The green card interview is typically the final step in the process of applying for U.S. lawful permanent residence, whether you are applying at an overseas U.S. consulate or embassy or a USCIS office in the United States. Before making a decision on your application, U.S. immigration authorities prefer (with a few exceptions) to meet applicants in person. That gives them a chance to review all the applicant's written materials, view any original documents that they've brought in, and ask any relevant questions.
How many questions you will be asked during your interview depends partly on what category of green card you are applying under. For example, in order to obtain a green card through marriage, the interview process will be particularly rigorous, as the officials need to make sure you are not committing marriage fraud. By contrast, a clear-cut case of an applicant who will be working for the same U.S. employer through which they received an H-1B visa can expect fairly light questioning.
Here are the most likely questions you will be asked.
You will need to prove that you are who you claim to be. This could be a driver's license, home country passport, or something similar.
The interviewer will normally start by having you stand, raise your right hand, and take this oath. It means that you will be guilty of perjury if you lie or give false information during the interview.
Sounds obvious, but you can expect this and some other questions that are straight off the forms you filled out. Similar questions might include, "Where were you born?" and "when did you last enter the United States?".
Though the U.S. official who interviews you probably isn't learning much from the answers, there is always the chance of catching someone who's trying to commit a fraud.
A criminal conviction on your record may be grounds for a finding of inadmissibility; that is, ineligibility for a green card. The types of crimes that can lead to a green card being denied are found in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). If you try to read them yourself, you'll appreciate why getting a lawyer involved in your case is essential. The list doesn't only mention specific types of crimes by name, but says, for example, that you can be denied a green card for any crime of "moral turpitude."
Other crimes on the list include things like controlled substance violations, multiple criminal convictions (two or more) where the total prison sentences were five years or more, illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, and so on.
Although you will have had fingerprints taken (if applying for adjustment of status in the U.S., during your biometrics appointment) or provided police certificates (if applying through consular processing in a country where such certificates are available), there is always the chance that someone has a crime on record that wasn't revealed in these reports. This is the interviewer's opportunity to find out about it.
There's no point in hiding any crimes in your past. But if you've already lied on your green card application, you've got double trouble. Lying to obtain an immigration benefit is taken quite seriously by U.S. immigration authorities, and is itself grounds upon which to deny you the green card.
Many people will say "no" to having committed a crime, believing that their arrest led nowhere. But the truth in some cases is that an arrest has implications under U.S. immigration law, which could lead to a finding of inadmissibility. In some situations, an applicant doesn't even need to have been convicted of a crime to be barred from immigrating. The U.S. government's belief that they committed it is enough.
This, too, is meant to reveal whether you are inadmissible as someone who has falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen.
If, for example, you have a new address, have married or divorced, have changed your legal name, have lost or switched jobs, have given birth to a child, and so on, you will need to make sure that your immigration file reflects the latest information. Bring documentary proof of the change (such as a marriage certificate). And, of course, consult with an immigration attorney if there is a possibility that the change impacts your eligibility for a U.S. green card.
This question applies only to applicants for are already in the U.S., adjusting status.
If you have received an EAD, and you have been working, that will help your application by showing that you are unlikely to become a public charge (dependent on government financial assistance), which would make you inadmissible. But if you have been working without having received an EAD, that is considered a violation of your status, and could create problems for your green card application. See an attorney.
This is just one of the many questions that both the immigrant and the U.S. spouse will be asked if the application is for a green card based on marriage. Expect many more, such as, "How many people attended your wedding," "What did you do for the most recent Valentine's Day?," and "What did you eat for dinner and dessert last night?". For more possible questions, see this page on the marriage-based green card interview.
No matter what category you applied for a green card in, you will be required to bring along various sorts of documents. Examples might include pay stubs or a recent tax return to show continuing employment, evidence of your shared life in a marriage case, and so on.
Carefully review the instructions you were sent before the interview. Make copies of any documents that you want to keep the originals of, so you leave them for the officer's file.
As you can tell, you'll be asked a lot of questions, and some of them might seem invasive, repetitive, or worse.
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.
It's a good idea to politely ask the USCIS officer's name at the beginning of the interview. The officers don't always introduce themselves by name, but the name might be shown a little sign on their desk. Write it down. This tidbit of information might become important later, if the interview goes badly. 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.)
What's more, if the officer's behavior is bad enough, you could 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.
Another option to keep in mind is that you can offer to submit by mail any information you don't have with you that the officer is asking for. This way, your case will be postponed ("pended" in USCIS lingo). That will give a frustrated or angry officer a chance to cool down, and give you time to collect your thoughts or resources in order to answer the officer's concerns.
You could make your life easier by hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your visa case. The attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, prepare the paperwork, monitor the progress toward approval, and if need be, attend the interview with you. Also see Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Green Card?.