Dealing With a Bad Green Card Interview

Assuming you have prepared your paperwork carefully and have nothing to hide, your USCIS adjustment of status interview should go smoothly. Nevertheless, difficulties can arise.

By , J.D.

The final step in obtaining a green card in the United States through the process known as adjustment of status is normally to attend an interview with an official of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you want some tips on questions to expect at your interview, here are the most common. This article, however, will focus specifically on what to do in an interview that isn't going well.

(Note: Applicants coming from overseas will normally use a different procedure known as "consular processing," and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.)

Until the date of your adjustment interview, it's quite possible that you will not have had any personal contact with any U.S. immigration official other than when you first arrived at a U.S. border or entry point. The U.S. government views the interview as its chance to confirm the contents of an application after the person has personally sworn to tell the truth. (This is in addition to the fact that applicants represent that their answers on the immigration application forms were true and correct simply by signing them.)

The in-person interview also allows the U.S. government to ask additional questions—for example, in a marriage-based green card case, to ask personal questions that will test whether the marriage is real or a sham.

Assuming you have prepared your paperwork carefully and have nothing to hide, your interview should go smoothly. Nevertheless, its tone and progress will depend in large part on the personality or mood of the USCIS official. Some interviews just go badly, with the USCIS officer behaving in an impatient, rude, or belligerent manner. Here's what to do if that happens:

1) Don't get angry or agitated.

Try to remember that USCIS officers are human—and they have seen a lot of fraudulent applicants along with the worthy ones. Remember also that they hold much of the power over your case. Remain respectful and answer honestly if you don't know or remember something. Never guess or lie, and try to avoid chattering on nervously.

2) Try to get the USCIS officer's name.

The officers don't always introduce themselves by name, but the name might be shown a little sign on their desk. The best thing to do is politely ask the name at the beginning of the interview (not when things have already started to go badly, when the officer might already be feeling defensive). Write the name down.

This tidbit of information might become important later. For example, if you need to file a complaint, discuss the matter with a supervisor, or consult with an attorney, you'll have an edge if you know who you dealt with. (An experienced attorney will know all the local USCIS officers by name and can better understand your description of what happened after learning who was involved.)

3) If the behavior is bad enough, ask to see a supervisor.

You don't have to put up with a USCIS officer who is irrationally angry, makes irrelevant accusations, acts in a discriminatory manner based on your race or gender, or persists with a line of questions or statements that is completely inappropriate.

4) Offer to submit by mail any information you don't have with you.

By offering to supply any information that the officer asked for, your case will be postponed ("pended" in USCIS lingo). That will give the officer a chance to cool down, and give you some time to collect your thoughts or resources in order to answer the officer's concerns.

5) Make notes immediately following your interview.

When you get home, write down as many details as you can remember of the interview, while it's fresh in your mind. Try to remember the officer's exact words, especially regarding any statements about what is lacking or problematic in your case.

If you're able to postpone your case, or are awaiting a decision after a bad interview, consider speaking with an attorney about your experience. Even if you don't, write a letter asking that a supervisor consider the interviewer's conduct when making the final review of your case. Supervisors review all immigration cases, but they will assume the officer acted appropriately unless you advise them otherwise.

And for more information on preparing green card applications and attending your interview, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo), from which this article is partially drawn.

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