Won a Cancellation Case: When You'll Get Your Green Card

Winning a cancellation case might only place you on a waiting list for eventual lawful permanent residence (a green card).

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

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) and getting a green card. However, you might not be there yet.

Only after you obtain the immigration 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. Below, we'll describe why this is, and the various steps involved.

Annual Limits Create Wait for Green Cards Based on Cancellation

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.

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.

What the Immigration Judge Will Do to Approve You for Cancellation of Removal

At your final merits hearing, the immigration judge (IJ) will announce whether they intend 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" (or in legal terminology, if the judge "reserves decision with intent to grant") that's great news. You're on track to win your case. But as mentioned, a long wait might still be ahead. And you could lose your eligibility during that time, unless you understand the VAWA rules and take care to maintain your qualifications (such as committing a crime, DUI, or other act that undermines your showing of good moral character, or left the United States.)

Eventually (often after around one to two years), you'll hopefully 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.

Next Steps After Receiving the Judge's Order of Approval

The DHS attorney is expected to follow up by forwarding the immigration judge's final order granting cancellation of removal and a copy of your A-file to the proper USCIS office. Because USCIS is part of a different agency, and functions separately from the EOIR, you might be asked to attend one or more appointments with USCIS in order to do initiate production of your green card, 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. USCIS might also need to collect biometrics information from you (such as a photograph and fingerprints) before scheduling the appointment. It is likely to use these fingerprints to run another set of security checks on you.

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.

Update Name and Address for Your Green Card

USCIS will ask you for 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 make sure to provide USCIS with your current address if you have moved, or are planning to move, since your last court hearing. That's so USCIS knows where to send your green card. (As a green card holder, you're expected to advise USCIS as soon as you move in any case.)

When to Expect Delivery of Your Green Card

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.

Getting Legal Help

If you managed to get through removal proceedings on your own, congratulations. Nevertheless, you might still wish to contact a licensed, competent, and experienced immigration attorney if any issues arise in the final approval of your cancellation case or production of your U.S. green card.

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