The Adjustment of Status I-485 form is a major step towards a U.S. Green Card. Read our guide to the application including paperwork, appointments, and eligibility.
Applying to change your status from a temporary visa holder to a permanent U.S. resident is a significant decision. With the Green Card, you gain the life-long right to live, work, and study from anywhere within the country.
The Adjustment of Status I-485 form is a major part of this process. As navigating the I-485 can be complex, our guide will break down the key things you need to know for a seamless application.
Understanding your eligibility
Foreign nationals living within the U.S. must meet specific eligibility criteria to file an I-485 or Application to Adjust Status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlines eight categories:
- Family: If you’re the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you can file the I-485. The family member in question must also file an I-130 form or Petition for Alien Relative on your behalf
- Employment: You may be eligible through your job with sponsorship from your employer or through self-petitioning. Applicants also have to file the I-140 form
- Refugee or Asylee: If you received refugee or asylum status from the U.S. you’re required to apply for permanent residency after a year. Asylum seekers must have filed an I-589 form before they begin the I-485 process
- Special immigrant: You may be eligible for this category if you don’t neatly fit the mold of the employment, family, or refugee categories. For instance, former NATO workers, vulnerable minors, and some military interpreters can apply as special immigrants
- Crime victims: The U.S. government aims to help the victims of human trafficking and other serious crimes by granting them permanent residency. You must already have a U or T nonimmigrant visa to file
- Abuse victims: You may be able to apply as the abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen. If you’re self-petitioning, you’ll also need the I-360 form
- Registry: Anyone who’s continuously lived in the U.S. since before January 1st, 1972 could be eligible. You require evidence of when you entered the country and that you haven’t left for any significant periods
- Other categories: USCIS also a category for specific and uncommon reasons why immigrants may be eligible for permanent residence. For instance, Cuban citizens, the children of diplomats, and American Indians born in Canada can apply
Including your dependents
Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can file for I-485 as dependents. While these forms have a high approval rate, be aware their success isn’t tied to you. USCIS could deny their application even if they approve yours.
If you’re engaged, your partner isn’t eligible for the I-485. Consider applying for a K-1 visa to allow them to enter the country and marry you instead.
Checking your priority
Before you can submit your I-485 form, you have to check the availability for your eligibility category. Some categories such as direct family and refugees have immediate availability. Others may have to enter a queue and wait for confirmation to file.
The waiting times are due to U.S. Congress limiting the number of immigrant visas for certain categories per year. They cap family-based visas at around 226,000 and employment-based ones at 140,000.
USCIS also prioritizes different groups within each immigrant category. For instance, it gives preference to workers with outstanding abilities in business, science, and similar fields for employment-based visas. Applicants with advanced degrees have second preference, followed by skilled and unskilled workers.
You can check the visa bulletin on the USCIS website for your category’s current status. Read our guide on understanding the visa bulletin to make sure you’re reading updates correctly.
If there aren’t enough immigrant visas available for your category, you’ll get a priority date. This indicates when you can expect to take the next steps in the application process.
You can keep checking the visa bulletin to see if you’ve been approved to submit the I-485. You’ll also receive your visa number, also called an A-number, which the U.S. government uses to identify applicants.
Collecting supporting documents
Alongside the I-485, you must provide documents to prove your eligibility. The paperwork you need depends on which of the eight categories you fall under. However, many applicants will need the following documents:
- Government-issued photo ID: Your passport is ideal, even if it’s expired, but USCIS will also accept a valid driver’s license or military ID
- Passport-sized photos: Photos must be 50mm by 50mm with a white background and printed on thin, glossy paper
- Proof of legal entry: This can be your stamped passport, visa, or I-94 form (if the government paroled you into the country)
- Address history: USCIS needs to know every address you’ve stayed at for the past five years. Start with your most recent address and work backward, giving reasons for any gaps or inconsistencies with other documents
- Employment history: You must also list every job you’ve had for the past five years starting with your current one. Include unpaid internships and part-time positions
- Marriage and birth certificates: These documents prove your age, identity, and familial ties to permanent residents in the U.S.
