Immigrant Visa Arrival
This entry discusses traveling to the United States after receiving an Immigrant Visa and the admission procedure. This is sometimes called 'activating' by immigrants. "Activation" is not a term used by Government officials. The visa is good for one admission only -- however that admission grants status as a permanent resident.
Your Immigrant Visa is a full passport-page size sticker placed in your passport. Upon arrival, the visa will be stamped ("endorsed") by the CBP officer, and can serve as the documentary equivalent of your "Green Card" for one year from endorsement. This is useful in case your Green Card takes too long to produce or is lost in the mail to you. There are two distinct parts to your immigrant arrival: your status and your documentation of that status.
In regards to documentation of of permanent resident documentation, it should be noted that several synonymous terms are used: "Green Card," "I-551," "Resident Card," "LPR Card" and "Alien Registration Card [ARC]".
The Immigrant Visa is the documentation issued by the Consulate. It is generally valid for six months from issue date. This means that you must travel to the US within those six months and use the visa.
When you check-in for travel, your airline will need to see the visa to confirm that you have the appropriate entry document for the US. You will also hand-carry your Mysterious Brown Envelope, the "Do Not Open" envelope that the Consulate/Embassy sent back to you with your passport. The envelope contains all your visa application documents and will be handed in at arrival and then become the base of your permanent A-file, the immigration record that stays with you for life.
Departure & Travel
NOTE: Regulations from the TSA/Transportation Safety Administration guide what you may pack and hand carry in your luggage. Since these regulations change frequently, please visit the TSA website and the US Customs regulations regarding what to pack, what to carry, and what to ship or leave behind.
In-flight, you will NOT complete an I-94 or I-94W card, even if the flight staff insist you will. You are an immigrant, and will not use one of these cards for any future travel (they are for visitors).
You will need to complete a US Customs declaration; since you are immigrating, there is no duty charged on your used, personal belongings. If you are traveling with a spouse or other family members, it's still one card per family. For US Customs purposes, you are a "Nonresident/First Time Immigrant". Please refer to the following links:
A tip before leaving the country: As a matter of general advice: when the father of a child immigrates to the US, it is good practice to maintain very good records and back-up documentation of child support payments for the children not living with you.
The first airport or border station you come to in the US is your POE/Port of Entry. Your immigration admission happens there.
It is not all that uncommon for immigrants to enter via land ports of entry. This usually from Canada or Mexico. On occasion admission may be by ship. If the land admission is via a remote border crossing [e.g. into Alaska] or by ship, one should get advance information on the procedures.
When you enter the Immigration Hall at a US airport, you may use any of the lines ("the shortest" is a popular answer) but the answer may depend on which airport you arrive to and what their set up is at the moment you arrive. Some have a dedicated line or table for arriving immigrants. One tactic is to have your Mysterious Brown Envelope out and visible and if not approached by an officer, to seek one out and simply ask where they prefer you to go. You may pass through a Primary Inspection desk or not, but you and your envelope will end up in Secondary Inspection where you wait time will depend on the volume of people in front of you. Once you reach the Inspector in Secondary, your admission procedure will most often take about 15 minutes and will involve a couple of questions, your fingerprints and a photograph. Do note that there may be some extremely rare circumstances in which admission will be delayed or referred to a local office.
You are being admitted as a Permanent Resident of the United States. This is your immigration status, mentioned above, and you now have that status until you formally give up your PR status or lose it by a number of different activities like moving away from the US (see below for more information from USCIS). The Green Card (and the endorsed visa in your passport) are evidence of that status, but if you lose your Green Card, for example, you are still a Permanent Resident (but be sure to replace that card!)
According to USCIS, "A green card is issued to all permanent residents as proof that they are authorized to live and work in the United States. If you are a permanent resident age 18 or older, you are required to have a valid green card in your possession at all times. (you must carry proof of your immigration status) You must show it to an immigration officer if asked for it. Your card is valid for 10 years and must be renewed before it expires."
If you have gained your Permanent Resident status based on marriage to a US citizen, your PR status is either code CR-1 or IR-1. If you have been married less than 2 years at admission, it should be CR-1. You will have an additional step two years after arrival and MUST file form I-751. Your Green Card (and status) will be valid for two years from the date of admission.
There is currently no BritishExpats Wiki entry on the I-751/Removing Conditions. There are some specifics to filing this application, so please visit the Marriage Based Visas forum here for more information, and to make sure you file this petition at the correct time.
If you have been married more than 2 years at the time of admission, you should be admitted as IR-1. Your Green Card will be valid for 10 years. If the second anniversary of your marriage occurs after visa issuance, but before admission, the visa will be as a CR-1, but the admission will be as an IR-1. If you are in this situation, make sure you are admitted in the correct status. If you are admitted incorrectly in the wrong status, the problem does not go away. It will be much easier to change right there ar the airport or border, so take a moment to look for the code. [It is not uncommon for new immigrants to delay their admission for a few days in order to avoid imposition of the condition.
All other immigrants (except EB-5 investors) will receive Green Cards valid for 10 years at a pop. To renew your Green Card (your status does not expire, just the card) please see Form I-90.
You should be asked to confirm your US address. If you need to, this is your opportunity to provide a new mailing address for your record. If not, the address on your DS-230 is where your Green Card and Social Security Card (if ordered) will be sent. This is also now your address of record. As a Permanent Resident, you must always notify the USCIS within 30 days of moving with form AR-11. This is a separate requirement to keeping your mailing address current. USCIS Change of Address Information
Based on others' experiences, plan on 2.5 to 3 hours between connecting flights to allow ample time.
When you leave Secondary Inspection, you are now a Permanent Resident! Collect your luggage and clear Customs, and move on to your connecting flight or your final destination.
Welcome to America
Welcome home! For your documents, you can expect your Green Card and Social Security card (if ordered) to arrive in the mail within 4 weeks. Remember, your endorsed visa is used the same way as your Green Card (for employment, identification etc) and should be carried on you. If you have not received a Welcome Letter from USCIS, or anything from the Social Security Administration within 3 weeks of arrival, you should go into the SSA office to chase up your SS card application.