Immigration Topics Explained:

Green Card Through Adjustment Of Status

Adjusting Status Explained

What is adjustment of status?

Adjustment of status is the process of changing from a nonimmigrant immigration status (e.g. student, tourist, etc.) to permanent residence (green card holder). U.S. immigration law allows a temporary visitor to change status to a permanent resident if the individual lawfully entered the United States and meets certain requirements. Adjustment of status is one of two paths for obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) to the United States. If the applicant is not eligible for adjustment, he or she must use consular processing. Both consular processing and adjustment of status may be available options if the applicant is already in the U.S.

The following describes in general terms the process for obtaining a family-based green card through adjustment of status. In this process, the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and the beneficiary is the foreign national seeking a green card. If you’re ready to get started, skip to how CitizenPath can help.

Adjustment of Status Eligibility

What are the requirements?

Qualifying Relationships for a Green Card

A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may petition certain family members to live in the U.S. and receive green card. The entire process begins when the U.S. citizen or permanent resident files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of the beneficiary (intending immigrant). To obtain a green card based on a family relationship, the beneficiary must be in either the immediate relative or family preference categories. The purpose of Form I-130 is to establish an qualifying relationship so that the relative may apply for a green card.

Immediate Relative Categories
Immediate relatives include the spouse, parents, and unmarried children (under age 21) of U.S. citizens.
Family Preference Categories
Family preference includes other qualifying family-based relationships for immigration.

Note: A similar process is available to U.S. citizens that want to bring a fiancé (as well as any children of the fiancé) to the U.S. for marriage. This process begins with the U.S. citizen filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). This path is not available to the fiancés of lawful permanent residents. Learn more in the K-1 Visa Overview.

Criteria for Adjustment Eligibility

To file an adjustment of status application, the intending immigrant must meet three fundamental requirements. Eligibility to adjust status requires that the applicant must:

  • Be physically present inside the United States;

    You must be inside the United States when the adjustment of status application is filed (and will need to complete the process inside the U.S.).

  • Have made a lawful entry into the United States; and

    Lawful entry means that you were admitted or paroled into the U.S. For most people, this means that you entered the U.S. with valid documentation and made face to face contact with a U.S. immigration officer, and that officer acknowledged your entry to the United States. If you entered with a valid visa, but that visa has since expired, you still had a lawful entry.

  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available to you.

    Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may file the adjustment of status application together with the I-130 petition. That's because a visa is always available. However, family preference applicants must make sure a visa is available. Their category must be "current" in the visa bulletin before filing Form I-485. (For a detailed explanation, see How to Read the Visa Bulletin).

It’s also important that the intending immigrant maintain eligibility throughout the adjustment process. Changes in circumstances can affect the success of an adjustment application. Only a very limited group of people can adjust status. That’s why adjustment is generally only used by some immediate relatives, spouses that entered as K-1 fiancés, asylees, refugees, or those who arrived on an employment visa (e.g. H-1B) and the employer sponsored them for a green card.

Green Card Application Process

What are the adjustment of status forms?

Intending immigrants that meet the eligibility requirements for adjustment of status, may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. As mentioned above, immediate relatives may generally submit the application to USCIS at any time they meet the eligibility requirements. In fact, immediate relatives can file “concurrently.” This means that the Form I-485 is filed together with Form I-130. In fact, these are just the two primary forms. In most cases, family-based adjustment application packages will include the following forms:

A complete adjustment of status package will also include several supporting documents as required by each USCIS form. For detailed instructions on how to prepare the forms and which supporting documents to include, refer to the USCIS website or utilize CitizenPath to prepare your USCIS forms. CitizenPath is the industry’s best preparation software designed by immigration attorneys and backed up with live customer support. Our affordable online immigration services make USCIS applications easier and help eliminate common mistakes that cause delays, rejections, and denials. We even guarantee that USCIS will approve your application. Refer to our AOS Package Fees page to determine which forms you need and estimated costs.

