After you send your family-based adjustment of status application packet to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency will eventually schedule you for an in-person interview. This interview take place at one of its local offices, hopefully near where you live.
In the best of times, that interview can take months to schedule. What's more, following the 2020 start of the COVID-19 epidemic, USCIS closed its offices to all in-person interviews. Even after they reopen, you can expect long waits as the agency catches up; and possible changes in procedures to minimize personal contact.
If the adjustment interview goes well—your family relationship is obviously the real deal, you don't fall into any of the grounds for inadmissibility, and your documents are in order—the interview can take as little as 20 minutes.
The appointment notice will tell you what to bring, so read it carefully for details. For example, you will be asked to bring a photo identity card such as a driver's license.
Also read what the USCIS appointment notice says about who to bring—your U.S. petitioner might or might not be required to attend (but definitely will if it's a marriage-based case). You can bring an attorney to represent you, if you wish. You, not your attorney, will have to answer the questions, however. Your attorney's role will simply be to discuss any legal issues and perhaps clear up procedural misunderstandings.
Uncomfortable Speaking English? Bring an Interpreter
USCIS does not provide interpreters at adjustment of status interviews in the United States. A few of its officers speak Spanish or some other language, but you cannot count on getting a bilingual officer, nor can you request one.
If unsure of your ability to understand questions and express yourself in English, by all means bring a friend or hire an interpreter to help. Even if your petitioning U.S. family member is capable of interpreting for you, the USCIS officer might not allow this, particularly in a marriage-based case. Having all their questions go through the same person reduces their ability to compare your answers and detect marriage frauds.
The interpreter must be over the age of 18 and fluent in both your language and in English. Some USCIS officers also require that the interpreter be a legal resident or citizen of the United States. (Of course, a person in the U.S. illegally would be taking a huge risk by walking into a USCIS office.) Also see Rules for Bringing Interpreters to Immigration (USCIS) Interviews.
What the USCIS Officer Will Do and Say
Thousands of different immigrating family members are normally interviewed each day across the United States. Regardless, these interviews tend to follow a pattern. Here's what will probably happen at yours.
- You will arrive at the federal building housing the USCIS office, show your appointment notice and photo identity document to a security guard, and pass through a metal detector and other security checks. (Be sure to allow extra time for this.)
- You will proceed to the waiting room and turn your appointment notice in to a reception desk. There, you will wait. Your interview might not happen at the time on your notice—USCIS often books several people for the same time. That does not mean, however, that you should arrive late, which could result in your not being interviewed that day at all. At last, you will be summoned to the inner rooms of the USCIS adjustment unit.
- A USCIS officer will walk you to a desk and check your identification. Follow the officer's instructions carefully on whether you should sit down. Even if you are asked to sit, the officer will soon after that ask you to stand up, raise your right hand, and take an oath to tell the truth. The officer will ask to see all of your passports and travel documents, your USCIS work permit (if you have one), your Social Security card (if you have one), and your driver's license (if you have one). The officer will also want to see documents from your petitioning U.S. family member, such as a driver's license, Social Security card (if available), and proof of legal U.S. immigration status.
- The officer will ask, or you should offer, documents to update the application. If, for example, the immigrant has found a new job since getting a work permit, bring proof of that employment (pay stubs or an employer letter), to help clear the "public charge" hurdle to obtaining a green card. Or if the immigrant has been arrested for a crime, documentation of that needs to be presented (though in that case, you'll definitely want to hire an attorney, as well).
- The officer will start by going through your written application, asking you about the facts and examining the medical and fingerprint reports, looking for any factors that might make you inadmissible, or ineligible for a green card. This is a vitally important part of the interview. You will sign the Form I-485 application to confirm that the information within it is correct to the best of your knowledge.
- Couples applying based on marriage only: The USCIS officer will ask you and your spouse to answer questions about your married life. These questions will start out fairly polite, regarding things like where you met, when and why you decided to get married, how many people came to your wedding, what you did on your most recent birthday or holiday, and so on. The purpose is to prove that your marriage is the real thing, not a sham to get you a green card. Practice ahead of time! You will need to also supply copies of documents that illustrate the genuine nature of your marriage, such as rental agreements and joint utility bills. If the officer suspects that your marriage is fraudulent, a whole added step will be incorporated into the process. You and your spouse will need to meet the Fraud Unit, and have what's sometimes called a "Stokes interview." An officer will interview each of you separately and intensively, then compare the results of your two interviews, looking for discrepancies and signs that you have not really established a life together.
- If a problem is revealed in your application that you can potentially correct by submitting additional materials, the officer might put your case on hold and send you home with a list of documents to submit by mail by a certain deadline. For example, if your U.S. petitioner's earnings are insufficient to support you, the officer might suggest you find another family member to sign an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). It's rare for USCIS deny an application on the spot, unless you are clearly inadmissible.
At the end of the interview, if you are approved, you will be given a letter stating this. The letter is just for your records and cannot be used like a green card to travel in and out of the United States.The officer might also ask you to turn in your work permit (EAD), on the basis of the fact that you are no longer an applicant for adjustment of status, but a permanent or conditional U.S. resident, such that your existing EAD is no longer valid. This should not interfere with your life much, however, because several weeks later, your actual green card will arrive by mail.
If you receive conditional residence (because your marriage was still less than two years old on the day USCIS approved you for residence), you will have to file an I-751 petition about 21 months from your approval date in order to progress to permanent residency.