Consular Processing/Adjustment of Status
Consular processing is the procedure to obtain an immigrant visa for applicants who are physical present outside of the United States. Adjustment of Status is the process through which an applicant can become a permanent resident while physically present in the United States. Both processes ultimately lead to the same result and the correct process is determined based on where the foreign national is physically when they decide to pursue permanent residency.
The government agencies handling these processes are different. Specifically, Consular Processing is handled by the National Visa Center (NVC) as well as the Consulate/Embassy where the foreign national resides. Once all required documents are collected by the NVC, the agency reviews all the materials to determine credibility and eligibility. After all supporting materials are found to be acceptable, the Consulate/Embassy schedules an in-person interview for the foreign national to obtain an immigrant visa. Immigrant visas are issued to be valid for a period of six months. Upon entry into the United States, the foreign national becomes a permanent resident and the entry triggers USCIS to manufacture a permanent resident card (aka, the Green Card).
On the other hand, Adjustment of Status is processed by USCIS in the United States. Applicants are required to utilize Form I-485, which must be used regardless of whether the applicant wishes to become a permanent resident based on employment, asylum, family, or refugee status. After submitting the application to USCIS, the applicant is scheduled to attend a biometric appointment where USCIS collects their fingerprints and photo. An in-person interview at the local USCIS field office may be required. If not, USCIS service center approves the I-485 application, which results in the applicant becoming a permanent residency of the United States.
Both processes are subject to the Immigrant Visa quota system regulated by the U.S. Department of State through the Visa Bulletin.