There are several reasons for a green card application (for lawful permanent residence) to be denied by the U.S. immigration authorities (most likely either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the U.S. consulate abroad). Below we will go over some of the top reasons for denial and discuss your options if denied.
Denial Due to Ineligibility or Not Meeting Application Requirements
Here are some reasons that the immigration authorities might appropriately, under the law, deny your application.
A medical exam report is required for admission as a lawful permanent resident. This is performed by a government-approved doctor. The results can lead to a denial of your green card if you are determined to have a communicable disease dangerous to the public, you fail to provide documentation of having had the required vaccinations and refuse to or cannot have them done before your green card can be approved, you are a drug abuser or addict, or you have a physical or mental disorder that is a threat to yourself or others.
If you have been convicted of certain types of crimes, or are coming to the U.S. to commit them, your green card could be denied. These include crimes of "moral turpitude," multiple crimes, and specified crimes such as drug trafficking, prostitution, commercialized vice, money laundering, severe violations of religious freedoms as an official in a foreign government, and fraud. On the forms you will need to fill out (DS-230 if you are consular processing; Form I-485, the Application to Adjust Status if you are applying from within the U.S.), there are a number of questions you must answer truthfully, most of which are criminal related or as we will see below, security related. Answering yes to one of these questions without an explanation that proves you are not inadmissible could lead to a denial of your green card.
Seeking admission into the U.S. in order to violate U.S. security laws, such as engage in terrorist efforts; or former involvement or membership in the Nazi or totalitarian parties, genocide, or in any group adverse to U.S. foreign policy; can lead to a denial of your green card. You cannot engage in espionage, sabotage, violate any U.S. export law of goods, services, or technology, or participate in any activity to overthrow the United States.
If you are seen as likely to become dependent on the U.S. government for long-term care or financial support, your green card could be denied. USCIS may determine whether you are a likely public charge by considering your age, health, family status, assets, resources, education or skills, and financial status at the time of filing.
If you have entered the United States illegally, such as sneaking in as a stowaway; or gained entry by misrepresentation; or failed to attend immigration removal proceedings; or have abused the visa process, such as violating the terms and conditions of your visa; you could be subject to denial.
Failure to Meet Application Requirements
You will be asked to submit or bring numerous forms, fees, and documents in the course of this process. Failing to read the instructions carefully and provide what is requested can result in denial. The requirements will be somewhat different depending on whether you are consular processing or adjusting status in the United States. For example, you will probably need to provide originals or copies, depending on whether your green card case was filed in the U.S. or abroad, of your birth record, marriage certificate, divorce decree (if applicable), valid visa status in the U.S., and so forth.
Failure to Attend Appointments
Once you have filed for your green card, you are scheduled by USCIS for a fingerprinting appointment (if filing in the U.S.) and/or eventually an interview appointment. You must attend these appointments, or reschedule if need be. If not, your green card could be denied.
Denial of Underlying Visa Petition
Your intended grounds for filing for a green card is most likely either employment based, in which case your sponsor will probably have filed a visa petition on Form I-140; or family based, with your sponsor having filed a Form I-130 visa petition. If these underlying petitions are denied, your green card application will go no further. For example, if your stepfather submitted a visa petition but USCIS determined that there was insufficient proof of a stepparent relationship, the application process would end right there.
Changing Jobs After Filing of I-140
If you change employers, and have an approved I-140 visa petition, you would be have to meet certain requirements (referred to as AC 21 portability requirements) in order for your green card application to continue processing. If you do not meet the eligibility requirements under Section 106(c) of AC21, you will be found ineligible for an employment-based green card. These requirements are that your I-485 must have been pending (awaiting a USCIS decision) for 180 days or more, and the new job must be the same as, or similar to, the job described in the labor certification and I-140 petition.
Denial Due to Error by Immigration Decision-Makers
Like most organizations, USCIS and the consulates are not without flaws. They will often send requests for evidence for documentation you have already provided or that does not seem necessary to your green card case. They can also lose filing fee checks and documentation, spell your name wrong, list your date of birth incorrectly, or send some notices to your house and some to the address of your petitioner or attorney.
Recently, there was a case where USCIS issued a receipt notice for a client's I-485 application for adjustment of status (which included her I-765 employment authorization request and I-131 travel document application) listing her date of birth as August 10, 1988, instead of correctly as October 8, 1988.
The attorneys caught the error right away and called the USCIS customer service line. USCIS placed a service request to have the date of birth changed and told the attorney to send a copy of the client's birth record and passport showing the correct date of birth, even though it was not the applicant's error.
After sending this documentation, the lawyers called USCIS three more times and placed an additional service request. Two months later, they received the client's employment authorization/advance parole dual card -- showing the incorrect date of birth! A few days later, they received a notice from USCIS requesting that they (again) send a copy of the client's birth record and passport page along with her original EAD/AP card in order to have the card reissued. Many weeks later, they were still waiting for the new card to be issued. Such scenarios are fairly typical.
After Denial - Filing an Appeal or Motion to Reopen
If you filed for your green card in the U.S., with an application to adjust status, you can file Form I-290B with USCIS in order to appeal the denial (with a filing fee). The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the notification of the decision or 33 days if you received the notification by mail. You will need to complete the form as well as clearly state that you are filing a motion to reopen and the basis of this motion. An alternative is to refile your green card case. As this can be a complicated process, you should seek the advice of an attorney.
If you file for your green card through a U.S. consulate abroad and your green card is denied, the principle consular officer at the post where you interviewed reviews it. If the officer desires, he can get a second opinion from the State Department. However, if, after this point, the denial is upheld, there is no appeal available. The usual path is to start the case over again by refiling the I-130 petition, waiting for approval and so forth.
For more information, check out Nolo's section on How to Get a Green Card.