Green Card Interview: A Lawyer’s Guide

The Green Card Interview

Below, find out everything you need to prepare for, and pass, your green card interview.  We’ll tell you what questions to expect, how to handle criminal and marriage issues, hiring a green card lawyer, and what to do after the green card interview.

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What Is A Green Card Interview?

A green card interview is an in-person question and answer session between you and an immigration officer, where the officer reviews your green card application and decides if you are eligible to become a lawful permanent resident.  Green card interviews are common, and if you filed a Form I-485, then it’s more likely than not that you have to go to one.

The interview takes place at a local field office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).  Usually you’ll appear in-person at the USCIS office nearest to your home address. You’ll enter the facility with your green card interview notice in hand. (Make sure you’re there on the right day at the right time.) Present your letter and you’ll be let through security. In most cases, you’ll be given a number and asked to wait to be called by a USCIS officer.

Once you’re called by a USCIS officer for your green card interview, you’ll be escorted to a private office. In the majority of cases, the interview will involve both the Petitioner and Beneficiary. The Petitioner is the person who asked the government to give someone else the green card, like a U.S. citizen spouse. The Beneficiary is the person who needs the green card.

At the interview, the USCIS officer will review your Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status.  The purpose of the green card interview is to make sure that you have provided accurate information and that you qualify for a green card.

What green card interview questions can I expect?

The questions you will get at a green card interview can vary. But there are certain ones that you can always expect.

First, you can expect the USCIS officer to verify the basic information in the applications you submitted.  These include:

  • Basic information such as your name, date of birth, your address and other similar information;
  • Immigration history, including dates of entry and departures, and whether you have lied to immigration officials
  • Criminal history, like whether you have been arrested

In the end, you should be ready to confirm all of the information on the forms, no matter what is asked.

Second, you may be asked about things not on the forms.  Know that USCIS conducts background checks for all applicants. This means that USCIS will search all government records to see if they find anything that could lead them to deny your case. If they find something on the background check, you can expect questions about it.  If it is especially negative, then you’ll definitely be asked about it.

This could be anything from a past immigration applications to an arrest or detention by police. So to prepare for these sorts of questions you should do the following:

  • Review any records relating to any past issues you had with immigration officials or police
  • Try your best to remember what occurred in case you’re asked details about the situation.

The most important thing to remember: If there is something that you did in the past that could be considered a problem, expect it to come up in your green card interview, and be ready with truthful, accurate information!

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How should I prepare for my interview if I have a criminal record?

If you have a green card interview and a criminal record, then you should still prepare using the advice above. But there some other things you need to do to be ready.

Here are some suggestions to prepare for a green card interview if you have a criminal record:

  • Speak to a qualified immigration attorney before you send your application to USCIS. This is because you need to know whether the criminal record can or will result in a denial.
  • Gather any court documents and arrest records related to the criminal incident. Why? The immigration officer will want to know what happened when you were arrested, and especially after you went to court.  In other words, did a judge find you guilty and punish you or did you admit guilt and have to pay a fine? One document you will need to hand over is commonly referred to as the court’s “final disposition” or the “judgment of conviction.”
  • Be honest. If you have a criminal record, tell the truth about it. If you lie and say that it never happened, this could cause more problems.

Be honest. If you have a criminal record, tell the truth about it. If you lie and say that it never happened, this could cause more problems.

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How should I prepare for a marriage green card interview?

Marriage green card interviews are conducted somewhat differently than a normal interview. When you file for a green card through marriage, you need to prove three additional things.

These are:

  1. Your spouse is a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident
  2. You’re in a legal marriage with your spouse. In other words, all prior marriages of you and your spouse were terminated by divorce or annulled by a court.
  3. You’re in a good faith marriage with your spouse — that you and your spouse are in a real relationship.

To prove these things, the officer will ask your spouse if he or she was born in the U.S. If not, then they will ask your spouse how they became a citizen or lawful permanent resident. The officer will then ask if you or your spouse has been married before. If you have, then the interview questions will be about how many previous marriages and when/how those ended. Finally, the officer will ask about your relationship: How you met, when you decided to get married and whether you want to have or already have children. The point of these questions is to verify that you are in a real, good faith marriage.

Remember that the marriage green card interview is not just about whether your are married to a person with legal status.  You still have to show that you meet all the other requirements for a green card.  So the green card interview questions, even in the marriage context, will cover your immigration history, and any encounters you may have had with immigration officials and the police.

 

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Do I need a lawyer for my interview?

Do you need a lawyer for your green card interview? This is a very personal choice and depends on the complexity of your case and your money situation.

That said, we can offer some help how to make the decision whether to hire an immigration attorney.

We start by asking what purpose the attorney will serve if he or she at the green card interview with you. Let’s review those:

  1. Protect your rights. The interview will be in a private office with only you, perhaps your family member, and the USCIS officer. If an attorney is present, he or she can make sure that the officer conducts the interview properly. For example, the attorney can make sure the officer asks only the questions necessary to make a decision. Sometimes officers may pressure you to answer questions that have no impact on the case but can be embarrassing or something you don’t want to share. The attorney can make sure this doesn’t happen.
  2. Explain your case. Green card interview questions are often about your past. If your past is factually complicated (i.e. a long story), then the attorney can help to explain it. For example, let’s say you were arrested by immigration a long time ago. There may be long story behind the arrest. An immigration attorney can help to explain your story clearly, and in a way that the officer understands. Without an attorney, it is possible that your answers to the green card interview questions will be misunderstood. If the officer misunderstands your answers, it can result in a green card denial.
  3. Discuss Legal Issues. Your case could involve a legal question. In other words, what the law is, and how the law applies your case, could be very unclear. A good immigration attorney can clarify the law for the USCIS officer.  For example, let’s say you have a criminal record. Sometimes a USCIS officer may mistakenly think the criminal record should result in denial of you green card application. An attorney present during this green card interview could explain the law to the officer and why your case should be approved.

