The process you can use to apply for a Green Card while you are in the U.S. is known as Adjustment of Status (AOS). That means you don’t have to return to your home country to complete the visa process. Even if your visa expires while your AOS application is being processed, you can continue to stay in the U.S.
However, if you are outside the U.S. at the time of applying for a Green Card, you need to go through consular processing to get your visa.
What form to use for Adjustment of Status?
For an Adjustment of Status, you need to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You need to file this form with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Adjustment of Status Form I-485 Timeline
The processing time for an Adjustment of Status application can take anywhere from 8-14 months if you are married to a U.S. citizen or 29-38 months if you are married to a permanent resident (Green Card holder). The main reason for the lengthy timeline is that you have to wait for the priority date to become current. The time to process an application also depends on the processing center where you have filed your application and their caseload. You can check USCIS’s processing times to get an idea of the time it will take at the processing center where you have filed.
When the USCIS has to keep sending you requests for more evidence or supporting documents, the process gets delayed further. So, make sure that you send a completed application and include all the required supporting documents the first time itself.
Adjustment of Status Form I-485 Fees
The Adjustment of Status fees depends on your age and whether or not you are filing with a parent. AOS fees are typically:
- $1,225, which includes the filing fee of $1,140 and biometrics services fee of $85, if you are between the ages of 14 and 78.
- $750, if you are under 14 years of age and are filing with a parent.
- $1,140, if you are under 14 years of age and are not filing with a parent.
- $1,140, if you are over 78 years of age.
- If you file Form I-485 as a refugee, both the filing fee and biometrics services fee is waived.
Adjustment of Status Requirements
To file for an Adjustment of Status you need to be eligible by qualifying for a Green Card through your family, through employment, or other ways like the diversity visa or on humanitarian grounds and for other reasons.
Here are the qualifying categories for a Green Card:
- To be eligible for a family-based Green Card you need to be a spouse, child, parent, or close relative of a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder.
- To be eligible for an employment-based Green Card you need to be employed by an employer who is willing to sponsor you for a Green Card based on your abilities.
Through other grounds
- You may qualify for a Green Card through the diversity lottery, on humanitarian grounds or for other reasons.
Requirements to adjust status:
- Your latest entry into the U.S. should have been using a valid visa or through the Visa Waiver program.
- You need to be present in the U.S. in lawful status. The only exception is if you are applying for a marriage-based Green Card and your spouse is a U.S. citizen, then you can apply for AOS even if you have overstayed your visa.
- You need to make sure that your priority date is current, that is, a Green Card is available for you before you apply for an Adjustment of Status. If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, a Green Card is immediately available for you. For others who belong to the different family preference categories, you may have to wait for a while before a Green Card becomes available. You can check the visa bulletin that is updated monthly by the U.S. Department of State to know when your priority date will become current.
- You can also check the visa bulletin to know when a Green Card will become available if you are applying for an AOS based on qualifying for a Green Card through employment.
If you are in the U.S. on a visa that is not a ‘dual-intent’ visa, which means you cannot use this visa if you want to immigrate to the U.S. permanently, then you cannot apply for an Adjustment of Status. Your application will be rejected and your current visa may be revoked if you do so.
Dual intent is when a foreign national is temporarily present in the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa but has the intention of becoming a permanent resident (Green Card holder). Not all visas are dual intent.
Examples of dual intent nonimmigrant visas are H-1B, H-1B, H-4, L-1A, L-1B, L-2, O-1, O-3, K-1, K-2, K-3, K-4, and V.
Examples of nonimmigrant visas that don’t allow dual intent are B-1, B-2, TN, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, E-1, E-2, E-3, F-1, J-1, and M-1.
Getting a Green Card through Adjustment of Status
Once you have determined that you are eligible for a Green Card, you need to get your sponsor to file a Green Card petition for you. If you are getting a family-based Green Card your sponsor will have to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. If you’re getting a Green Card through employment, your sponsor needs to file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. Humanitarian grounds based applications need to be made using Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition.
The petition needs to be filed with the USCIS. Once the USCIS grants the petition, you need to check when your priority date will become current. That means you need to see when a Green Card becomes available for you. If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, then a Green Card will be available immediately. Others will have to wait and the wait time could be months or sometimes even years. You can check visa availability online on the visa bulletin.
As soon as a visa becomes available you need to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You can also file Form I-765, Employment Authorization Document, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. These are used to make requests for employment authorization documents (EAD) and advance parole documents respectively. The EAD allows you to work and the advance parole allows you to travel while you wait for your AOS application to be adjudicated. If you travel outside the U.S. without advance parole while your AOS is being processed, USCIS may think that you have abandoned your AOS application, which means you will have to restart the process.
When the USCIS receives your forms, they will send you a receipt notice. They will also send you details about your biometrics appointment – date, time, and location. At your appointment, you will have to give your fingerprints and complete an eye scan. The fingerprints are used to conduct a background check.
Once the background check is over you may or may not be requested to appear for an interview. If you have to attend an interview, remember to take all the required original documents with you. The USCIS may also request additional supporting evidence. Make sure you send it to them on time. You may also be called for a follow-up interview.
After the interview is complete and the USCIS has all the required supporting evidence, they will decide on your case. They will decide to either grant or deny your application for a Green Card. If your application is approved, the USCIS will send you an approval notice by mail. The physical Green Card will follow later by mail.
What happens if my application gets denied?
Your I-485 application to adjust status may get denied for various reasons like your application being incomplete, some supporting documents missing in the application package, failure to maintain status, or seeking unauthorized employment.
If your application is denied, you can re-apply. You may also appeal the decision through the administrative process or in a federal court. USCIS may initiate removal proceedings once they deny your application and this could be the worst scenario.
You can avoid all this by seeking legal counsel right at the beginning of the process to ensure that your application is complete and there are no grounds for it being rejected.