It is highly unusual for USCIS or the US State Department to grant lawful permanent residency (a green card) without conducting a personal interview of the applicant. However, it does occasionally happen. To properly explain this, we must first clear up a common misconception. Most green card cases hinge primarily on two different forms. The petition and the application.
What Is An Immigration Petition?
The purpose of filing a petition before USCIS is to prove the existence of a relationship that would allow a noncitizen to get a green card here in the United States. In most cases, that petition would be an I-130 (for people getting a green card through a family member) an I-140 (for people getting a green card through employment), or an I-360 (for people who qualify as a special immigrant).
A citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States may file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) The form is used to establish the lawful relationship between an immigrant and a relative who will petition/sponsor them.
An I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker is a request for a green card submitted by an employer to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, asking permission for a specific alien to live and work permanently in the United States.
An I-360 asks the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide a foreign national with a green card (lawful permanent residence) as either an Amerasian, a widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, or a battered/abused spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Other common examples of special immigrants include religious workers, foreign medical graduates, juveniles dependent on U.S. courts, and a few others.
Many people filing Form I-360 will do so as a "self-petition," while in other cases, a sponsoring organization files the petition.
What Is An Immigration Application for a Green Card
The residency application is simpler to understand than the petition. In almost all cases it refers to either an application for adjustment of status (USCIS form I-485) for individuals eligible to file to complete the green card process entirely in the United States or an Immigrant Visa Application (State Department Form DS-260) for those who chose (or who are required to) complete the processing of their green card case outside the U.S. through the United States consulate which has jurisdiction over their application.
In either of these cases, the appropriate immigration petition must have been approved before (or in some cases at the same time) the filing of the application for permanent residency.
It is not uncommon for USCIS to approve a petition unless that petition is an I-130 based upon marriage. Most other petitions can meet their burden of proof entirely through the submission of all required documents.
An application for adjustment of status is however an entirely different matter.
All adjustment of status applicants has to be interviewed in person by immigration officers unless the interview is waived by USCIS. USCIS officers have the power to waive an interview process for certain individuals in specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis. The interview enables USCIS to verify important relevant information under oath about the applicant to determine eligibility for adjustment. Generally, the Form I-130 petitioner must attend an interview with the principal's adjustment of status applicant, as well as all derivative applicants regardless of filing category.
During the interview, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer ensures that the applicant understood all questions on his or her application and provides an opportunity for correcting any answers, which had been completed incorrectly or whose content has changed since applying. Unanswered questions or incomplete application details are usually resolved at the Interview. If information is added/updated, then the applicant must re-sign and date after the interview.
Waiving the Interview
USCIS officers may determine, through a case-by-case review, that it is unnecessary to interview certain adjustment of status applicants. When determining whether to waive an interview, an officer is required to consider all relevant evidence in the applicant's record.
These include, but are not limited to,
Applicants who are clearly ineligible for adjustment of status;
If a child is unmarried and under 21 years old, they are eligible for an interview waiver if he/she filed a Form I-485 on their own. All immediate family members of that child who applied must be eligible for an interview to apply for this waiver;
Parents of U.S. citizens;
Unmarried children of lawful permanent residents (under the age of 14) may also be able to apply for a green card without an interview process if they meet other eligibility requirements.
If USCIS determines, however, that an interview for an applicant in any of the above categories is necessary, an officer is entitled to require a personal appearance to conduct the interview. Likewise, if USCIS determines that an interview of an applicant in any other category not listed above is unnecessary, then they may waive the interview.
Military Personnel Petitioners
USCIS may waive the personal appearance of the military spouse petitioner; however, the adjustment applicant is required to appear for an interview. USCIS usually tries to reschedule these cases so that both the petitioner and adjustment applicant can attend the interview before or after deployment. But if it is not possible, then USCIS will take additional steps to process these cases. The adjustment applicant may choose to proceed while the petitioner is abroad.
USCIS may waive the personal appearance of a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse petitioner who is in jail and unable to attend the adjustment interview. In these situations, the adjustment applicant must however appear for an interview. As in most cases where an interview appearance is waived the officer must take all the facts and evidence surrounding the case into consideration on a case-by-case basis when deciding whether to waive the petitioner's appearance.
Illness or Incapacitation
The USCIS officer may waive the personal appearance of an applicant or petitioner who is too ill or incapacitated to appear at the USCIS office. In most such cases, the officer must obtain approval from a supervisor to waive the interview requirement.