Thursday, June 5, 2008

Applying for a Family-Based Green Card in the CNMI: Fees, Costs, Time

Family-Based Green Cards in the CNMI
Generally, aliens can be present in the US with either non-immigrant (temporary) status or a green card (permanent resident status). Permanent residency is primarily obtained through a family member or employment. Many aliens in the CNMI have gotten their green card through a sponsoring immediate relative, like a U.S. citizen spouse. This is because the Covenant, despite broadly excluding the CNMI from federal immigration law, has always recognized the CNMI to be a part of the US when considering aliens who are immediate relatives of US citizens living here. With the enactment of Public Law 110-229 on May 8, 2008, the Covenant will be amended to recognize the CNMI as part of the US for all immigration purposes. As mentioned in our previous post, this will have a direct impact on a variety of aliens who do not have federal immigration status, including those with CNMI IR status but who do not have green cards.

This post covers some of the practical issues with applying for a family-based green card. For an overview of the process and eligibility requirements, go to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) webpage here.

Fees & Costs
USCIS fees associated with a green card application can be quite expensive. In July 2007, the USCIS revised its fee schedule, which resulted in many filing fees doubling and even tripling. USCIS does allow for some fee waivers based on an inability to pay. However, proving an inability to pay might run you the risk of being denied admissibility based on being considered a public charge, which means being dependent on public benefits like Medicaid or food stamps. Being a public charge is one ground for a green card denial.

Besides the USCIS fees, there are at least two substantial costs: the medical exam and the airfare to Guam for the green card interview. An I-693 medical report form needs to be completed by an authorized health care provider. The examination required for this report is different from the check-up for the CNMI work permit. There are at least two authorized health care providers for the I-693 medical exam in the CNMI: Pacific Medical Center and Marianas Medical Center. Both are located in Saipan. Contact the health provider directly to verify the current fee range.

Another cost may be for an attorney if you choose to have one assist you with the process.

The following table breaks down what might come out of your pocket for a green card:

Processing Time
It can take several months or up to a year to process a green card application. You can track general processing times for each USCIS center/office on the USCIS website here. The time it takes depends in large part on the backload of applications at any given USCIS center/office, and whether there are any special issues presented by an applicant’s situation. Before, the average range of time to process a green card was 6-8 months. USCIS is now saying to expect a much longer time frame. This is because of the surge in applications that were submitted last year to avoid the scheduled fee increases.

It usually has taken a month or so to receive the USCIS notice of receipt of the initial application package. If there are no initial problems with the application, USCIS next schedules a green card interview in Guam. This may happen around 2-3 months later. Again, this could take longer now due to an unusually large backload of applications. You and your sponsor will need to attend the interview together. USCIS does not cover the airfare to Guam. After the interview, USCIS may have additional requests for evidence. If an approval is granted, you will receive a notice and your permanent resident card by mail.

Top image entitled “Liberty for immigrants' rights” by philocrites . Middle image entitled “Got this in the mail today” by lacylouwho . Bottom image entitled “Permanent resident card” by nh7a . Top and middle images published under an Attribution NonCommercial Creative Commons license. Bottom image published under an Attribution NonCommercial Share Alike Creative Commons license.