Why Was My Green Card Denied?

Not everyone who seems to qualify for a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence) actually receives one. The denial rates vary by category of green card, and they vary widely.

Not everyone who seems to qualify for a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence) actually receives one. The denial rates vary by category of green card, and they vary widely—statistics of denial rates between 6% and 50% are commonly seen.

The reasons for the immigration authorities (in most cases, either the U.S. State Department or U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, known as USCIS) to deny a green card vary widely as well.

This article will mainly discuss two basic issues that lead to green card denial:

  • lack of basic eligibility for the type of green card, and
  • inadmissibility, meaning characteristics that prohibit someone from entering the U.S. whether they're applying for a visa or a green card or some other form of entry. It's possible to have some grounds of inadmissibility corrected or waived (legally forgiven), but you'll want a lawyer's help.

Basic Ineligibility as a Reason for Green Card Denial

U.S. immigration laws are quite strict in requiring that applicants fit themselves into narrow categories of eligibility. So, for instance, someone requesting a green card based on having a U.S. citizen stepparent might be denied if it turns out that the parents' marriage took place after the child was age 18.

Or, someone might be denied a green card as an investor if they can't prove that the investment won't create at least ten new jobs in the United States.

Procedural Hurdles in Successfully Obtaining a U.S. Green Card

Also realize that just getting through the process of obtaining a U.S. green card can be difficult. Some people's applications fall apart because they fail to meet deadlines, or to attend their interview for an immigrant visa or green card, or to supply the documentation that the U.S. immigration authorities ask for. These can quickly lead to a denial.

Or, in some cases, the application process drags on long enough that they lose eligibility for the type of green card; a particular hazard with the diversity visa lottery.

Immigration Violations as Reasons for Green Card Denial

If you have violated U.S. immigration laws, for example by committing fraud in order to get a visa, entering the United States illegally (especially more than once), entering as a stowaway, or helping smuggle aliens across the U.S. border, your green card application may be denied. An exception might be made if you can qualify for a "waiver," or legal forgiveness.

In some cases the denial is permanent, in others you won't be allowed a green card for a period of years.

Drug-Related Reasons for Green Card Denial

Drug traffickers, drug addicts, and drug abusers will be denied a green card. In some cases no conviction is even required—admitting to abusing a drug can, by itself, lead to a denial of immigration benefits. One-time experimentation might be okay, but not much more.

Economic Grounds for Denial of a Green Card

In order to limit the number of people coming to the U.S. who will need economic support from the government, immigrants who are deemed likely to become "public charges"—that is, require government financial or related assistance—will be denied green cards.

This usually comes up in the context of family-based immigrant petitions. Family petitioners (sponsors) will have to submit an Affidavit of Support on Form I-864 promising to be financially responsible for the immigrant for approximately ten years. The U.S. petitioner will need to show a level of income and assets sufficient to support the immigrant and family at 125% above the U.S. poverty line. To see exactly what income levels are required (they're updated annually), see USCIS Form I-864P.

If the U.S. petitioner's income and assets are not enough, the application can be supplemented by showing assets held by the immigrant, or by having a household member or other friend or relative additionally promise to provide support.

Crimes and Security Grounds for Denial of a Green Card

A number of crimes will lead U.S. immigration authorities to deny a green card, including money laundering, prostitution or soliciting a prostitute, and "crimes of moral turpitude," a subjective standard which may cover everything from murder to rape (including statutory rape) to bribery to perjury.

In addition, having two convictions on record for any type of crime is a ground of inadmissibility.

Similarly, people considered to be spies, terrorists, saboteurs, or to have the intention of overthrowing the U.S. government and so forth are inadmissible.

Do not attempt to analyze on your own whether a certain crime or security violation makes you ineligible for a green card. There is no set list: You'll need a lawyer's help with the analysis. Also realize that, even in some cases where you might have been told that a crime would be wiped off your record ("expunged"), U.S. immigration authorities may still count that crime against you.

Health Grounds for Green Card Denial

In an effort to protect the health of the people of the United States, certain health problems can lead to a denial of a green card—which U.S. immigration authorities will find out about by having you undergo a physical examination as part of the application process.

Having a communicable disease of public health significance, or a physical or mental disorder that threatens the property, welfare, or safety of others, are grounds for denial.

Tuberculosis is the main problem in terms of communicable diseases (HIV used to be, but no longer). However, the physical or mental disorder ground is much broader. For example, if you have a DUI on record (a conviction for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol) and U.S. immigration authorities discover that you're an alcoholic, they may decide that this presents a danger to others, and that you are inadmissible as a result.

A person who has not had required vaccinations can also be denied a green card. The coronavirus vaccine is one of the required ones. You'll typically be asked to have any vaccinations you lack at the end of your required medical exam (though obviously some scheduling is required if it's a series of injections).

What Options Do You Have to Overcome a Denial?

See the following articles to learn more about dealing with the various types of green card application denials:

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