3 min read

Adjustment of Status Vs Consular Processing: Which to Choose?


Jemima Owen-Jones


April 26, 2024

Last Update

July 01, 2024

Table of Contents

What are consular processing and adjustment of status?

An overview of consular processing vs. adjustment of status

A side-by-side comparison of the two processes

Which is best: Adjustment of status and consular processing?

Chart the best course with Deel

Key takeaways
  1. Adjustment of status and consular processing are the two main routes to a US Green Card and permanent residency. The first lets you apply from within the country whereas the second requires you to file from abroad.
  2. Applying via a foreign consulate or embassy can mean reduced waiting times and lower filing fees. However, some applicants prefer the option to remain in the US and potentially start their employment contract earlier.
  3. A US immigration service like Deel can guide you through both processes, from making the initial decision to collecting the Green Card.

Many individuals and their sponsors find themselves at a crossroads when applying for permanent residency in the US. Is it better to choose adjustment of status or consular processing?

The decision is a significant step as it involves a long-term commitment. Applicants can’t switch later without delaying the process and incurring high costs. It’s essential to ensure they’re well-informed about both options and feel confident about whichever choice they make.

This article breaks down the key differences between adjustment of status and consular processing. Continue reading to explore the eligibility criteria, legal requirements, and restrictions for both approaches. 

What are consular processing and adjustment of status?

The US offers two main ways to gain permanent residency in the country: consular processing and adjustment of status. Other options are available but only in very exceptional circumstances.

The key difference is exactly as the names suggest. Adjustment of status happens when an individual currently has non-immigrant status in the US and wants to change it. Whereas consular processing is when they have no visa status and apply for one via their local consulate.

Whichever way you choose has the same outcome. Once the applicant receives approval, they can live and work in the US alongside their direct family members. They can pursue US citizenship if they wish.

Both ways also require applicants to follow a similar process where they submit forms, pay filing fees, and undergo background checks. US immigration officials then assess each case using the same criteria.

Is it possible to switch from consular processing to adjustment of status?

Switching from consular processing to adjustment of status is challenging. You not only have to restart the entire application process but also obtain a non-immigrant visa for the US.

While changing from adjustment of status to consular processing is easier, it’s not advisable. You must take extra steps to transfer the application, which can lead to delays, complications, and higher costs.

In both cases, it’s best to be as sure as possible before you reach the initial decision.

Note that applicants can’t apply for adjustment of status and consular processing simultaneously. US officials may reject one or both of the applications but still require you to pay filing fees. If you appear to be misusing the immigration system, the worker and their sponsors may face extra scrutiny in the future.

An overview of consular processing vs. adjustment of status

Here’s a quick comparison of the main differences between the two processes:

Consular Processing Change of Status
Location Applicant’s home country or last residence Within the US
Authority US Department of State (DOS) United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS)
Designated Offices The nearest US embassy or consulate to the applicant USCIS field offices
Eligibility Based outside the US or planning to leave Have a family or employer sponsor Admissable to the US OR eligible for a waiver of ineligibility Based in the US Possess a valid non-immigrant visa Have a family or employer sponsor Allowed to pursue adjustment of status
Travel restrictions No restrictions Unable to leave the US without Form I-131
Forms I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) DS-260 (Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application) I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)
Costs Start from around $1060 USD Start from around $2155
Estimated Time Six to 12 months Eight to 14 months
Dependents File concurrently

USCIS frequently revises factors like filing fees and eligibility criteria. It’s important to ensure your information is accurate and up to date. Use the Deel Compliance Hub to get notifications about any changing visa requirements in the US.

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A side-by-side comparison of the two processes

In this section, we’ll compare change of status and consular processing in more detail. We’ll walk you through the US immigration visa application and show you the main similarities and differences at each stage.

Determining eligibility

The first step is determining your worker’s eligibility for a US Green Card. At the same time, you can check whether they’re able to file for adjustment of status.

To apply within the country, applicants must:

  • Have entered the country lawfully
  • Remain resident in the US
  • Maintain a valid visa status up to the point of approval
  • Bear no grounds for inadmissibility (for example, criminal offenses)
  • Be permitted to change their type of visa

The last point isn’t a straightforward yes or no situation. Although single-intent visas don’t permit you to change status, there are legitimate ways around this restriction. For example, applicants can switch to a dual-intent visa and apply for permanent residency afterward. 

If applicants can’t meet any of these criteria, they must leave the country and undergo consular processing. Otherwise, you can decide what suits the applicant and the employer sponsor best.

