It’s important to note that not everyone has a choice. Only a small percentage of intending immigrants has the choice between adjustment of status and consular processing. When applying for an immigrant visa (green card), the applicant can either be approved while in the United States by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through adjustment of status, or through an immigrant visa application through the Department of State (DOS) through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate called consular processing. Each process has its own timeline, as well as a different set of application forms, supporting documents and fees, but the general eligibility requirements are the same. While most applicants do not have a choice between the two options, some applicants may be in a position to decide whether one approach is better than the other for their specific circumstances and goals.

Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of Status (AOS) is the process of applying for permanent resident status while you are already in the United States. This means that you can apply for a green card without having to leave the country. AOS is available to those who are eligible based on the type of visa they entered the country with, such as family-based or employment-based visas. The requirements for AOS greatly limit the number of people that may be eligible. Generally, the applicant must be in the United States through a lawful entry and a visa must be immediately available. Only immediate relatives (spouses, unmarried children under age 21 and parents of U.S. citizens) always have a visa available. For this reason, typically only immediate relatives in the U.S. even have the opportunity to adjust status. Family preference categories generally end up going through the consular process, unless they are lawfully in the U.S. and can maintain their lawful status until the green card is approved.

To apply for AOS, you need to file form I-485 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will also need to provide supporting documents, such as a medical examination report, proof of identity, and proof of eligibility. One advantage of AOS is that you can remain in the United States while your application is pending. This means that you can continue to work and live in the country while waiting for your green card. However, AOS can take several months to process, and it can be a complicated and expensive process that may require legal counsel.

Can I Travel Outside the U.S. During Adjustment of Status

With certain exceptions, while waiting for USCIS to approve the I-485 application, adjustment of status applicants may travel outside the U.S. provided they have obtained the correct travel authorization. The applicant must obtain an advance parole travel document before departing the U.S. This is done by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, while the Form I-485 is pending. Generally, an adjustment applicant that leaves the United States without advance parole is automatically considered to have abandoned the I-485 application and may not be able to re-enter the U.S. So obtaining the advance parole document prior to departing the U.S. is extraordinarily important.

Note: Applicants who have any period of unlawful presence in the U.S. should consult with any attorney before departing.

Consular Processing

Consular processing (CP) involves obtaining a green card through a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. CP is available to those who are outside the United States or are ineligible for AOS. This means that you will need to leave the United States and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. To apply for CP, you will need to file form DS-260 with the Department of State and attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy. You will also need to provide supporting documents, such as a medical examination report, police certificates, and proof of financial support.

Applying through CP means you’ll wait in your home country while your green card application is processed. Individuals who stay in the U.S. for six months or longer past their nonimmigrant (temporary) visa’s expiration date, will be barred from re-entering the U.S. for 3 or 10 years after leaving the U.S. They would need a “waiver of inadmissibility” before to allow re-enter the U.S., so it is important to leave the U.S. before the expiration of the applicant's nonimmigrant status. The drawback is that the applicant will need to live outside of the U.S. while waiting for green card approval, which can takes months and sometimes years.

Can I Travel to the U.S. During Consular Processing

It is typically more difficult to visit the United States while an immigrant visa petition is pending. Though it’s possible to get a B-1/B-2 visitor's visa, it shouldn’t be expected. When the petitioner files Form I-130, it signals to the U.S. government that the beneficiary intends to live in the U.S. permanently at some point in the future. As a result, an application for a nonimmigrant visa (such as a visitor's visa) will receive additional scrutiny. Nonimmigrant visas are generally only issued to travelers that provide sufficient evidence that the visit will be temporary. You'll need evidence of your non-immigrant intent if you plan to enter the U.S. with a visitor visa and pending I-130 petition.

Spouses of U.S. citizens may be able to apply for a K-3 visa. The K-3 visa (and K-4 for child dependents) was designed to allow the visa holder to enter the U.S. while awaiting the case. K-3 spouses may adjust status to permanent resident once they enter the U.S.

Adjustment of Status


$535.00 - Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or
$700.00 -Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker

$1,140.00 - Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status

$85.00 - Biometrics Fee

Total for Typical Adult Applicant: $1,760-$1,925

Consular Processing - Family Immigrant Visa


$535.00 - Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative or
$700.00 - Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker

$325.00 - DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application

$120.00 - Form I-864, Affidavit of Support

$220.00 - USCIS Immigrant Fee

Total for Typical Adult Applicant: $1,200-1,365

Note: All USCIS, NVC and U.S. Consulate Fees subject to change

Fees Compared

Which Option Is Best for You?

Deciding between AOS and CP depends on your individual circumstances. If you are already in the United States and are eligible for AOS, it may be the easier option for you. However, if you are outside the United States or are ineligible for AOS, consular processing may be your only option.

It is important to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option before applying. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney can help you make an informed decision and ensure that your application is successful.


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