For many nonimmigrant visa holders in the United States, a transition to lawful permanent resident status is the ultimate dream. Holding a green card affords numerous benefits that several nonimmigrant visas like the L-1 and H-1B lack, including the ability to work and travel freely in the U.S. with minimal restrictions. This process of transitioning from a nonimmigrant visa to a green card is known as an adjustment of status (AOS).
An AOS process can often be lengthy and complex so it’s important to fully understand the details and make informed decisions about your case. From including all the right documents and filling out the relevant forms correctly, here is everything you need to know about adjusting your status.
Adjustment of Status Overview
Adjustment of status is one of the latter parts of the green card application process. Holders of nonimmigrant visas are required to maintain their nonimmigrant status for the duration of their stay in the U.S. This means they must not have any desire or intention of living permanently in the country.
However, certain nonimmigrant visas, such as the L-1 intracompany visa and the H-1B specialty occupation visa allow for dual intent, meaning holders of such visas may demonstrate immigrant intent even while on nonimmigrant status. In order to obtain lawful permanent resident status, these visa holders must then adjust their status from nonimmigrant to immigrant.
Keep in mind that adjustment of status is not the same as “change of status”; the latter involves switching from one nonimmigrant status to another, such as changing from L-1 to H-1B status. AOS should also not be confused with “visa transfer”, which refers to transferring a valid visa from an old passport to a new one. Adjustment of status only refers to transitioning from a temporary visa to a green card
Adjustment of Status Eligibility
Only temporary visa holders may apply for an adjustment of status. Additionally, applicants must have lawfully entered the U.S and must currently reside in the country when filing the petition.
Green card applicants who are not under nonimmigrant status will need to return to their respective home countries and go through consular processing. This means attending a one-on-one interview with a consular officer to determine the status of their green card applications.
The cost of returning home can be quite prohibitive and so many nonimmigrants tend to favor the adjustment of status process. In some cases, however, consular processing may be the preferred way to go, especially among citizens of Canada and Mexico where the cost of traveling home may not be as high as the cost of filing Form I-485.
Adjustment of Status Checklist
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Obtaining permanent residency through AOS is an intricate process, so having a checklist of everything you’ll need to ensure a smooth transition will surely come in handy. Here’s a comprehensive list below:
Completed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
2 passport-style photos that must adhere to the U.S Department of State photo guidelines
I-94 travel card
Copy of applicant’s government-issued ID with photograph
Green card petition receipt notice from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Copy of applicant’s birth certificate. If unavailable, then the applicant must provide other acceptable evidence of birth such as school or medical records.
Original and copy of job offer letter from U.S. employer for applicants filing for an employment-based green card
Original and copy of marriage certificate for applicants filing for a marriage-based green card
USCIS Form I-797 approval notice of applicant’s nonimmigrant visa
Copy of Employment Authorization Document (EAD), where applicable
Certified police and court records of the applicant’s criminal charges, arrests, where applicable
Completed Form I-601 for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, where applicable
In some cases, applicants may be required to undergo a medical examination. If so, then the applicant must include a copy of the results of their medical exam under Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. This report must be sealed by a USCIS-approved doctor.
This list is not exhaustive. Certain nonimmigrant visas, such as the J-1 and F-1 visas have additional requirements. Furthermore, family members filing for adjustment of status together with the principal applicant will need to submit their own documents. Lastly, make sure that all submitted documents are in English or are accompanied by certified English translations.
Because of the complexities surrounding the adjustment of status requirements, it’s always a good idea to work with an immigration attorney to make sure everything is as it should be.
Filing Form I-485
Form I-485 is the main form in the AOS process so it's important to understand how to fill it out and submit it to the USCIS correctly. You may download the form from uscis.gov/i-485 and fill it out using black ink only. Once completed, you can either mail your adjustment of status application to the USCIS or submit it online.
Where you file your application will depend on your green card eligibility category. There are seven categories under which you may file an I-485:
Asylee or refugee
Victim of human trafficking or other crimes
General category which covers other options not on this list
Visit www.uscis.gov/i-485-addresses to find out where to send your Form I-485 based on your category. Keep in mind that your green card sponsor is not responsible for filing your I-485.
Adjustment of Status Filing Fee
Filing Form I-485 does not come cheap. The actual fee will depend on the age of the applicant. Here’s a quick breakdown:
For applicants below 14 years old and filing with a parent, the filing fee amounts to $750
Applicants below 14 years old but not filing with a parent are required to pay a fee of $1,140
For applicants between the ages of 14 and 78, the filing fee amounts to $1,140 with an additional biometrics fee of $85 for a total amount of $1,225
Applicants over 78 years old are required to pay a filing fee of $1,140. No biometrics fee required.
