• Preparing for The I-485 Initial Interview in a Permanent Resident or "Green Card" Case
  • October 12, 2009
  • Law Firm: Goulder Immigration Law Firm - Greensboro Office
  • Initial Interviews in I-485 Adjustment Applications for Permanent Residence or “Green Cards”

    Several months after you submit your Form I-485, “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” the applicant is scheduled for an Initial Interview with a Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudications officer.

    The adjustment of status to permanent resident application is also referred to as a permanent residence application, I-485, or green card application.

    The initial interview is at the local USCIS Field Office. It is necessary to pass through a metal detector and screening process when entering the building. Leave your cell phone in your car.

    If your Form I-485 is based on a family relationship you should bring the petitioner-sponsor to the interview.

    You will be asked to present your Initial Interview I-797, “Notice of Action,” Appointment Notice to the security officers inside the entry door.  You and anything you bring into the building with you will go through security scanning similar to security at airports.

    You are asked to wait in a large waiting room.  Your case is called by the  adjudications officer who will conduct the interview.  Relax—DHS/USCIS adjudications officers don’t bite.

    Appointment interviews sometimes run on schedule, but applicants should be prepared for the possibility of an extended wait. ¿¿An interview occurs in the adjudicator's personal office. The applicant's complete (hard copy) file should be with the adjudicator for the interview. The applicant may be accompanied and represented by an attorney. The applicant will be asked to swear to tell the truth at the outset of the interview. It is very important to remember that, although the setting may seem casual, all statements are made under oath.

    Be Organized and Prepared. Bring all the documents that the adjudicator may need to review. While the adjudicator should have the file with any documents previously submitted, I suggest you bring your copy of the application package submitted and materials submitted to DHS/USCIS since, if any.  The adjudications officer may ask for original or original certified copies of any official government documents, e.g., birth certificate, divorce order, marriage license, etc., even though you submitted copies previously.

    The specific documents that are needed vary by case. These should be organized so they can be easily handed to the officer upon request. ¿It is often advisable to bring updates of some of the materials submitted with your Form I-485.

    The applicant should have a good understanding of her/his case, including any potential issues and problem areas. Problem areas should have been discussed with your attorney during the course of preparing the case. If this has not been done, or if new concerns have developed, it is important to sufficiently review the matter with an immigration attorney in advance of the interview.¿¿

    Interview Process. The general procedure for I-485 interviews is for the adjudications officer to review the complete application and verify the information provided. The adjudications officer ask you questions and make certain red-pen indications that the information is correct or will make changes, as needed. S/he may have the applicant initial certain parts of the form. The applicant will be asked questions to determine her/his eligibility for adjustment of status, and about the underlying relationship of the petitioner and applicant. If the application is petitioned by your spouse s/he will be also be asked questions. The exact questions depend upon case-specific details. One of the many advantages in being represented by an experienced immigration lawyer is that your lawyer assists you in preparing for the questions that should be expected in your particular cases.

    The Decision May or May Not Be Given at the Initial Interview.  There are several possible outcomes at the Initial Interview.  It is possible, if everything is in order and the priority date is current, for a case to be approved immediately. It is also possible that, even if everything is fine, the adjudications officer will recommend approval, but the recommendation will need to be reviewed by a supervisor. This may happen if an adjudications officer is new or is being reviewed, or when there is a Field Office policy to double check cases. ¿¿

    Many I-485 applications have a spouse as the petitioner-sponsor. U.S. citizen spouses, children, and parents are “immediate relatives”, and the applicant does not have to wait for a priority date to become current under the preference category system. 

    Some I-485 applicants do not have current priority dates at the time of the interviews. If the priority date is not current, even if everything goes perfectly at the interview, the case cannot be approved. The adjudications officer may indicate a recommendation for approval. The case then remains pending until a visa number is available. The adjudications officer may also be unwilling to reveal the recommendation. ¿¿

    The adjudications officer may request more documentation. S/he may print out a request for additional evidence to be submitted by a certain deadline. This will be handed to the applicant and/or accompanying attorney at the interview. These requests can range from matters that are fairly simple to the very complex and problematic.

    If the adjudications officer identifies a serious problem, the DHS/USCIS may issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). This normally is transmitted by mail, and has a short deadline. If the applicant cannot overcome the problem, the case will be denied. ¿¿

    If there is something wrong with the case that cannot be overcome by any evidence, then the adjudications officer could issue a denial. The denial and NOID can be issued even if no visa number is available. Visa numbers are only needed for approvals. 

    Do You Need a Lawyer at Your Interview?  There are complex cases and cases with potential inadmissibility issues for which an immigration attorney is absolutely needed. In other cases having an attorney present is a matter of personal choice.

    Some individuals fear that bringing a lawyer may look strange or make the DHS/USCIS think there is a problem. This is not the case. Attorneys routinely appear at interviews for even very clean and straightforward cases.

    There are no transcripts of interviews.  But if you have a lawyer present, s/he can make notes that will be extremely helpful if a NOID or denial results.

    A consultation with your immigration lawyer in advance of the Initial Interview should help in identifying concerns and documents that should be taken to the interview.

    There have been cases where adjudications officers take inappropriate actions. Complications arise even in the best cases. 

    It is impossible to anticipate every possible misunderstanding of law and procedure that could arise in an Initial Interview, and it would be very difficult for an applicant to adequately address such a situation. Experienced immigration lawyers, on the other hand, have experience with the local DHS/USCIS Field Office procedures and policies, as well as understanding the issues that may arise in the Initial Interview. 

    After the Initial Interview, it may be possible to fix an inappropriate denial by filing a motion to reopen (MTR). This is not always fast and simple, however, and the long-term cost may exceed the initial savings of attending theI-485 Initial Interview without an attorney.

    Bottom Line. Preparation is the key to the I-485 adjustment of status or “green card” interview process at the DHS/USCIS. Most cases have strengths and weaknesses. Adjustment applicants should be aware of possible problem areas in their cases in advance. If an issue is identified in advance through discussion with a knowledgeable, experienced immigration lawyer, the applicant sometimes may take steps to strengthen the case. It is advisable to seek proper legal guidance on each I-485 adjustment of status or “green card” case.

    Gerald Goulder is a North Carolina immigration lawyer who practices exclusively immigration law for North Carolina clients and for clients throughout the United States, and the world because immigration law is a federal law practice not limited attorneys in a particular state.

    Gerald Goulder has been a licensed attorney and counselor at law for 30 years. His practice is exclusively immigration, visa and citizenship law.  He has broad experience with family sponsored green cards, naturalization and citizenship, employer sponsored green cards, employment and work visas like H-1B visas and other nonimmigrant visas, and I-9 employment eligibility and employer sanctions laws.

    His broad professional background includes working as a special state prosecutor, owning and operating a business, serving on boards of non-profit organizations, religious organizations and private corporations, and taking political leadership roles.  Mr. Goulder has also worked as an Assistant Attorney General of Ohio, and Ohio Special Prosecutor in law enforcement and prosecution, and he was appointed Special Counsel to the Attorney General of the State of Ohio. Although his private practice initially involved commercial, business, and corporate/commercial real estate matters,

    Gerald Goulder, managing partner of Goulder Immigration Law Firm, is a North Carolina immigration lawyer with clients throughout the world, guarantees personal service to every client. Clients receive one-on-one direct access to immigration attorney Gerald Goulder on phone calls, emails, or letters. If you are seeking guidance, experience and knowledge of immigration and visa laws involving family-based or employment-based permanent residence and green cards, visas, or citizenship, do not hesitate to contact Goulder Immigration Law Firm.