Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status

Updated on January 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Consular processing and adjustment of status are two ways to apply for a Green Card.
  • Consular processing is done abroad at a U.S. consulate, while adjustment of status is for individuals already living in the U.S.
  • Consular processing allows applying from the home country but may lack certain benefits and can be time-consuming.
  • Adjustment of status offers advantages like staying in the U.S. during the process, employment authorization, and the right to appeal, but it is only available to those already in the U.S.

Are you looking to get a Green Card? Are you perhaps wondering where the best place is to apply for it? Do you know what the differences are between consular processing and adjustment of status?

Let us help you understand the differences in consular processing vs adjustment of status. Use this information to help you decide which immigration route will be the best route for you.

What Are Consular Processing and Adjustment of Status?

There are many types of Green Card categories. Each category has its own eligibility criteria. But there are basically only two ways to apply for a Green Card. It’s either by adjustment of status or consular processing. Let’s take a look at the differences.

Consular Processing Explained

Consular processing takes place abroad. It happens at a U.S. consulate, hence the name. People who want a Green Card who lives abroad must follow a consular processing route. They need to work with the U.S. consulate in their home country to apply for their immigrant visa. Let’s have a look at some pros and cons of consular processing.

Consular Processing Advantages

  • The U.S. consulate in your country could perhaps work very fast and minimize your waiting time
  • You can apply for a Green Card from your home country
  • You save money by not having to travel to the U.S. to file the application (if you were in your home country at the time of your application).

Consular Processing Disadvantages

  • You can’t have an attorney in your interview
  • It’s difficult to satisfy the USCIS about your eligibility if you had a bad interview
  • Consular processing removes you from your family in the U.S. (if applicable)
  • People who have lived in the U.S. on a visa must travel back to their home countries and complete the application from there (it costs money to relocate for the time being)
  • Consular processing offers no right to appeal (you must reapply if you didn’t cause any grounds for ineligibility).

Which Applicants Must Use Consular?

People who live abroad who aren’t eligible for an immigrant visa yet need to apply for their Green Cards from abroad. Preferably from their home country. This will be through consular processing. Then there are also people who live in the U.S. on a temporary visa. If this is you, it could be a better idea to return home to apply for a Green Card. Avoiding removal procedures if your temporary visa runs out is imperative. It is, therefore, a better idea to apply for a Green Card via a consular processing route since it could take much longer than 8 months to get it. This timeframe most probably stretches beyond your allowed stay in the U.S. on your temporary visa.

Consular Processing Travel Considerations

You can go to the U.S. on a temporary visa. But once you file a Form I-130 you notify the USCIS about your intentions to move to the U.S. permanently. The USCIS will, therefore, apply much scrutiny to your application for a temporary (nonimmigrant) visa. A temporary visa applicant must have proof of return to your home country, but a Form I-130 indicates the exact opposite.

Consular Processing Required Forms

Consular Processing Cost

This totals to $1,200. It is maybe cheaper than adjustment of status, but it still holds more disadvantages.

Consular Processing Processing Time

Consular processing times depend largely on how busy the offices are. It also depends on your eligibility for an immigrant visa. Work with the U.S. consulate in your home country and you could only wait 4 months. But in some cases where more evidence is required to warrant your Green Card, you could wait more than 12 months to get your Green Card.

Adjustment of Status Explained

Adjustment of status is a very helpful way to apply for a Green Card. Especially for people who are already living in the U.S. on a K1 visa, for example. An immigrant visa already grants the beneficiary many privileges associated with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages that could help show the differences in the consular processing vs adjustment of status debate.

Advantages to Adjustment of Status

  • A current adjustment of status application acts like a visa which allows you to stay in the U.S. until your case reaches a decision
  • You are allowed to get an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) during this time
  • You get permission to travel abroad and return with “advance parole
  • You are allowed to have an attorney at your interview
  • Even if you don’t get your Green Card after your interview, you have the right to appeal and present your application for a Green Card to an immigration judge (don’t get a fright if you are placed into removal proceedings, it’s normal)
  • Any time bars keeping you from reentering the U.S. only activates once you leave the U.S. If you apply through adjustment of status, you don’t have to leave the U.S. until the process is completed (if you get denied).

Disadvantages to Adjustment of Status:

  • It’s only available to people already in the U.S.
  • It could possibly take longer than a consular processing
  • It requires more expensive processing fees than consular processing.

The downside is small when compared to the upside. Some people would argue to rather opt for an adjustment of status as opposed to choosing consular processing to file for a Green Card. It’s up to you and your situation. Your circumstances will determine the best option for you.

Adjustment of Status Travel Considerations

An active adjustment of status application serves as a visa. You may remain in the U.S. but it doesn’t warrant a return through the borders. You need to file a Form I-131 to get advance parole. This will help you to reenter once you reach a U.S. border. Leaving without it may look like an abandonment of your application to adjust your status.

Adjustment of Status Required Forms

Adjustment of Status Cost

This comes down to a total expense of $1’760. Just remember some forms may require no filing fees but the actual information may incur an expense. The medical examination appointment you might need to make in order to complete Form I-693 could have fees associated with it, for example.

Adjustment of Status Processing Time

Adjustment of status may be easier but it can take longer than consular processing. The USCIS offices are very busy and you could wait between 8 to 14 months before you get your Green Card. A small price to pay though, considering you get to stay with your friends and family in the U.S.

Consular Processing vs Adjustment of Status FAQ

This is a difficult decision. There are so many scenarios that can play out. What are you allowed to do? And what do you need to look out for? Let’s recap by answering some frequently asked questions.

May I travel to the United States so that I can adjust my status?

You may only use a nonimmigrant visa for temporary purposes. Tourists and other short-term visitors get a nonimmigrant visa. They don’t intend to stay and they must return before their permitted stay ends. You can only go to the U.S. on an immigrant visa to adjust your status. Remember the 90-day rule, though. You shouldn’t adjust your status within the first 90 days of your stay in the U.S.

How do I switch from adjustment of status to consular processing?

File the correct documents as listed above and simply change your desired application method. It may cause you to wait longer for your Green Card, however. An immigration attorney will be of great assistance in this process.

How do I switch from consular processing to adjustment of status?

You must first of all be eligible for an immigrant visa. Get your papers filed, move to the U.S., and file your application to adjust your status. Just remember the 90-day rule (don’t adjust status within the first 90 days of your stay in the U.S.).

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.