Reasons for a Green Card Application Denial

Common reasons why a family-based application for permanent residence may be denied by USCIS

Green Card Application DenialEach year thousands of people are approved for permanent resident status in the United States. Permanent residence is symbolized with a card, most commonly referred to as a green card. But thousands also get their green card application denied. There are several possible factors for a green card application denial. The reasons vary from no basis for eligibility to grounds of inadmissibility to failure to properly deal with the application requirements.

Each year an estimated 8-11% of green card applications are denied. In fiscal year 2015, data shows that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received a total of 768,641 petitions for alien relatives (Form I-130), but also denied 77,903.

During the same period, USCIS received 298,398 family-based applications to adjust status (Form I-485) and denied 31,017 applications. Family-based applications for a green card are based on a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

This article is focused on USCIS denials of family-based applications for green card. The article does not address the additional paths to obtain a green card (i.e. employment, investment, lottery, etc.), but many of the denial reasons may be the same.

Ineligibility Reasons for a Green Card Application Denial

green card application denied

Eligibility for a family-based green card is very narrowly defined. That means there is very little room for interpretation. The good news is that you can quickly determine if you are eligible for a family-based green card.

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can petition for a limited list of family members. But not all family members are eligible for this privilege. U.S. citizens may petition a spouse, son, daughter, brother, sister or parent. A lawful permanent resident may only petition a spouse or unmarried son or daughter.

Generally, it is impossible to directly obtain a green card for one’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and more extended relationships.


Immediate Relatives

An unlimited number of immigrant visas (green cards) can be issued to immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Although there is “no wait” for an immediate relative immigrant visa, there is still a process that will most likely take several months. Immediate relatives include spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens. But rules apply to each relationship type:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers and, as of 2013, same-sex couples whose marriage is legal in the state or country where it took place
  • unmarried people under the age of 21 who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is over the age of 21
  • stepchildren and stepparents, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday, and
  • parents and children related through adoption

Petitioning a relative with an adoptive relationship can be tricky. The adoption must have taken place before the child reached the age of 16. All immigration rules governing natural parents and children apply to adoptive relatives, but there are some additional procedures to be followed. When petitioning a relative with an adoptive relationship, it’s generally best to consult with an immigration attorney.

Fiance(e)s of U.S. citizens are also just a few steps away from a green card. The couple may get married outside the U.S., and then the foreign spouse may apply as the spouse as a U.S. citizen. But if the fiancé is overseas and the couple wants to get married in the U.S. before applying for a green card, they must first apply for a temporary visa called a K-1 fiancé visa.

Family Preference
The family preference categories for an immigrant visa include other relationships to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. A limited number of green cards are available to family preference applicants. Applicants will likely wait many years to get a green card. Family preference is prioritized in the following order:

  • Family first preference :unmarried people, any age, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • Family second preference 2A: spouses of green card holders and unmarried children under age 21
  • Family second preference 2B: unmarried sons and daughters (who are over age 21) of green card holders.
  • Family third preference: married people, of any age, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • Family fourth preference: sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens where the citizen is over 21 years old

If you don’t fit the immediate relative or family preference categories above, do not apply. Your green card application will certainly get denied. Small lies and fabrications of the truth will complicate your problems. If USCIS determines that you lied, the green card application will be denied and future attempts to immigrate to the U.S. will be significantly complicated.

Inadmissibility Reasons for a Green Card Application Denial

Even if you fit an eligibility category, a ground of inadmissibility can cause a green card application denial. It’s rather obvious that spies and terrorists will be denied a green card, but ordinary people with certain ailments and financial situations can also get denied. Applicants must demonstrate that they don’t pose a danger to U.S. society on financial, health, security, immigration violation, or criminal grounds.

  • Financial
    The U.S. relative that sponsors you will need to show sufficient income or assets to support you at 125% of the U.S. poverty guidelines (in addition to supporting his/her own family). If you can’t support yourself, this measure helps to ensure that you won’t depend on government assistance. To review the current poverty guidelines levels, see Form I-864P.
  • Health
    You will be required to have a medical examination conducted by a USCIS designated physician. The examination is required to establish that an applicant is not a public health risk such as a carrier of a disease that presents a public health risk, or having a dangerous physical or mental disorder. See Form I-693.
  • Immigration Violations
    Your immigration history will be reviewed. The application will likely be denied if you have overstayed a visa by six months or more, or if you have ever entered the country unlawfully. The government will also seek to determine if the parent’s visa (if applicable) has ever been misused.
  • Criminal Record
    You will certainly run into problems if you have committed certain crimes, like aggravated felonies, drug crimes, or acts of terrorism.

A waiver, a form of legal forgiveness, may be available in some cases, but these require careful analysis and documentation, best provided by an immigration attorney.

Classes of InadmissibilityWaiver Available?
People with communicable diseases like tuberculosisgreen card application denial
People with physical or mental disorders that may cause harm to themselves or othersgreen card application denial
Drug abusers or addictsgot green card denied
Drug traffickersgot green card denied
People without proper vaccinationsgreen card application denial
People with convictions for crimes involving moral turpitudegreen card application denial
People who have violated immigration lawsapplication for permanent residence denial
Prostitutesgreen card application denial
People with multiple criminal convictionsgreen card application denial
Spiesgot green card denied
Terroristsgot green card denied
Nazisgot green card denied
People likely to become dependent on need-based government assistancegreen card application denial

Everyone who applies to enter the United States is checked for inadmissibility. If your situation may include any of the above conditions, please consult with an immigration attorney before attempting to file any USCIS form.

Application Mistakes Can Cause Green Card Application Denial

Obtaining a green card is not a simple matter of filling out a form. The collection of forms must be prepared carefully, and the applicant must file them in certain steps with specific supporting documents. Many times people get denied because of inconsistencies, mistakes, incomplete facts and failing to follow the directions. In some cases, inconsistencies can be perceived as lies and result in a green card application denial.

There are options for people that want help in the preparation process. CitizenPath’s low-cost online software helps people fill out the applications with simple directions and a process that checks for common errors. CitizenPath will even guarantee that USCIS accepts the applications.

Immigration attorneys will also help applicants prepare forms with personal guidance through the process. Attorneys can also represent a client in court or more complicated cases. Of course, attorney costs can add up quickly.

Appealing a Green Card Application Denial

Even the most well-prepared green card applications occasionally get denied. USCIS has been known to make errors, and even lawyers occasionally make a mistake that results in a denial. There is an appeal process, but many lawyers prefer to re-file the application. (Appealing a decision can end up costing more time and money.) Regardless, any case that initially results in a denial is more complicated. Get the help of an experienced immigration attorney to guide you through the process.

If you applied for a green card inside the United States (i.e. by filing Form I-485), you can file Form I-290B with USCIS to appeal the denied green card application. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the notification of the decision (or 33 days if you received the notification by mail) along with the applicable filing fee.

If you applied for a green card outside the U.S. (i.e. through a U.S. consulate abroad), you will have to ask the principal consular officer to review your case. If the officer desires, he or she can get a second opinion from the State Department. However, if the office upholds the decision to deny a green card, there is no appeal available. You must generally start the case over again by refiling the I-130 petition.

Source: USCIS

About CitizenPath

CitizenPath is an online immigration resource that provides simple, step-by-step guidance through USCIS applications and petitions. Our low-cost service simplifies the application process by explaining each question and providing alerts if your answer to a question could be a problem. Most people do not need a lawyer to prepare USCIS forms, but many need a little assistance. That’s where CitizenPath can help. CitizenPath provides support for the first step of the green card application — Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and Green Card Renewal/Replacement (Form I-90), and several other popular forms.