Download a FREE I-485 checklist that will help you gather some of the necessary information to prepare the family-based adjustment of status application.

Travel and Work Authorization

Can I leave the country or work in the U.S.?

Permanent resident status gives you the right to accept employment in the United States. You can also use a green card to reenter the United States after trips abroad of less than one year. During the wait for your green card, you can likely obtain similar benefits. Adjustment of status applicants are eligible for a work permit and travel authorization with advance parole. There are government fees for these benefits.

Employment Authorization

As an applicant with a pending Form I-485, you are eligible to submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. In fact, you may file Form I-765 together with your I-485 application for the quickest processing times.

USCIS may take approximately 3-6 months to issue this benefit. The card is generally valid for one year but may be renewed if necessary. Adjustment of status applicants are not required to pay any USCIS fees for employment authorization (Form I-765) provided that you are filing concurrently with Form I-485 (or continue to have a pending I-485 application).

Working in the United States without employment authorization can make an applicant ineligible for a green card.

Learn more about obtaining a work permit as an adjustment of status applicant.

Advance Parole Travel

If you will travel outside the United States while your Form I-485 is pending, you may request an advance parole document. As an adjustment applicant, you are generally eligible to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Like employment authorization, you may file Form I-131 together as part of the I-485 package. You must apply for and obtain this travel document before departing the United States.

USCIS may presume that an adjustment applicant who leaves the U.S. without advance parole to have abandoned their application and may not be able to re-enter the U.S. It's important to note that advance parole does not guarantee admission into the United States. Foreign nationals who have obtained advance parole are still subject to the inspection process at the port of entry.

Learn more about advance parole for applicants with a pending I-485 application.

Adjustment of Status Appointments and Time Line

How long does it take to adjust status?

After you file your application, USCIS will mail you an appointment notice for a biometric screening. This is a relatively quick appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center to obtain your photo, fingerprints and signature. USCIS uses the biometric data to conduct a mandatory criminal background check.

Several months later, USCIS will likely require you to attend an adjustment interview. In many cases, USCIS may also require the relative who filed Form I-130 to attend. USCIS has the ability to waive an interview for certain individuals. They will notify you of the time, date, and location for an interview. USCIS uses the adjustment of status interview to confirm the information you and your petitioner have provided on the petition and the adjustment application. It’s also an opportunity for them to see if circumstances have changed that may make you ineligible. Generally, this is a quick interview that only lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

The entire adjustment process may take 8 to 14 months for most applicants. The most important thing you can do to ensure the best processing times is to submit a complete and thorough application package. You may not need a lawyer, but you need CitizenPath to help you get the best processing time on USCIS forms. For a more detailed look at what happens and each step, review the Form I-485 processing time line.

Pros and Cons of Adjustment of Status

Is consular processing or adjustment better?

Although the adjustment of status process typically takes longer than consular processing, it has its advantages. The adjustment of status timeline is generally 8 to 14 months for family-based applications (and often longer for other application types).

However, the most significant advantage to adjusting status is that the intending immigrant may remain in the United States with family during the process. It avoids the travel expense and prolonged separation between family members. So even though it may take slightly longer than consular processing, you can live, work and even travel outside the U.S. (Additional authorization must be obtained for employment and travel abroad by I-485 applicants.)

If USCIS denies Form I-485 to adjust status, the applicant may challenge the denial through the administrative and/or judicial appellate processes. Consular processing decisions for a green card are final. For a more detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each, compare adjusting status versus consular processing.

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

Use Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) to apply for permanent residence while in the United States. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-485 applications. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

each year an average of
I-485 applications are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

How CitizenPath Helps You Prepare the Adjustment Application Package

How do I prepare Form I-485 and other forms for adjustment?

CitizenPath's affordable, online service makes it easy to prepare Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status. Designed by immigration lawyers, the Adjustment of Status Package helps you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. That's because the service alerts you when your answer to a question may be a problem. You'll also get customized filing instructions based on your situation. It's a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and provides a money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application. Get started >>

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