Applicants who have just been admitted to the United States as refugees are not required to pay any filing or biometrics fees.
While certain age groups are exempted from the biometrics process, it is important to note that the USCIS can in fact request biometrics of any applicant, even if they are outside of the 14-78 age range.
Payments of these fees may be made through money order, personal check, or cashier’s check.
Applicants filing at a USCIS Lockbox facility may also make payment using a credit card by filling out Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions. Check payments should be payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Keep in mind that these payments are non-refundable, regardless of the USCIS final decision on the AOS petition.
Adjustment of Status Application Process
The path to a green card through adjustment of status involves a number of steps:
Submit your application
Fill out your Form I-485, gather all the required documents and submit to the USCIS along with your filing fees. Remember to confirm if your category requires any additional documentation. For example, if you’re applying for a family-based green card, then you will also have to include Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative in your packet.
Attend the biometrics appointment
If the USCIS accepts your application (there was no cause for outright denial or Request for Evidence), then they notify you of your biometric testing. This process is pretty straightforward and involves visiting a USCIS service center for physical information and fingerprints taking. USCIS will then conduct a criminal background check based on the data captured.
Attend a USCIS interview
Not all applicants receive this interview invite, but if you do, the USCIS official will ask questions aimed at verifying certain aspects of your adjustment of status application. This appointment doesn't usually take long, typically 20-30 minutes. Since this interview will be conducted in English, it’s important to bring along an interpreter if you are not fluent in the language.
Receive your green card
If everything is in order and your application has been processed, USCIS will send you an approval notice containing details of your new permanent resident status and when to expect your green card.
Adjustment of Status Processing Time
The entire AOS process typically takes around six months, though the actual time frame will vary depending on a number of factors. For one, if the USCIS center handling your application has a heavy workload at the time, then it would mean a longer processing time.
The longest part of the timeline, however, is waiting for your priority date to become current. The priority date is the day the USCIS receives your I-485 petition, which is then compared against the final action dates as released in the monthly visa bulletin by the U.S. Department of State. The timeline for this waiting period varies, some taking only a few days and others taking a few years.
Another key consideration is if the USCIS issues a Request For Evidence (RFE) to support your green card
eligibility. You will need to fully satisfy the RFE before the USCIS resumes processing your application.
Checking the Status of Your AOS Application
You can visit the USCIS website and enter your case number to check the status of your green card application. Here you’ll get information and updates at every stage of the process, including when your petition has been approved.
Receiving Your Green Card
After receiving your adjustment of status approval notice, you’ll just need to wait for the card to arrive in the mail. Once it arrives, you become a bona fide U.S. permanent resident and can enjoy the many perks of being one, such as living and working freely across the States, traveling overseas and returning without having to obtain advance parole, as well as a path to U.S. citizenship.
Keep in mind that the USCIS may issue conditional green cards with a specified validity period in certain cases, such as if you obtained a marriage-based green card and were recently married. If you are still married to your sponsor spouse by the end of the initial validity period, then you may upgrade to a full 10-year green card.
Some green card holders may be able to apply for citizenship after three to five years. To qualify, you must have paid your taxes and be able to present tax return slips, and not be convicted of any crime throughout that period.
Possible reasons for Adjustment of Status application denial
The USCIS is quite strict on its requirements and failure to fully satisfy any of them will usually result in an RFE or worse, outright denial. Here are some common reasons why AOS applications may be denied:
The applicant violated the terms of their current nonimmigrant visa status by being convicted of a crime in the U.S.
The applicant has over overstayed their nonimmigrant visa validity period and is currently categorized as “out of status”
The applicant gained employment in the U.S. without first filing an application for employment authorization
The applicant entered the U.S. illegally
The applicant is a K-1 visa holder who failed to marry their fiance within the 90-day window as required
It’s important to be careful with extended travel outside the U.S. during the adjustment of status process. Prolonged stay outside the country may result in the U.S. government assuming that you’re no longer pursuing a green card and you’ll have to start from scratch. If you must travel during the AOS processing period, be sure to request an advance parole travel document to allow you travel abroad and reenter the States without disrupting your petition.
While the path to a green card can be a long and arduous one, this guide is intended to help demystify the adjustment of status as you look forward to living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. While waiting for your green card, consider how your living conditions — especially how you manage your finances from setting up a bank account to building local credit. Access to essentials like credit cards, loans, utilities and even apartment rentals in the U.S. often depends on having a good credit history.
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