Unsure about visa eligibility? Deel Immigration can provide you with a legal consultation to provide guidance on even the most complex cases. 

Filing petitions

Whichever route you take, the US employer must file Form I-140 or Petition for an Alien Worker. They must submit the forms directly to USCIS. The filing fees are $715 per application but there may be additional charges.

Successful applicants receive Form I-797 and their priority date. This date tells you when you can continue the visa process. Those staying in the US for the rest of the application can use the receipt number on their form to check their status.

If you’ve chosen the consular process, UCSIS passes responsibility for your application to the DOS. That means you should make an account on their website and check your priority date there. You’ll receive a National Visa Center (NVC) number to help track your progress.

Submitting immigrant applications

Once your priority date becomes current, you can proceed to the next application. There are different forms depending on the pathway you’ve chosen. 

Those undergoing consular processing must file Form DS-260. The filing fee for employment-based petitions is $345 and $325 for each dependent in 2024. Forms are available for download from the DOS website.

Whereas those applying from the US must submit Form I-485 Adjustment of Status. The filing fees are $1440 for everyone above the age of 14. You can download the form from the USCIS website.

During the DS-260 and I-485 process, both sets of applicants have to attend several appointments:

  • A biometrics appointment to give fingerprints
  • A medical check
  • An interview with an immigration official

These processes are largely the same. However, the experience may differ between consulates and embassies in different countries. The physical condition and accessibility of facilities can vary considerably. 

Awaiting the visa

Until they receive approval, those undergoing consular processing can’t live or work in the US. They can enter on a temporary visa if they need to.

If you’re adjusting status, the applicant must remain in the US while you await the verdict. You can file Form I-131 Application for Travel Document to leave the country and re-enter safely. However, it’s best to avoid international travel if possible — you still risk complications and delays even if you have the right paperwork.

You can submit Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization to begin work during the waiting period. There are up to $520 in filing fees. 

Workers can change jobs if their case is pending for 180 days or longer under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC-21). They can either change roles in their company or switch to a different employer. The only condition is that the nature of the work must remain the same.

Collecting the visa

The approval process looks different for consular processing and adjustment of status.

If the applicant is in the US, they’re not required to do anything. USCIS first sends them an approval notice and then the actual Green Card by post.

Those applying abroad receive a visa packet from their consulate officer. They must not open the packet. Instead, they must present the packet to customs and border control upon entry into the US.

How you can include dependents

Any applicants can sponsor their direct family members as dependents. That’s their spouse and any children under the age of 21.

Dependents can file concurrently provided they use the same method as the primary applicant. However, if they’re outside the US when you file to adjust status, you can’t include them on the form. They must undergo consular processing which requires different paperwork.

Once you’ve filed the forms, family members must follow the same rules. Namely, they can’t work in the US until they’ve received the Green Card. They can apply for work authorization if they’re also applying to change status.

Which is best: Adjustment of status and consular processing?

Both approaches have significant pros and cons:

Consular processing Adjustment of Status
Pros - The filing fees are relatively low
- There are no travel restrictions
- Consular processing times tend to be quicker than adjustment of status
- It’s possible to work while awaiting visa approval
- Applicants can apply to leave and re-enter the US temporarily
- There’s easier access to USCIS resources and support
- Employees have the flexibility to change roles after the case is pending for 180days.
Cons - Applicants can’t stay in the US while awaiting visa approval
- There are more travel costs
- It’s not possible for the employment contract to begin until the applicant enters the country
- The filing fees are substantial
- Processing times can take up to two years
- Applicants may be unable to work to sustain themselves during the waiting period

There’s no right answer. In some cases, only one option is possible due to logistic and financial reasons. The rest of the time, the final decision should come down to the applicant’s needs and preferences. 

For example, some applicants may be close to relatives in their home country. They may be unwilling to restrict their ability to travel freely. Others may have already built lives in the US and want to maintain that stability.

Chart the best course with Deel

When deciding between adjustment of status and consular processing, it’s essential to have all the facts. You must thoroughly assess both options to make a well-informed choice that suits everyone long-term.

Outsourcing to a US immigration service like Deel can help you navigate the visa application. We keep you updated about any changes to filing fees, eligibility criteria, and forms. When it comes time to apply, our expert team can guide you through every step and double-check every detail.

No matter your choice, you can ensure a seamless application. Book a demo with Deel to learn more.

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