Again, the decision to hire an immigration lawyer for the green card interview is a very personal choice. Our suggestion is that you use the above guidelines to assist in making the decision. In addition, it’s a good idea to try meeting with a few attorneys to get more information.

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Is it normal to have no decision after green card interview?

Yes, it is normal to have no decision after the interview.

There are several things the USCIS officer might need to do after your interview.

Often, USCIS officers are required to conduct further background checks after the interview. This means that they cannot give you a decision at the end of the green card interview. The officer just needs more time.

Your case may also involve complicated issues, especially if have a criminal record or negative immigration history. The USCIS officer may need more time to review your applications and decide with his supervisor whether you qualify for a green card. Or, the officer may need more time to research the law.

Other times, the USCIS officer will discover that he or she needs more evidence or information from you, and will request that through the mail.

Bottom line: do not expect a formal decision the day of the interview.  The best you can hope for is that the officer tells you that there are no problems and that you can expect an approval. If the officer does tell you this then it’s great news. This means that your interview went well and you’ll probably be approved.

After the interview, what's next?

After the interview, you may be wondering, “What’s next?”  The answer to this question varies depending on the circumstances. So we’ll now review some common questions and situations after the green card interview.

What’s involved in green card processing after the interview?

Assuming the officer has all required information and documents then there are a couple of possibilities. First, if your I-485 application is approvable then only final security checks remain. Meaning, the officer will confirm you have nothing in your record that would affect your green card application.

The second possibility is there are unresolved issues outside of your control. In other words, there are issues other than information or documents you’re able to provide.

For example, your green card interview could have involved proof that you entered the U.S. lawfully but you lost your visa. You’re, therefore, unable to give the officer actual proof of legal entry during the green card interview. Instead, you may have given the officer a sworn letter from someone who entered with you. The officer needs to confirm that this sworn letter is enough proof of entry for you to get your green card application, form I-485, approved.

If things went well, how long does it take me to get my green card after the interview?

This largely depends on the USCIS office processing your case. For offices that are less busy or very efficient, it can take as little as two weeks to receive the green card after the interview. For busier less efficient offices, it can take months to get your green card after the interview. These answers assume that your green card application, form I-485, is approvable. If there is a problem with the case then these timelines do not apply.

If my case had problems, how long will it take to get my green card after the interview?

If there are problems that arise at your green card interview, then it can take a long time to receive your card, sometimes even months or years. How long depends on the specific legal issue.  In cases involving legal issues, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney.

How do I check the status of an application after the green card interview?

Lucky for you, our website has an entire page dedicated to answering this question.   That said, you can do one of two things. First, you can check your case status here using the receipt number from your receipt notice from the form I-485.   Second, you can use the receipt number and your information to submit an inquiry online e-request here.

Note, green card cases require patience, so unless it’s been a few months since your interview then you probably shouldn’t submit an online e-request.

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Travel After Interview For Green Card

Even after your interview for a green card, you will need advance permission, known as “advance parole,” to travel while your green card application is pending.  If you leave the U.S. without advance parole, your green card application will be deemed abandoned and, therefore, denied.

So it’s extremely important that you don’t leave without first receiving permission.

If you already have advance parole, it’s advisable that you don’t travel while the application is pending unless absolutely necessary. This is because advance parole is valid only while the green card application is pending. So whether approved or denied, your advance parole is terminated when a decision is made.

Assuming you’re outside the U.S when a decision is made, then you may have issues returning. If the green card is denied after the interview then you’ll have nothing to use to reenter the country. If the green card is granted after the interview then if may not be possible to have the card when you attempt to reenter because it will be mailed to your residence in the U.S.

Bottom line, you probably shouldn’t travel after the interview unless you have to.

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Divorce After Your Interview

A divorce after your green card interview could be an issue. This is because your green card is dependent on your marriage. In other words, the U.S. allows you to live here permanently based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. No marriage, no green card.

Whether a divorce affects your green card process depends on when your divorce is final. If the divorce date was final after you’re approved for your green card then there’s no issue. If the divorce date is after green card interview but before you were approved then the divorce could affect your case.

If you get divorced after your interview but before you’re approved then you should contact an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible.

Note, if you divorced because you were a victim of domestic violence by your spouse then you may still be able to get your green card.

Marital Separation After Your Interview

Even if you’re separated, your marriage is still legally valid. This means that under the law you can be approved even if you’re separated after the interview. This, of course, is because you and your spouse could get back together and continue your marriage. If a lawful good faith marriage exists then you should be able to get your green card.

An issue may arise, however, because you’re obligated by law to update all information on the green card application. Therefore, if you and your spouse now live at different addresses then you’re supposed to notify immigration even after the interview. Such an update could trigger another appointment with an immigration officer and questions about the viability of the marriage.

If you’re separated, it would be a good idea to consult an experienced immigration attorney.

Note, if you separated because you were a victim of domestic violence then you may still be able to get your green card.

Getting a Request for Evidence After Your Interview

Sometimes after the interview, immigration requires more information or documents. For example, the officer may ask for more documents to prove you are in a real marriage. Whatever immigration asks for, you should review the document carefully and make sure you understand what is requested. It is important that you address any request after the interview.

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