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What is Adjustment of Status?

Thinking of making the United States your home? You’ll need a green card. Although the process can be rather long and seemingly complex, SimpleCitizen is here to help make the process as smooth and easy as possible. Having a U.S. green card, in this case, is not only necessary but offers many benefits that only lawful permanent residents have access to. Among these are:

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Green Card (Permanent Resident Card) in a sleeve

  • The freedom to live and work in the U.S. permanently, including many forms of government work.
  • Freedom of movement. Once you have a green card, you may travel to and live in any part of the United States, as well as travel outside of the U.S. and return upon will. However, if you remain abroad for six months or more per year, you could risk losing your green card. 
  • The ability to sponsor relatives. Once you have a green card, you can sponsor your relatives so that they can get their own green card.
  • The ability to seek full U.S. citizenship. Once you have had your green card for five years (with a few exceptions – see Step 3 of How to Become a United States Citizen), you may qualify to apply for citizenship, which grants all the rights and privileges of a native U.S. citizen. 
  • Legal rights and social benefits, such as research and educational grants, insurance coverage, and social security, retirement, and health benefits. You can also own firearms, a house, cars, and other property in the U.S. and secure financing for such purchases.
  • Permanent status. You will only need to renew your green card about every 10 years. 

Adjustment of status is the process through which temporary visitors to the United States (such as students, tourists, etc.) can become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) without ever having to leave the U.S. (If you are outside of the United States, the only path to immigrate to the country is through consular processing). Below is a basic guide to walk you through each step of the process.

1. Determine if You are Eligible to Apply for a Green Card

To figure out if you can apply for adjustment of status, you must first determine if you are eligible for a green card. There are many ways to apply for a green card under U.S. immigration laws, but to be eligible you must fall under one of the categories listed below:

  • Through family
  • Through employment
  • As a special immigrant
  • Through refugee or asylee status
  • As a human trafficking or crime victim
  • As a victim of abuse
  • Through registry
  • Through other categories (found in the USCIS link below)

Take this quiz to find out if you are eligible to apply. The eligibility requirements may vary depending on the immigrant category you are applying under, so the first step is to figure out if you fit into one of these categories. Review the USCIS Green Card Eligibility Categories for details on the categories listed above and to determine which one fits your situation/experience. Once you know which category best fits you, in most cases, you will need to have an immigrant petition filed on your behalf. The form that will need to be filed varies depending on which category you are applying under and can also be found on the USCIS page in the hyperlink above. 

2. Determine if You are Eligible for Adjustment of Status

Researching on a Computer

Now you can determine if you can also apply for adjustment of status. The requirements, according to Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, are as follows: 

  • Be physically present in the United States, including when you file the adjustment of status as well as complete the process.
  • Have made lawful entry into the United States.
  • Already be eligible for a U.S. green card through one of the conditions listed above, such as through a U.S. employer, a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or by having received asylum or refugee status at least one year before.
  • If your eligibility is based on family or employment, you must already have filed and had approved a visa petition (Form I-130 or Form I-140), and your priority date, if you have one, must be current. Priority dates apply to immigrants in “preference categories” who, because of annual limits on visas in those categories, must wait until a visa is available before proceeding with their green card application. (There are exceptions to this rule, such as for an “immediate relative,” where the visa petition can be filed concurrently or at the same time as the adjustment of status application). 
  • If you entered the U.S. on a K-1 fiancé visa, you must have married the person who petitioned for you to receive that visa. 
  • If your eligibility is based on asylum or refugee status, you must have waited one year since either your asylum was granted or you entered the United States as a recognized refugee.
  • You must (with a few exceptions, such as for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens) have a valid and current visa when you start your application to adjust status. To be eligible you also must not have remained in the U.S. past the authorized length of your permitted stay, nor worked without permission from the immigration authorities. 

Remember…

This is a complex area of immigration law. If you have any doubts about your eligibility to adjust status, consult with an immigration attorney to ensure that you fully understand the entire process and to obtain a full analysis of your rights and options. 

3. File Application to Adjust Status

USCIS Office

If you meet the eligibility requirements for adjustment of status, you may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. For a comprehensive list of situations under which you could file Form I-485, read this article.

Where you file your Form I-485 depends on your eligibility category. Go to the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status page to see where you should file your application. When filing, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t forget to sign your form! USCIS will reject and return any unsigned form.
  • Complete the entire form, and use the most current version.
  • USCIS prefers that you download the forms from their website, complete them electronically, them print them to submit. If you handwrite your answers, make sure you use black ink and that they are neat and legible. If you make an error, start over with a clean form. Don’t use correction fluid or tape (i.e. wite-out).

Filing Form I-485 costs $1,140, and an additional biometrics services fee of $85 applies to all applicants between the ages of 14 and 78. However, for children 13 or younger who are filing with at least one parent, there is a reduced $750 fee, and if you are applying as a refugee under section 209(a) of the INA, there is no fee to file Form I-485.

No matter the amount of your fee, you must pay by check or money order and follow these criteria:

  • The money must come from a bank or other financial institution in the United States and be payable in U.S. currency.
  • The check or money order must be made payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It is important to write it exactly this way, without abbreviating. 

How much does it cost to submit Form I-485?

4. Attend Biometrics Appointment

Biometrics

After you file your Form I-485, USCIS will mail you an appointment notification for a biometric screening at a local Application Support Center (ASC). The notice will include the date, time, and location of the appointment. Here you will provide your fingerprints, signature, and a photograph will be taken of you. USCIS uses this data to verify your identity and conduct required background and security checks. Don’t worry – this is all common procedure and an important part of adjusting status. Read this short article for more information on what to expect from your biometrics appointment.

At your ASC appointment, you will also be asked to sign an acknowledgment that you have reviewed all of the information in your application and that it was all complete, true, and correct at the time you filed it. If you do not sign the acknowledgment or you miss your ASC appointment without properly notifying and rescheduling USCIS, your Form I-485 may be denied.

Depending on what immigrant category you filed your adjustment of status under, an interview may be necessary. If USCIS schedules you for an interview, they will send you a notice with the corresponding date, time, and location. This is a fairly quick meeting, usually lasting only 20-30 minutes. If a relative is required to accompany you to the interview (for example, the family member that filed the immigration petition for you), you will likewise be informed in the notice USCIS mails you. Here, a USCIS official will confirm that confirm the information you and your petitioner have provided on the petition and your application for adjustment of status is correct. Make sure you bring originals of all the documents you submitted with your Form I-485, such as passports, official travel documents, and Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, even if they have expired. 

The entire adjustment of status process usually takes between 8 and 14 months. For a complete timeline, read What Happens After Filing Form I-485.

5. Receive Your Green Card

Postman Delivering Mail

After all the paperwork and security checks have been completed, biometrics have been taken, interviews have been conducted (if necessary), and all other eligibility requirements have been reviewed, USCIS is ready to make a decision on your case! Regardless of the outcome, you will receive a written decision notice from USCIS. If your application is approved, you will first receive an approval notice by mail. Then, usually a little bit later, you will receive your green card. Congratulations! You are now a lawful permanent resident of the United States!

Updated on January 15, 2020

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