Adjustment of Status – Explained

Adjustment of status is the legal process that allows foreign nationals to apply for a U.S. permanent resident card, commonly known as a green card. This allows petitioners to apply for a green card without returning to their country of origin to complete visa processing.

Matters of U.S. immigration law can be difficult to understand, especially if English isn’t your native language. Unfortunately, errors or missing information can lead to setbacks or a rejected application. Learn more about how to apply for adjustment of status and your eligibility.

blank form I-485 application to register permanent residence adjust status
A blank Form I-485, application to register permanent residence or adjust status. Properly filing this government form can be a challenging task.

What Is Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of status is a pathway to U.S. permanent residence, the immigration status of U.S. green card holders. Specifically, adjustment of status is the process for people who are applying for this status change from within the United States. If you live outside of the U.S., you will apply for permanent residence through consular processing.

Who Is Eligible to Apply for Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of status (AOS) may grant a green card to people with legal status granted by a temporary visa. This may include anyone with a:

  • Student visa
  • Tourist visa
  • Business travel visa

You may also be eligible to apply for AOS through other categories, including:

Green Card Through Family

You may apply for adjustment of status if you have a green card through family eligibility. Relatives of current U.S. citizens may be eligible for a U.S. green card, including:

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouse, unmarried child under age 21, parent of U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old)
  • Other relatives of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
    • Family of U.S. citizen including son or daughter child 21 years or older, married son or daughter, brother or sister who is at least 21 years old
    • Family of a permanent resident including spouse, unmarried child under 21 years, married son or daughter 21 years or older
  • Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child
  • Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
  • Abused spouse, child or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident

Before you can file for AOS of a family-based green card, your relative will need to file the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

Green Card Through Employment

If you have a job offer in the U.S. or are an investor, you may qualify for a green card through employment. To qualify for a green card through employment, you must have an extraordinary ability in science, art, education, business, or athletics. There are three preferences in this category:

  • First preference
    • You have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics
    • You are an outstanding professor or researcher; or
    • You are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria.
  • Second preference
    • You are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree; or
    • You have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business; or
    • You are seeking a national interest waiver.
  • Third preference
    • You are a skilled worker (meaning your job requires a minimum of two years training or work experience); or
    • You are a professional (meaning your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent and you are a member of the profession); or
    • You are an unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than two years training or experience).

Doctors who agree to work full-time in clinical practice in designated underserved areas qualify for the Physician National Interest Waiver.

Immigrant investors must invest at least $1 million (or $500,000 in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. which will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees

Once you determine that you’re eligible, you will need to file an immigrant petition or have your employer file one on your behalf. In the case of an employment-based green card, you will file the I-140, Immigrant Petition for Worker.

Who Cannot Apply for Adjustment of Status?

Not all foreign nationals can apply for a green card through adjustment of status, even if they currently live in the United States. Ineligible parties include:

  • Undocumented immigrants
  • S visa holders who enter the U.S. as a witness or informant
  • Anyone traveling through the U.S. to a different country

Furthermore, anyone who may be deported cannot file for adjustment of status. For example, anyone involved in a terrorist group is ineligible.

Documents Required Before Filing to Adjust of Status

The number of documents needed will vary, but these are the documents that every applicant needs:

Photographs 

You must submit two recent identical color passport-style photos of yourself. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires the photos to be on a white to an off-white background, printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and un-edited. 

The photos must be 2×2 inches. Those photos must be in color with a frontal view of your entire face. You cannot be wearing anything on your head unless required for religious reasons. Using a pencil or felt pen, you must add your A-Number on the back of the photo.

Government Issued ID

Everyone who submits Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, should also send in a photocopy of a government-issued ID that has their picture on it. This is typically a passport or similar document, even if the passport is expired. USCIS will accept other government-issued IDs such as a driver’s license or military identification.

Birth Certificate

Most I-485 applicants must also submit a copy of their birth certificate issued by the appropriate civil authority from the country of their birth. USCIS will only accept a long-form birth certificate that lists at least one parent.

If your birth certificate is not available or does not exist, you must prove that fact to USCIS. You will also be required to provide other evidence of birth. The U.S. Department of State has a list of countries and what types of documents they offer.

