappropriate topics, are raised by an officer, it’s likely something that should be reported to a supervisor.
Will they separate me from my spouse?
This usually happens only in cases where officers suspect marriage fraud. (The consequences of marriage fraud are very severe, so don’t get married just for the sake of the papers!)
Remember that USCIS officers are chronically overworked, and separating spouses makes the interview at least twice as long. So, they generally don’t want to do it if it’s not necessary. In our experience, it’s somewhat rare these days for spouses to be separated.
Separation is more likely to happen if there’s not much documentation in a case or if the documentation is poorly prepared and/or contains inconsistencies. The officer may also separate a couple if there is something that arouses suspicion in their demeanor or answers to the officer’s question.
If they separate me from my spouse, is our case lost?
Not at all! If this happens, it’s understandably stressful. Just maintain your composure and try to understand where the officer’s concern is coming from. Answer the questions honestly. If you’re nervous, you can even say so to the officer and ask for a moment to collect yourself. If you don’t know an answer, simply acknowledge that you don’t know. It may be helpful to explain why you don’t know the answer.
We have definitely seen cases approved after spouses were separated, so it’s important not to panic or give up. Generally, if you have a real marriage, it’s very likely that you will have the answers you need to reassure the officer – even if it means explaining to the officer why you don’t know something that they expect you to know.
Will I know right away if my case is approved?
Sometimes, officers will tell you on the spot that your case has been approved. Many times, however, the officer needs to review a file after the interview or speak with a supervisor before issuing a decision. Sometimes, the officer will request additional information and issue a “request for additional evidence” or “RFE.” The RFE will list what additional documentation is needed and set a deadline for providing the information. It’s extremely important to meet the deadline, or your case may be denied.
What if there’s a delay in issuing the decision?
Unfortunately, there’s not much that you can do right away if there’s a delay in issuing the decision. If a delay has been very long (e.g., a year), you can sue the government to compel USCIS to issue a decision. But that gets expensive, and it’s clearly a long time to wait. Thankfully, such delays after an interview are rare in our experience.
How long will it take to get my green card?
If your case is approved, it often takes somewhere between one week and one month after the interview for you to receive your green card. The card will be sent to you by mail, so it’s extremely important to confirm with USCIS that they have your correct mailing address on file. You can confirm your address with the officer at the time of the interview.
Contact Pelton and Balducci Louisiana Lawyers Today
Don’t let bureaucracy and the green card interview process stand in the way of your American Dream. Our team of immigration lawyers in New Orleans can answer any questions you have about the green card application process and interview, then help you get started. Contact a Louisiana attorney at Pelton + Balducci today.