Immigration Topics Explained:

Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing

Adjust Status or Consular Processing

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.

Processing Times

Is adjusting status or consular processing faster?

If you use adjustment of 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 processing your immigrant visa application. Processing times will vary for each path. However, 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
8-14 Months
Consular Processing
14-18 Months

Although it may take more time to obtain permanent residence through adjustment, 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

Can I travel while waiting?

During the wait for a green card, many applicants want the ability to visit family in different countries. For example, the intending immigrant may reside in the United States, but need to see extended family members 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, adjustment of status applicants may travel outside the U.S. provided they have obtained the correct travel authorization.

The applicant must obtain an advance parole travel 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 while the application is pending.

Generally, an adjustment 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 is typically 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 petitioner files Form I-130, 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, an application for a nonimmigrant visa (such as a B-2 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) was designed to allow the visa holder to enter the U.S. while awaiting the case. K-3 spouses may adjust status to permanent resident once they enter the U.S. In practice, the Department of State rarely issues K-3 visas.

Forms & Fees

How do adjustment of status and consular processing fees compare?

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

Adjustment of Status
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative$675
Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary 1$0
Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status 2$1,440
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 3$260
Form I-131, Application for Travel Document 3$630
Biometrics Screening$0
Total for Typical Adult Applicant$2,115 to $3,005

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 This is an optional form. You may reduce your fees by excluding it.

Consular Processing
Fees for USCIS, NVC or U.S. ConsulateFee (USD)
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative$675
Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary 1$0
DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application$325
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support 2$120
Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record$0
USCIS Immigrant Fee$220
Total for Typical Adult Applicant$1,340

1 Form I-130A is only necessary if the beneficiary is a spouse.
2 The Affidavit of Support processing fee is paid along with the DS-260 application fee.

If adjusting status, you'll pay USCIS all fees up front with the application. On the other hand, consular process fees are generally spread out during the process. 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 the cost varies. The cost of the required medical exam will vary by country, doctor, and any additional vaccinations that may be necessary. Other costs may include photos to submit with the application, postage, and any transportation fees associated with travel to your USCIS or consular interview.

You'll also need consider the costs to prepare the applications and supporting documents. Typical attorneys' fees for a green card application range from $2,000 to over $5,000. Individuals with straight forward situations can use CitizenPath. Designed by attorneys, our online service is an affordable safety net to make sure you do everything correctly. We even provide a guarantee that USCIS will approve your forms. Take a closer look at the consular processing costs and the fees for adjustment of status.

Decisions & Appeals

Are green card decisions final?

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 USCIS denies your case, you may challenge the denial through the administrative and/or judicial appellate processes. In addition, you 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, 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 consular processing decisions for a green card are final.


Is consular processing or adjustment of status better for me?

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.

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