Top Reasons Your Green Card Application Might Be Denied

Among the reasons the U.S. government might deny an immigrant visa or green card are its own error (or yours, in completing the paperwork), concern that you are a security risk, inadmissibility for health or criminal reasons, a finding that you are likely to become reliant on government assistance, and more.

Updated by , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

There are several reasons for a green card application (for U.S. lawful permanent residence) to be denied by U.S. immigration authorities. Below we will go over some of the top reasons for denial by either U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad: everything from health issues to a criminal record to lack of financial self-sufficiency; and discuss your options if you are denied.

Denial Due to Ineligibility or Not Meeting Immigration Application Requirements

Here are some reasons that U.S. immigration authorities might appropriately, under the law, deny your application for U.S. residence.

Denial of Underlying Visa Petition

Your intended grounds for filing for a green card are most likely either employment based, in which case your sponsor will probably need to start the process by filing a petition on Form I-140; (unless you are at such a high professional level that you can self-sponsor, like some artists can, or people in National Interest Waiver (NIW) categories) or family-based, with your U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor filing a Form I-130 petition.

If the underlying petition is denied, your green card application will go no further. For example, if your stepfather submitted an I-130 petition for you but USCIS determined that there was insufficient proof of a stepparent relationship, the application process would end right there.

Health-Related Issues

A medical exam report is required for admission as a U.S. lawful permanent resident. This is performed by a government-approved doctor.

The results can lead to a denial of your green card based on inadmissibility if you are determined to have a communicable disease dangerous to the public, you fail to provide documentation of having had the required vaccinations (including for COVID-19) 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.

Fortunately, it's possible you will be given time to apply for a waiver of the health-based ground of inadmissibility before your application is actually denied.

Criminal-Record-Related Issues

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 working within a foreign government, and fraud.

On the forms you will need to fill out to apply for U.S. residence (DS-260 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 proving that you're not inadmissible could lead to a denial of your green card.

Some crimes can, however, be waived after you submit a separate application requesting this.

Security-Related Issues

Seeking admission into the U.S. in order to violate U.S. security laws, such as to 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. Someone who has or will engage in espionage, sabotage, violate any U.S. export law relating to goods, services, or technology, or participate in any activity to overthrow the United States will not be welcome.

Public-Charge Issues (When Income Is Too Low)

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 or the consular officer who reviews your case 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.

There's less of a chance that you'll be viewed as likely to become a public charge if a family member is petitioning for you and has signed an affidavit of support for you (Form I-864), or if you're in the class of immigrants who do not need an affidavit of support filed on their behalf. Still, if other factors weigh against this, such as a lack of health insurance, you could still be found inadmissible.

Issues for Immigration Violators

If you have either entered the United States illegally, such as sneaking in as a stowaway, gained entry by misrepresentation, failed to attend immigration removal proceedings, or have abused the visa process, such as violating the terms and conditions of a visa, you could be subject to denial.

A common issue for immigrants who have spent time in the U.S. without permission and then use the consular processing procedure (rather than adjustment of status within the U.S.) is that they can be found inadmissible based on having accrued six months or more of "unlawful presence" in the United States. See Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S.—Three– and Ten-Year Time Bars and Am I Eligible for Provisional Waiver of Three- or Ten-Year Time Bar?.

Failure to Meet Immigration Application Requirements

You will be asked to submit or bring numerous forms, fees, and documents in the course of applying for U.S. permanent residence. Failing to read the instructions carefully and provide what is requested can ultimately result in denial, though the government will usually give you an opportunity to supply any missing materials or pay all fees first.

The exact application requirements will depend partly on whether you are consular processing or adjusting status in the United States. For example, you might 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 U.S. entry and visa status if you're living there, and so forth.

Failure to Attend Immigration Appointments

Once you have filed for your green card, you will be scheduled by USCIS for a biometrics and fingerprinting appointment (if filing in the U.S.) or need to schedule a medical exam if you're consular processing. And you will most likely eventually need to attend an interview at either a U.S. consulate or USCIS office (though some interviews are waived in easy cases).

You must attend all these appointments and interviews, or reschedule if need be. If not, your green card could be denied.

Changing Jobs After Employer Filed I-140

If you change from one U.S. employer to another and have an approved I-140 visa petition from the first one, you would be have to meet certain requirements in order for your green card application to continue processing. 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.

See Can I Change Employers While My Green Card Application Is Pending? for details.

    Inappropriate Denial, Based on Error by Immigration Decision-Makers

    Like most organizations, USCIS and the consulates are not without flaws. They can lose filing fee checks and documentation, spell names wrong, list dates of birth incorrectly, or fail to send important notices.

    It is important to review a "Notice of Intent to Deny" your application ( NOID) or "Request for Evidence" (RFE) if one is sent to you, as well as any final denial notice, to see if the immigration agency are making or have made a factual mistake with your application, or failed to process your case fairly.

    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, and were denied, you can file Form I-290B with USCIS in order to appeal (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; in other words, start all over again.

    If you filed for permanent residence through a U.S. consulate abroad and the immigrant visa is denied, the principal consular officer at the post where you interviewed reviews it. The officer can, if desired, 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.

    Need More Information or Help?

    For more information, check out articles on How to Get a Green Card. And, as this can be a complicated and paperwork-intensive process, with a huge bureaucracy to deal with, you should seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney. See How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.

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