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The Green Card Process: Do's and Don'ts

Navigating the U.S. immigration process to become a green card holder or a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is challenging. It can be overwhelming, too, particularly for those who do not have a background in law.

This article provides an easy-to-understand guide about the do's and don'ts in earning your permanent resident card. You will learn about most of the common information people need during the naturalization process.

For those adjusting their immigration status, the U.S. Department of States' Visa Bulletin is also an essential source of information. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website can help you keep track of monthly bulletins from the Department of State. The Visa Bulletin provides information about the availability of immigrant visas, priority dates, and more.

The Do's in the Green Card Process

  • Do follow the instructions on USCIS forms. This is especially important if you seek a waiver for admissibility or apply for employment authorization. Failure to follow instructions could extend your wait time and delay the processing of your visa. It could even result in an application rejection.
  • Do attach all documents necessary. Attach all the documents called for in the forms. Provide appropriate translations where necessary. The USCIS will usually not process the forms if documents are missing. Thus, to avoid delays in your application, it is essential to submit all requirements.
  • Do follow the USCIS photo instructions. Be sure to review the photograph instructions. Your local USCIS office may even have an on-site photographer. You can also visit the U.S. embassy website in your home country if you need further guidance.
  • Do ask for assistance when needed. Seek legal advice from an immigration attorney near you. They can provide guidance tailored to your case. You can also access the USCIS website for more information about immigration law and adjustment of status. The updates on these government websites are particularly relevant if you are applying for advance parole. Advance parole permits noncitizens to return to their home country without abandoning a green card application.
  • Do use an interpreter if necessary. Bring an interpreter if you or your family member is not fluent in English. During the adjustment interview, an applicant may bring an interpreter. The officer, however, may also disqualify interpreters if they believe the process's integrity is compromised.
  • Do seek legal advice from an immigration law attorney. Hire an immigration attorney. This is important if you have been previously denied entry to the United States, deported, convicted of a crime, or overstayed a visa. If you are currently in the country illegally, an attorney can help you on the road to legal immigration status. You should also speak with a lawyer if you have ever made misrepresentations to the USCIS.
  • Do tell your immigration attorney about your past immigration issues. Tell your attorney about any immigration issues you had in the past. Those include being denied entry to the U.S., deportations, convictions, misrepresentations made to the USCIS, unauthorized employment, and overstayed visas. Your immigration attorney will assist in determining if any of these issues can be remedied. And they can let you know if any of them would significantly impact your U.S. visa application.
  • Do learn more about public benefits. Consult an attorney if you are thinking about accepting public benefits such as welfare or participation in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. If the USCIS has reason to believe that you have become a "public charge," you could lose your LPR status.

The Don'ts in the Green Card Process

In addition to meeting the eligibility requirements, the green card applicant must maintain a good moral character. The U.S. government lists specific grounds for the inadmissibility of green card applications.

This broad list details actions an applicant must avoid. Any of them could bring serious consequences. They could affect your green card application and result in deportation or criminal charges.

  • Don't commit any crimes. Commission of criminal activities can result in serious consequences for LPRs. Green card holders convicted of aggravated felonies, crimes involving moral turpitude, and offenses that involve controlled substances can be deported out of the U.S.
  • Don't engage in politically subversive activities. Association or participation in politically subversive activities may affect your ability to acquire a green card. Those activities include espionage, or spying on behalf of another country. Sabotage and efforts to overthrow the government also count as subversive. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines acts that will make a foreign national ineligible for a green card on national security grounds.
  • Don't smuggle other foreign nationals into the United States. Illegal transportation of foreign nationals to the U.S. is considered a serious crime. If a green card applicant is found smuggling a foreign national, it can lead to the denial of a green card application and criminal charges.
  • Don't charge others for legal advice. Unauthorized practice of law is illegal in the U.S. Even if you have ample knowledge about green card processing, you should not give other immigrants legal advice for a fee if you're not licensed. Doing so can jeopardize your green card application.
  • Don't live outside the United States for long periods. Since green card holders are considered permanent residents of the U.S., they are expected to reside primarily within its borders. If a green card holder lives in a foreign country for more than six months, it might be considered an abandonment of residence. They could lose their permanent resident status.
  • Don't lie on any USCIS form. The U.S. Code makes it a crime to willfully and knowingly lie to a federal agent. That includes making false or fictitious statements in USCIS forms. Lying or fudging the truth on a form could result in revocation of green card status or criminal charges.
  • Don't leave parts of your forms blank. Don't assume that a part of the form is unimportant. If the information does not apply to you, write "N/A" or "none." For example, if you are unmarried, you should put "N/A" on the portions of the forms asking for spousal information. But if the form asks for your addresses for the past five years, you must supply complete addresses and account for every period of time.
  • Don't open the envelope with your medical exam results in it. The medical examination is an essential part of the green card application process. The USCIS asks an applicant to send the examination results in a sealed envelope. This is to secure the integrity of the results. If a green-card applicant opens this envelope, it could lead to questions about its authenticity. Most doctors will give you a copy if you want to see your exam results.

Immigration Categories and US Visas

The U.S. government categorizes nonimmigrants into different green card categories. Each category bases immigration on factors such as family or employer sponsorship. The requirements can also depend on your eligibility and preference category. Some examples of immigrant visas:

Family-Based Immigrant Visa

This type of visa splits family members of people who already have U.S. citizenship into immediate relatives and several tiered family preference categories. For these visas, there is also a significant difference between unmarried children and married children of U.S. citizens.

Immediate relatives include the spouse of a U.S. citizen or their minor children under 21 years old. The family preference categories include family members and close relations who do not fall under the immediate classification. Adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens fall on the family preference side.

The processing of family-based immigrant visas can be done in two ways: adjustment of status or consular processing. Adjustment of status applies to nonimmigrants and special immigrants who are in the U.S. at the time of application. Consular processing applies to nonimmigrants outside the United States.

Employment-Based Immigration Visa

Nonimmigrants may receive an employment-based immigration visa for their extraordinary ability in a particular field. This visa can also be given in cases where there is a need in the U.S. labor market. An employment-based green card is a good option for nonimmigrant professionals.

Diversity Visa Lottery

The U.S. Department of State annually provides diversity visas (DVs) through its Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Under this program, the U.S. government distributes 50,000 immigrant visas through random selection. Foreign nationals of countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. have the best odds to get a diversity visa.

Nonimmigrant Visa

Nonimmigrant visas are available to people who have permanent residence abroad but want to visit the U.S. temporarily. This type of visa usually goes to those who visit the U.S. for travel, on business, to seek medical attention, or to study.


Foreign nationals granted asylum can also apply for a green card. This opportunity extends to those who cannot return to their home country due to credible fear of persecution. They can apply for green cards after meeting certain requirements. Learn more about asylees and refugees from FindLaw.

Discuss the Green Card Process With an Attorney

The visa application process can be stressful and overwhelming. But learning more about the application process can help you know the eligibility requirements for each case. FindLaw has a comprehensive list of articles discussing visa application details and green card processing. The USCIS website and other government agencies also have questions and answers (FAQ) pages on their websites.

For more seamless processing of U.S. visas, it is also recommended that you consult an immigration law attorney near you. They can help you navigate the complexities of the green card application. They will also keep track of the processing times of your immigration petition.

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