After winning your case for cancellation of removal in immigration court (the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR), you are well on your way to becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR). However, you might not be there yet.
Only after you obtain the judge's order approving cancellation do you become a permanent resident; and only after your permanent resident card (I-551 or "green card") arrives (by mail) will you have physical proof of your LPR status. Such proof is useful for showing to employers, the Social Security office, and so on.
Unfortunately, you are likely to face a wait of several years before you receive the judge's order and the actual green card.
There there is an annual statutory limitation on approvals of cancellation of removal cases. Immigration judges across the U.S. can approve a total of only 10,000 each year. However, more people than that usually apply for this remedy. You are likely to be put on a waiting list, which proceeds on a first-come, first-served basis.
This lag time is a significant reason to keep your address current with the immigration court, which you can do using Form EOIR-33. You will not receive your green card if you do not keep the court notified of any address changes.
WARNING: Expect additional delays and changes in procedures owing to USCIS office closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, although the procedures described below say you will eventually be able to make an appointment with USCIS in order to generate your green card, it's unclear how this will be handled going forward. Keep an eye out for instructions from the court or USCIS.
The green card won't come to you automatically, either. In order to request and receive it as soon as possible, you will need to follow a few important steps. Let's go through the process, starting from your last court hearing, so that you know what to expect.
At your final merits hearing, the immigration judge (IJ) will announce whether he or she intends to approve your application for cancellation of removal and adjustment of status (once it's possible to do so within the 10,000 annual limit). If it's a "yes," that's great news. You've won your case. But as mentioned, a long wait might still be ahead.
Eventually (often after around two years), you'll receive the IJ's decision approving you. It will be printed on a piece of paper with your name, alien number (A-#), and boxes the judge can use to "grant" or "deny" various types of relief from removal.
The IJ will have checked the box granting relief under the application number (Form EOIR-42B) and signed the decision. You and the attorney for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will both receive copies, and the IJ will also keep the final decision in the court's records.
The DHS attorney will send you instructions on how to take the next steps, namely arranging an appointment at your local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office and bringing various documents so that USCIS can process your green card.
The DHS will also send a copy of your A-file, including the final order granting cancellation of removal, to the proper USCIS office.
Because USCIS is part of a different agency, and functions separately from the EOIR, you will need to alert it to the fact that you qualify for a green card and are now requesting documentation reflecting your change in legal status. You must make an appointment with USCIS in order to do this, following the instructions from the DHS.
Don't expect same-day service. USCIS will need time to pull your file and ask for any missing information in order to process your green card. (Also, delays caused by coronavirus closures are likely to add to your wait.) USCIS might also need to collect biometrics information from you (such as a photograph) before scheduling the appointment.
After verifying your identity, certain biographical information, and the IJ's order granting you cancellation of removal, USCIS will be able to order your green card and mail it to you.
Follow the DHS's instructions. You'll definitely need to bring copies of the final court order granting you cancellation of removal and permanent resident status. Keep a copy for yourself.
Also bring the original and copies of any picture identification, such as your passport, driver's license, and Employment Authorization Document (EAD), in case USCIS asks for these. These documents must be valid and unexpired.
At your appointment at USCIS, you will have to fill out basic biographical information, such as your name and address.
Write your full name as you want it to appear on your green card. Include any hyphenated surnames or suffix that might not have appeared in your court documents.
Also provide your current address at the appointment if you have moved, or are planning to move, since your last court hearing, so that USCIS knows where to send your green card. (As a green card holder, you're also expected to advise USCIS as soon as you move.)
USCIS might also collect your fingerprints or schedule you for the next available biometrics appointment if your background checks are not current.
USCIS will provide you with a tracking number so you can monitor the delivery of your green card. Ordinarily, you can expect your legal permanent resident card within approximately two months.
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