Form I-485 – Explained

The end goal for many U.S. immigrants is the ability to legally live and work in the United States. Many accomplish this through obtaining a permanent resident card, also known as a green card. Applicants must submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Immigration paperwork can be very complicated. Mistakes or missing information can lead to extended wait times or a denied application. Review the Form I-485 checklist to ensure you are prepared to apply for your green card and prevent unwanted setbacks or a rejection.

close up of I-485 form and green card
A close-up of an I-485 form and a green card. The filing process may be confusing for applicants, but this Form I-485 explanation can help.

What Is the Purpose of Form I-485?

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, allows a foreign national to apply for a green card. After a petitioner’s application is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), they are legally allowed to live and work in the United States indefinitely.

A U.S. immigrant can renew their green card every 10 years and still retain citizenship of their country of origin. Oftentimes, filing Form I-485 is one step of the naturalization process.

Who Qualifies to File Form I-485?

Multiple parties may be eligible to apply for a green card using Form I-485. If you have any confusion about your eligibility to file Form I-485, take the eligibility quiz. The main categories that qualify to file Form I-485 include: 

Petition Through Family

You must first have an immigrant visa number immediately available based on an approved immigrant petition. Additionally, you must have a completed Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). 

If approved, would make an immigrant visa number immediately available to you. This includes the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen: spouse, unmarried child under age 21, and parent (if the U.S. citizen is over age 21).

Spouse or Child (Derivative) of Another Green Card Applicant (Principal)

Derivative applicants are the spouses and children of the principal adjustment of status applicant. If the spouse or child is in the United States, the derivative applicants may file their Form I-485 with the principal applicant, or file any time after the principal’s Form I-485 is approved (if a visa number is available. 

If the spouse or child is living abroad, the principal applicant should file Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition, together with the principal’s Form I-485, to allow the derivatives to immigrate to the United States without delay if the principal’s Form I-485 is approved.

Fiancé(e) of a U.S. Citizen, or K-2 Child of Fiancé(e)

This category is for individuals who were admitted to the U.S. as the K-1 fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen and you married that citizen within 90 days of entering the United States. It is also for the K-2 child of such a fiancé(e).

Refugee

As a refugee, you can apply to adjust status after you have been admitted as a refugee and have been physically present in the United States for 1 year following your admission.

Cuban Citizen or National

You may apply to adjust status if you are a native or citizen of Cuba, were admitted or paroled into the United States after January 1, 1959. You must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 1 year. 

A spouse and unmarried children may also apply to adjust status, regardless of nationality, as long as they were also admitted or paroled after January 1, 1959, and have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 1 year.

Based on Continuous Residence Since Before Jan. 1, 1972

You may apply for permanent residence if you have continuously resided in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972. This is commonly referred to as “Registry.”

After determining which category qualifies you to file for adjustment of status, determine which process to use: file Form I-485, adjustment of status, or consular processing. Adjustment of status is the process to apply for a green card from within the United States. Consular processing is the process to apply for a green card while living outside the United States.

Form I-485 Filing Checklist

To ensure your application is processed promptly, gather all the supporting documents you need and file as early as possible. Your application will need to be accompanied by evidence of your eligibility for a green card. The documents you need to submit will depend on your filing category. 

To file for a marriage green card, your application must include:

  • Proof of foreign nationality
  • Evidence of lawful entry
  • Proof of marriage
  • Proof of a sponsoring spouse’s financial stability
  • Police clearance certificate, if applicable
  • Proof of a medical exam by a USCIS-approved doctor

USCIS will require any documents in a foreign language to be translated into English. This includes documents like your birth certificate or baptism certificate. If any required documents are not available, you may be able to submit alternative documents to support your application. 

Filling Out Form I-485

Form I-485 may look complicated but it is relatively easy to fill out. Answer all questions and submit your application along with any necessary documents by mail to the direct filing address based on your location. You may file with the assistance of an immigration filing service, an attorney, or a translator.

Questions you can expect to answer on your form will include:

  • Name and address
  • Your qualifying category
  • Nonimmigrant visa number
  • Most recent address outside of the U.S.
  • Five-year employment history
  • Information about your marital history
  • Information about your children

You will also need to disclose biographical information for the U.S. to confirm your identity. This includes your race, height, weight, hair, and eye color.

How Much Does It Cost to File Form I-485?

The filing fees associated with Form I-485 depend on your filing category. Typically, you will pay $1,140 for Form I-485 and $85 for biometric filing

Children 13 or younger who file with a parent will pay a reduced filing fee of $750. Applicants aged 79 or older are exempt from the biometric filing fee. Applicants filing based on refugee status are exempt from both filing fees.

How Long Does It Take for Form I-485 to Be Approved?

If your application is missing several supporting documents, you may receive an official request for evidence (RFE) before your application can be processed. This can delay your application. Otherwise, you can expect to wait anywhere from 8 to 14 months after you submit your Form I-485.

The USCIS website lists general case proceeding timeframes based on form and your nearest field office. You can check the status of your application online. If you feel your adjustment of status application is taking longer than it should, you may make a case inquiry.

Can You Work or Travel While Form I-485 Is Pending?

A green card will allow you to work in the United States and travel in and out of the country. However, if you need to work while your application is still pending, file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. If you have to travel outside of the U.S. and do not have your green card yet, file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. 

You may be able to file Form I-765 and Form I-131 at the same time. If USCIS processes your work and travel authorizations together, you will be issued an Employment Authorization Document Advance Parole card. This will allow you to work and travel while your adjustment of status application processes.

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