The process to apply for a Green Card of Permanent Residence in the US can be complicated and expensive. But if you are willing to read a lot of documents, and carefully fill out the application forms, you can choose not to use a lawyer’s services.
Disclaimer: This is not a legal advice on immigration. I am just sharing my experience for educational purposes.
Here are 7 tips to help you apply for a US Green Card without a lawyer.
Understand your situation.
Your situation will have a huge impact on whether you can apply for a Green Card without a lawyer. If you entered the USA with the proper documentation through family, employment, or study; if you have adhered to the terms of your visa; and if you don’t have any significant violations of your immigration situation and other laws of the USA, you could decide to apply without a lawyer.
If you have some infractions, potential violations, or any other complications in your immigration status, it might be best to engage the help of a lawyer.
If you have any doubt, consult a lawyer.
A friend of ours is a Post-Doc graduate student who is allowed to work under the F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) in Vanderbilt. She recently applied for Green Card and decided to secure an immigration lawyer’s services. The benefit of getting a lawyer is that they have significantly broad experience in immigration and will be able to help you navigate the complicated immigration processes.
Save money long before you apply for a green card.
The Green Card application process is expensive. Together with my wife and son, I spent $3,635. If you want to see the breakdown of this cost, please read this article: http://amightylife.com/2019/03/04/how-much-does-it-cost-to-apply-for-a-green-card-in-the-usa/.
Check if your employer is willing to help pay for the cost. In my case, my employer covered the expenses for my initial visa processing and renewal. However, I had to pay for the full price of my Green Card application.
Another friend of mine, who is a university professor, consulted her employer and they gladly paid for the full cost of her Green Card application.
Understand the Green Card Application Process.
Apply for a green card as soon as you can! Usually, that means working in the USA for at least two years on a work visa. But your mileage may vary depending on your visa class.
Devote some time to research and understand the Green Card process. Remember that there are different types of Permanent Residence application. Make sure to review this page from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service: https://www.uscis.gov/greencard.
There are two parts to a Green Card Application: the first one is the petition, and the second is the Adjustment of Status. In most cases, you can fill out the forms for this and send them together to the USCIS.
In some cases, however, like my case who is a Religious Worker, you need to submit the petition first. Once the petition is approved, send in your application for the adjustment of status.
Apply for other related forms at the same time
Include the applications for Employment Authorization Document (I-765) and the Travel Authorization Form (I-131) so that you and your dependents can work and travel legally while waiting for the results of your Green Card application.
Generally speaking, if your visa is still current, you probably will not need the Travel Authorization Form. But it is always a good practice to cover the basics because if you leave the USA without a valid visa or the travel authorization document, that may be interpreted as abandonment of your Green Card application.
Depending on the wait times of your Green Card application, you may decide to send the Medical Form (I-693) at a later time. That is fine. The USCIS will send you a Request for Evidence (RFE) if they are already processing your application and they need this form.
Carefully fill out every single form you need to file and then SIGN it.
Read and follow the instructions to the letter. Download the forms from the USCIS website and the Instructions. Each form is accompanied by a set of instructions that will guide you in filling out the form.
The instructions may sometimes feel confusing. If you are really struggling to fill out the forms after reading the instructions several times, maybe it is better to consult an immigration lawyer.
Make sure to sign each and every document you send. If you forget to do this, the USCIS may automatically reject your application.
Sign up for an account at USCIS.gov to monitor your application.
Head over to https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do and create an account. Enable Email and/or SMS notification so you can monitor if there is a new action on your case.
I have used this service throughout our Green Card application process. There were several months without updates, but that is just part of the process.
Wait! Meanwhile, follow the terms of your legal stay in the USA.
Waiting is perhaps the most excruciating part of this process. You can read the instructions carefully, fill out the forms accurately, and then send your application on time. You can control all of these actions.
However, once you send your application, it is beyond your control. The USCIS will review it according to their own time frame. It can be frustrating, given the long delays of Permanent Resident applications. But there is nothing else you can do.
To monitor the Processing Times, visit this link: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. When I applied the processing times for my Green Card application was between 10-25 months. Now, the processing times for I-485 is between 9-47.5 months.
Thankfully, we got our Green Cards exactly 18 months after we began the process.
Bonus tip: Don’t send any document unless the USCIS asks for it!
Last tip! Don’t send any document to the USCIS unless they ask you for it. The way they ask is by sending you a “Request for Evidence.”
If you send them anything without the RFE letter, your document will just get lost. Photocopies of original documents are usually accepted. But they may ask for the original document if they think it is necessary.