The family-based immigration process is long and unpredictable. That makes it difficult to plan a move to the United States. Oftentimes, applicants want to take some time to arrange a move to the U.S. after they’ve been approved for a permanent resident (green card) visa. But, they’re unsure of exactly how much time they have. Here’s the answer to that common question.
Once my visa is approved, do I have to move to the U.S. immediately or can I wait?
The short answer is no.
You have only approximately six months from the time of your approval at the interview to go through the residency (green card) process at the border. I say approximately because here is the thing: You should come to the US and apply for admission in the United States no later than the expiration date printed on your visa.
An immigrant visa is usually valid for up to six months from the date of issuance, but if your medical examination expires sooner, this may make your visa valid for an even shorter time.
The key is to look at the visa expiration date.
It works like this.
1. You attend the visa interview and receive a decision on your application.
After you submit the required applications and wait for them to be processed, you’ll attend your scheduled visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. In most cases, this is where you will find out whether you are approved or denied for a visa. However, even if you are approved you are not considered a resident yet. Technically, you have one more checkpoint to go through before you become a resident—approval at the U.S. border by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
2. Travel to the U.S. and receive final approval at the border.
It’s a common misconception that once you are approved for an immigrant visa you will be allowed to enter the United States. However, United States Customs and Border Patrol has the ultimate discretion whether or not to allow people to enter. That means your visa isn’t fully approved until you are admitted to the United States; not until that moment does your residency start.
After you receive the approval for your visa at the visa interview, you will receive your visa. You will be instructed by your specific embassy on making arrangements to receive a visa and sealed packet in the mail. You will be directed to NOT open this envelope. This envelope is for the US Customs and Border Patrol. They will review these documents when you travel to the United States and ultimately decide if you are allowed to enter the country.
3. You enter the United States and are officially a permanent resident.
Customs and Border Patrol approves you to enter the country. It is not until this moment that you are a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
What happens if I wait too long to travel to the U.S.?
From the time of the interview to the date of your entry, you only have about six months to enter the United States (it could be a lot less time depending on the expiration of your medical exam). After that, all your paperwork, everything you did, will be considered expired and you will have to begin the process from scratch.
I do not recommend that you begin the immigration process until you are sure you want to move to the United States. It's a lot of money and it's time consuming. If you're not quite ready, I would suggest that you wait until you have a more solid timeframe of when you want to live in the United States. At the same time, also be aware that the processing time is long and plan accordingly for that. If you want to live here tomorrow, that's not going to happen.
If you are going to embark on this immigrant visa journey through a family member, you should be sure that you want to live in the U.S. and that you understand that there is not going to be a solid timeframe for this process. It’s impossible to know the exact date of when you will be able to come live in the United States.
Immigration Help: Family-Based Visa Application (Immigrant Visa)
If you have any questions about your family-based visa application, I am happy to help. I’m Sharon Abaud, a dedicated and passionate immigration attorney, fluent in English and Spanish, located in the Los Angeles area. Call (310) 803-3040 or visit https://abaudlegal.com/appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
Sharon is the best lawyer I've had the pleasure to work with!
Sharon is the best lawyer I've had the pleasure to work with. She was very professional, but also offered emotional support during sometimes tough episodes and harsh deadlines. Indeed, I would definitely recommend her. Thanks Sharon! Mallory, the kiddos and I appreciate all your hard work!
Si usted tiene cualquier pregunta sobre cuestiones o casos de inmigración, me encantaría poder ayudarle. Soy una abogada de inmigración dedicada y apasionada, con gran dominio del idioma inglés y español. Ubicada en el área de Los Ángeles. Su caso de inmigración es importante para mi.