permanent resident holding green card

Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing

Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Which one is better?

It’s important to note that not everyone has a choice. Only a small percentage of intending immigrants has the choice between adjustment of status and consular processing.

The requirements for adjustment of status greatly limit the number of people that may be eligible. Generally, the applicant must be in the United States through a lawful entry and a visa must be immediately available. Only immediate relatives (spouses, unmarried children (under age 21) and parents of U.S. citizens) always have a visa available. For this reason, typically only immediate relatives in the U.S. even have the opportunity to adjust status. Family preference categories generally end up going through the consular process.

obtaining a green card through adjustment of status vs consular processing

Processing Times

If you adjust status to apply for a green card, your application will go to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But if you use consular processing, the U.S. Department of State is responsible for your immigrant visa application. Processing times will vary. The time it takes to adjust status to permanent residence will generally take longer than applying for an immigrant visa through consular processing.For an immediate relative, typical processing times may look like this:

Adjustment of Status

10-18 Months

Consular Processing

7-12 Months

Although it may take more time to obtain permanent residence through AOS, the obvious benefit is that the applicant completes the process in the United States. This allows the applicant to be with U.S. family members and even work (with the employment authorization) while waiting for a green card.

Travel Considerations

During the wait for a green card, many applicants want the ability to be with family in different countries. For example, the intending immigrant may reside in the United States, but need to see extended family members are in another country. There are different travel restrictions with adjustment of status vs consular processing.

Adjustment of Status

While waiting for USCIS to approve the I-485 application, the adjustment of status applicant may travel outside the U.S. provided he or she has obtained the correct authorizations.

In most cases, the applicant must obtain an advance parole document before departing the U.S. This is easily done by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, concurrently with Form I-485 or at any time it is pending.

Generally, an AOS applicant that leaves the United States without advance parole is automatically considered to have abandoned the I-485 application and may not be able to re-enter the U.S. So obtaining the advance parole document prior to departing the U.S. is extraordinarily important.

Note: Applicants who have any period of unlawful presence in the U.S. should consult with any attorney before departing.

Consular Processing

It may be much more difficult to visit the United States while an immigrant visa petition is pending. Though it’s possible to get a B-1/B-2 visa, it shouldn’t be expected. When the I-130 petition is filed, it signals to the U.S. government that the beneficiary intends to live in the U.S. permanently at some point in the future. As a result, your application for a nonimmigrant visa (such as a visitor visa) will receive additional scrutiny. Nonimmigrant visas are generally only issued to travelers that provide sufficient evidence that the visit will be temporary. You’ll need evidence of your non-immigrant intent if you plan to enter the U.S. with a visitor visa and pending I-130 petition.

Spouses of U.S. citizens may be able to apply for a K-3 visa. The K-3 visa (and K-4 for child dependents) allows the visa holder to enter the U.S. while awaiting the case. K-3 spouses generally adjust status once they enter the U.S. In practice, K-3 visas are rarely issued.

Forms & Expenses

The set of forms that you’ll file for a family-based adjustment of status package is generally more extensive than consular processing. But consular path is almost always less expensive than adjustment.

Adjustment of Status

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative$535
Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary 1$0
Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status 2$1,140
Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency$0
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support$0
Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record$0
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization 4$0
Form I-131, Application for Travel Document 4$0
Biometrics (applicants ages 14-78)$85
Total for Typical Adult Applicant$1,760

Consular Processing

Fees for USCIS, NVC or U.S. ConsulateFee (USD)
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative$535
Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary 1$0
DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application$325
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support 3$120
Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record$0
USCIS Immigrant Fee$220
Total for Typical Adult Applicant$1,200

1 Form I-130A is only necessary if the beneficiary is a spouse.
2 USCIS has a reduced fee for a child (under 14) if the application is filed with the I-485 of at least one parent.
3 There is a fee to review the Affidavit of Support only when filed domestically.
4 This is an optional form, but USCIS waives the fee if you file it together with the I-485 application.

There are other costs associated with both paths. Every applicant must have a medical exam. The doctor will charge a fee for the exam, but this varies based on the location of the exam. The cost of the required medical exam will vary by country, doctor, and any additional vaccinations that may be required. Other costs may include photos to submit with the application, postage, and any transportation fees associated with travel to your USCIS or consular interview.

Decisions & Appeals

In addition to the time and financial requirements, some applicants may need to consider immigration officials’ adjudication guidelines. In other words, USCIS and the U.S. Department of State follow a different decision-making process. Some factors in an applicant’s history may be evaluated differently for adjustment of status vs consular processing.

Adjustment of Status

If an applicant is found to be ineligible, USCIS must issue a denial notice. But in some situations USCIS may deny an adjustment of status case for discretionary reasons. That is, the USCIS officer may deny your adjustment of status application even if you are otherwise eligible to adjust status but have negative factors that outweigh positive factors. Negative factors may include:

  • Fraud in your initial application
  • Misrepresentation in your initial application
  • Preconceived intent to remain in U.S. when coming as a nonimmigrant
  • Unlawful entry into the United States
  • Overstaying the period you were legally allowed to be in the U.S.
  • Criminal background, including any misdemeanors or felonies
  • Other ineligibility factors

If an AOS case is denied, the applicant may challenge the denial through the administrative and/or judicial appellate processes. In addition, the intending immigrant may generally stay in the U.S. while waiting for the appeal.

Consular Processing

Consular processing has a lower risk of refusal. Unlike USCIS officers, consular officers cannot refuse to issue an immigrant visa based on discretion. This means that the consular officer must have specific, factual evidence for denying an application.

If you have immigration violations on your record, a criminal record, or other negative factors (such as those listed under AOS), consular processing may be a more favorable path to a green card. Consult with an immigration attorney if your history includes negative factors.

However, consular cases for an immigrant visa that are denied are generally non-reviewable. This means that it consular processing decisions for a green card are final.

When comparing adjustment of status vs consular processing, it’s impossible to say that one is better than the other for every person. Each path has its own advantages and disadvantages. What’s best for you depends on your specific situation. Only an immigration attorney can thoroughly analyze your case. This comparison is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be considered advice in your immigration journey.

Frequently Asked Questions