Applicants who file for adjustment of status in order to get their green card here in the United States must in most cases appear for an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This usually takes place several weeks or months after submitting the adjustment of status application. If an applicant submitted a family-based petition (Form I-130 or I-360) and application for adjustment of status (Form I-485) together, USCIS will decide both of the applications at the same time.
While finally receiving the interview notice is exciting, attending the interview itself can be stressful. Because so much is at stake, it is easy to make simple mistakes, in particular:
- mistakes regarding what you bring along to the interview
- overoptimism about your ability to speak English without an interpreter, and
- mistakes regarding what you say and do during the interview..
Bringing the Right Things to the Interview
If you do not bring all the necessary documents, the USCIS officer who interviews you may not be able to make a decision on your case that day. This can cause a delay of weeks or even months, as you will probably be asked to submit follow-up materials by mail. After that, the officer must take the time to reopen and get reacquainted with your file, decide whether to ask for even more materials, and so on.
Forgetting to Bring Original Documents to Support the Application
At the time you filed your application for adjustment, you should have submitted lots of documentation to USCIS -- in the form of copies. Applicants often forget that copies are not solid proof of anything; they can be forged or tampered with. USCIS wants the chance to inspect your originals, at your interview. Unless you remember to bring your original passport, birth certificate, marriage and divorce certificates (as applicable), and any criminal records, the USCIS officer not be able to approve your case that day.
Forgetting to Bring Documents Showing Changes in Your Life Situation
If anything in your life has changed that is relevant to your adjustment of status application – whether it helps it or hurts it – you will need to bring documents showing that fact (both originals and copies for the file). Of course, if the change is something that hurts your application, such as a recent arrest, you will also want to consult a lawyer and bring additional documents overcoming the damage, if possible. Some applicants conveniently “forget” to bring such items, hoping that USCIS won’t ask about them -- but you could risk your green card being later revoked if you hide a material fact.
If you have recently started a new job or changed your job, you will want to bring pay stubs or W-2 forms to prove that you are employed. You can also obtain a letter from your employer describing your position and stating that it does not plan on firing you in the near future. If you have recently filed a new tax return, bring a copy of that as well. These are all relevant to showing your current financial situation and that you are unlikely to become a public charge (receive government assistance) in the United States.
If a new child has been born since the time you submitted your application, bring the child’s birth certificate. If your application is based on marriage, this will help prove that you are not committing marriage fraud.
In addition, if any of the information on your application has changed, for instance your address, bring a copy of the form with the new information already filled in. While you can make corrections to your application at the time of the interview, the USCIS officer will probably appreciate your making things go smoothly.
Bringing a Competent Interpreter
Many people decide not to bring an interpreter with them to the interview, perhaps out of fear of how much it will cost, or a hope that speaking English will impress the officer with their efforts to fit into American society. Unfortunately, if you do not speak English reasonably well, there is a chance that you will misunderstand some questions the USCIS officer asks, or that the officer will misunderstand your answers. These types of misunderstandings can cause the officer to think you are being dishonest or trying to hide something, which might ultimately lead the office to deny your case.
If you cannot speak English reasonably well, bring an interpreter. USCIS does not expect all green card applicants to be able to speak English. In fact, the officer will probably appreciate the fact that you brought an interpreter in order to make things run more smoothly. Make sure that your interpreter is competent and comfortable translating between both English and your native language.
Failing to Bring Proper Translation for Foreign Language Documents
Any foreign language documents that you bring, such as birth certificates from other countries, must not only be fully translated into English, but be accompanied by a statement from the interpreter that says “I swear under penalty of perjury that I am competent to translate from ______ to English, and that this translation is a true and complete translation of the attached document.” The name of the translator and the date and place of translation should also be written here.
Failing to submit this can result in the USCIS officer asking you to submit it at a later date and will cause a delay in your case. If you did not already submit such a certificate of translation with the document, bring it with you to the interview.
Saying Appropriate Things at the Interview
Failing to listen carefully to the questions asked by the USCIS officer, volunteering information that harms your case, and lying are all common ways that applicants create problems for themselves during adjustment of status interviews, as further described below.
Saying too much
Getting chatty and offering up information that wasn’t asked for is not only unnecessary, but risky. It could lead to a misunderstanding or cause the USCIS officer to open a line of questions that gets you into trouble.
Creating the impression that you intended to stay in the U.S. forever when you applied for a nonimmigrant visa
You may be asked about the type of visa you applied for and why you wanted to come to the United States. While it may appear that the USCIS officer is just making polite conversation, he or she may be trying to judge whether or not you had “immigrant intent” at the time you got your visa -- that is, whether you actually intended to come to the U.S. permanently at the time you got your temporary visa (such as a student or tourist visa), despite having claimed at the time that your intention was to return home at the end of your stay.
Obtaining a visa on false pretenses can be a form of fraud. You’ll need to be clear about the fact that your decision to stay in the U.S. came later, after obtaining the nonimmigrant visa.
Saying you told the truth on your visa application when some of the information was false
The USCIS officer may also ask you about the information you provided in the application for whatever visa you used to enter the United States. Be careful with what you say. In all likelihood, the USCIS officer already has a copy of your application and knows exactly what is on it. If you tell the officer that you provided only truthful information at the time you applied for a visa, but you actually lied on some parts, the officer might figure it out.
For instance, when applying for a visitor visa, some people falsely state that they are married, or that they have a better job or more money than they actually do, thinking that it will increase their chances of getting the visa. If you do not tell the officer that you lied in the past and the officer discovers it during the interview, then the officer will likely be upset and may question whether the other information you have provided is truthful.
Failing to tell the truth about criminal matters
If you have previously had any arrests, convictions, or similar criminal problems, you will need to be honest about them in your interview. If you neglected to disclose them on the application, you will likely need to explain this past lie, as well. By the time of your interview, USCIS will have already run a criminal background check on you and knows whether you have been arrested. Talk to a lawyer if you are worried that a criminal record, or your previous attempts to hide that record, will be a topic of discussion during your interview.
Arguing with the USCIS Officer
Finally, never get into an argument with a USCIS officer. If you think you are being treated unfairly, ask to speak with a supervisor. Remember to stay calm and not yell at the officer.
Where to Go for More Help
More information about the adjustment of status process can be found at www.uscis.gov. And for detailed information to help you understand all the requirements for getting a green card, see How to Get a Green Card, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).