- Medical exam results: USCIS requires you to undergo a medical exam and receive vaccinations. You should have the clinic fill in and sign form I-693
- Sponsorship form: Some green cards need you to file an I-846 form or an Affidavit of Support where an individual claims financial responsibility for you
- Police clearance certificate: Occasionally, USCIS asks applicants to undergo police clearance from the countries they’ve lived in to confirm whether they’ve got a criminal record
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to file any forms in your home country during the I-485. Only applicants living outside the United States have to go through consular processing.
Undergoing background checks
It’s standard procedure for all I-485 applicants to undergo a background check. Using your biometric data, USCIS and the FBI check various databases to ensure there are no grounds for inadmissibility such as serious crimes or undisclosed medical issues.
After you file your I-485, USCIS automatically schedules a biometric appointment at your nearest Application Support Center (ASC). They’ll send you a notice with the exact time, date, and location.
All you have to bring is your completed forms and photo ID. Once at the center, you’ll have to provide a digital signature and fingerprints.
ASC can provide support for different languages and people with disabilities. You may need to contact the center ahead of time with your specific request.
Preparing for the interview with USCIS
All adjustment of status applicants must attend an interview at a USCIS office. If you’ve already attended an interview as part of a family member’s visa application, you may be exempt. USCIS may grant waivers for other reasons but this is usually on a case-by-case basis.
USCIS uses these interviews to verify your identity and ensure your eligibility for a green card. They’ll ask questions based on your immigration category to check for fraud. For instance, they may want additional information about your relationship with your spouse to check you didn’t get married for visa purposes.
You can arrange for an interpreter for dependents who aren’t fluent in English. The interpreter must be a neutral party, not a friend or family member.
Paying associated fees
Most applicants have to pay to file forms for adjustment of status. The exact amount depends on your age and status.
- $1,140 (USD) for applicants over the age of 14
- $1,140 for children under the age of 14 filing without a parent
- $750 for children under the age of 14 filing with at least one parent
- Free for refugees and asylum seekers
You can pay by card, via the mail, or in person at the USCIS office when you file forms. Note that if you withdraw your application, these fees are nonrefundable.
Biometric data comes with a $85 fee for those aged between 14 and 78.
Receiving confirmation and your Green Card
While your application status is pending, you can check the USCIS case studies page for updates. You’ll see what stage you’re at or whether the USCIS has confirmed your permanent resident status.
You become a lawful permanent resident from the moment the government approves your application. That means you have all the rights and legal obligations of a permanent resident, even if you don’t have a physical green card yet.
You can track your Green Card via your USCIS account. You’ll also get your tracking number for the US postal service so you know when to expect the delivery.
Mapping out a timeline
Organizing dates is an important part of adjusting your status. The I-485 process is full of appointments, deadlines, and dependencies—if you miss one, you could delay your application or even risk rejection.
To help you stay on top of the process, here’s a timeline with the main milestones:
- Arrange sponsorship if necessary
- File your immigrant petition
- Check your priority date on the Visa Bulletin
- Receive your approval notice
- Prepare all your supporting documents
- Book a medical examination
- Download and fill in the I-485 form
- Submit forms as well as pay the filing and biometric fees
- Wait for a receipt notice
- Schedule a biometric appointment
- Respond to any requests for additional information
- Attend the USCIS interview
- Receive confirmation followed by your green card in the mail
You may be able to file immigrant petitions concurrently if you’re in a visa category with immediate availability. However, weigh up the advantages and disadvantages for you. While concurrent filing may speed up the Green Card process, you may waste time and money on the I-485 if USCIS denies your petition.
Refugees or asylum seekers who want to work in the U.S. while their application is pending may need to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD). You can download the I-765 form or Application for Employment Authorization from the USCIS website and track it there.
If you need to go abroad during the I-485 process, you can apply for a travel document called an advanced parole. With this form, you won’t risk nullifying your visa application or getting refused reentry to the United States. You can file the Application for Travel Document online.
Stay one step ahead in the Green Card process
Navigating the I-485 application process can be exciting but stressful. This time marks you becoming a permanent U.S. resident but also requires you to understand complex immigration laws and undergo rigorous checks.
Getting expert legal advice can help you manage the application process with no delays or complications. You can ensure you meet all the eligibility requirements, submit an accurate form, and provide all the necessary paperwork.
LegalPad’s team of expert immigration attorneys supports a wide range of visa applications including the I-485. Contact the LegalPad team to explore your options.