Inspection and Admission or Parole

Most Form I-485 applicants must submit copies of a document showing they got inspected by an immigration officer and either admitted or paroled into the United States. USCIS states you can prove this by presenting copies of:

  • Passport page with admission or parole stamp issued by an immigration officer
  • Passport page with nonimmigrant visa
  • Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record

USCIS will accept secondary evidence if one of the primary documents listed above is unavailable. The documents must have been maintained in the ordinary course of business by any individual or organization other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Additional Documents for Adjustment of Status 

The documents listed below won’t apply to every applicant, but they can depend on your situation when filing: 

  • Documentation of your immigrant category: As part of your Form I-485 application, you must prove you’re eligible for a green card in a particular immigrant category. This can typically get established with a copy of Form I-797, Approval Notice, or Receipt Notice for your petition.
  • Marriage certificate and other proof of relationship: If you’re filing Form I-485 as the spouse of the principal application, you must typically submit a copy of your marriage certificate. If either party in the marriage was previously married, USCIS requires you to submit evidence showing all earlier marriages were legally ended.
  • Evidence of continuously maintaining a lawful status since arriving in the United States: This is required for immigrants in many categories, including family-based, employment-based, special immigrant religious workers, Diversity Visa Lottery winners, and others. Several documents can help you prove you maintained lawful status.
  • Affidavit of Support/confirmation of bona fide job offer: One of the goals of USCIS is to admit people who will not become dependent on government assistance. USCIS will require an affidavit of support from either an employer, relative, fiancé(e), or an employment-based visa if the business is at least 5% owned by a relative.
  • Evidence of financial support: This requirement has relation to the above. To demonstrate financial support, you will likely need to complete Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Most family-based applications and some employment-based green card applications will be required to complete Form I-864.
  • Report of medical examination and vaccination record: Nearly all green card applicants will have to undergo a medical examination to ensure there are no health concerns. The exams have to be done by a USCIS approved civil surgeon. These exams do not have to be done when you send in your green card application but do require an appointment. 
  • Certified police and court records of criminal charges, arrests, or convictions: USCIS requires all applicants to report any criminal charges, arrests, or convictions you may have on your record, even when you were a minor. In most cases, you do not need to submit information relating to traffic violations that didn’t involve a physical arrest and if the penalty was less than $500 or points on your driver’s license.
  • Waiver of inadmissibility: Certain immigrants can be inadmissible to the United States. Inadmissibility can be determined for several different reasons. There is, however, a way to become admissible through form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. 

Remember, not all of these documents may be necessary for your application. Always double-check to make certain that you aren’t forgetting any critical pieces of information before you file. 

What If I Don’t Have Required Evidence? 

According to USCIS, if you cannot submit primary evidence (birth certificates, marriage records, etc.), you can send in what’s called secondary evidence. This type of evidence can include school or church records, but along with that, you must send in a reason why the primary evidence is not available.

If no secondary evidence is available, you may submit written statements.

According to USCIS, any statement should explain in detail: 

  • When and where you came into the United States
  • What documents you had
  • Whether you showed them to the immigration inspector
  • Any questions the immigration inspector asked
  • Any other details about your claimed admission or parole

The written statements must be signed under penalty of perjury and may come from yourself or from any other individuals who have personal knowledge of the circumstances of your claimed admission or parole.

How Do You File for Adjustment of Status?

U.S. residents with legal temporary visas may file for a green card using Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjustment of Status. A green card petitioner can also file a request for a work permit and advance parole. This will allow you to work in the U.S. and travel while you await a decision on your application.

What Happens After You File for Adjustment of Status?

After you submit Form-I485, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment. You will receive notice by mail detailing the location, date, and time of your appointment. A USCIS officer will collect your fingerprints, take your photograph, and ask for your signature. 

USCIS will also conduct a background check. Depending on the information collected up to this point, you may also be asked to attend an interview. You will swear an oath and answer questions about your application or your eligibility for a green card.

If any more information is required to support your application, USCIS will send you a formal request for evidence. Be sure to mail your additional evidence together in one document packet. If your application for adjustment of status is approved, you can expect to receive a letter notifying you. Finally, your green card will be sent to you.

How Much Does It Cost to Apply for Adjustment of Status?

For most applicants, the adjustment of status application fee is $1,225. Some exceptions may reduce the fee, including age and refugee status. See the USCIS fee chart below for more details.

The I-485 filing fee does not include the fee for the immigrant petition. The filing fee for the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is $535 and the filing fee for the I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker is $700.

If You Are…Form FeeBiometricServices FeeTotal
Under 14 and filing with the I-485application of at least one parent$750$0$750
Under 14 and not filing with the I-485application of at least one parent$1,140$0$1,140
Age 14 – 78$1,140$85$1,225
Age 79 or older$1,140$0$1,140
Filing Form I-485 based on having been admitted to the United States as a refugee$0$0$0

How Long Does Adjustment of Status Processing Take?

It can take several months to several years to get a green card through adjustment of status. Several factors determine the processing time of applications, most importantly your green card category.

While there is an unlimited number of green cards issued every year to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, other categories have an annual cap. To get an accurate processing time of your case, you should contact USCIS.

Can I Stay in the US While Waiting for Adjustment of Status?

Depending on your method of filing for adjustment of status, you may be waiting a long time. Your visa may expire while you wait for your application results. You can stay in the United States while your application processes.

Get Help Filing Your Adjustment of Status Today 

If you need assistance filing your adjustment of status to get your green card, please contact the experts here at FileRight today. With a free eligibility quiz, we can help determine what you need to get started on your path to permanent residency. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about how we can help you. 

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