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Adjustment of Status Explained, Plus Green Card FAQs

In U.S. immigration, adjustment of status refers to the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) from within the country. Immigrants applying for a green card from outside the U.S. follow a different process. However, all pathways to a green card within the U.S. involve the same adjustment of status process.

If you've wondered if there is a difference between adjusting status and filing a green card application, this article is for you. 

Introduction to the Adjustment of Status Process

An essential part of the green card process for most immigrants, adjustment of status involves transitioning from nonimmigrant status to LPR status. The U.S. government sees foreign nationals with nonimmigrant visas, like H-1B, F-1, or O-1, as temporary visitors. After a visitor on a temporary visa status adjusts their status, they become a permanent resident. 

The adjustment of status process is nearly identical for all immigrants applying for a green card, but the steps before adjusting status vary based on an individual's qualifications. For instance, someone filing a green card application based on marriage is required to file Form I-130 before adjusting their status. Meanwhile, someone filing a green card application based on employment is required to file Form I-140 before adjusting status. Yet the adjustment of status is similar for both individuals. 

Adjustment of Status and Green Card FAQs

What does it mean to "adjust status"?

Adjustment of status is the process of changing from a nonimmigrant status to permanent residence status, such as from a student visa to a green card. The process generally involves filing an I-485 form with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After filing, the USCIS will review the application and may grant a green card or other immigration benefit.

What do you need to do before adjusting status?

Before you can adjust status, you need to file a qualifying petition. This petition proves you are eligible for a green card through a certain immigrant category, such as a marriage-based green card or an EB-1A. You can generally begin the adjustment of status process after your qualifying petition is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There are several exceptions to this rule. For instance, individuals born in China and India often must wait to become "current" on the visa bulletin to begin the adjustment status process.

What happens during the adjustment of status process?

With an approved immigrant petition and a current priority date, you can apply for your green card. Form I-485 is the green card application (also called adjustment of status application and permanent residence application). Officially named Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, this legal form must be completed and mailed to USCIS for review.

Many green card applicants also file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and I-131, Application for Travel Document. Upon approval from USICS, these forms allow green card applicants to work in the U.S. and travel internationally while their green card is pending.

Green card applicants are also generally required to submit a medical report from a doctor and attend a biometrics appointment at a USCIS location. A green card interview appointment can also be part of the adjustment of status process, but USCIS waives the appointment for many applicants.

After a USCIS officer has reviewed the application, they may issue a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) if they need more information. Then a final decision will be issued: either an approval or denial of the green card application.

While green card denials happen, they are rare since USCIS has already determined that the applicant is qualified via the qualifying petition. However, a green card denial may happen at this stage if the applicant is found inadmissible due to prior immigration violations, a criminal background, or public charge issues.

Upon approval, the applicant's immigration status will automatically change to LPR, and they will receive their green card (also called permanent resident card) in the mail.

Who is eligible to adjust status?

Generally, you need an approved qualifying petition to adjust status in the U.S. Each qualifying petition has unique requirements. The most common petitions include:

  • Employment-based petitions: There are several employment-based categories, including EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4, and EB-5.
  • Family-based petitions: Marrying a U.S. citizen is the most common way to qualify for adjustment of status via family immigration.

What's the difference between permanent residency and a green card?

Permanent residency is a legal immigration status. When referring to the physical document that proves someone is a permanent resident, the terms green card and permanent resident card are used interchangeably.

What's the difference between an I-140 and I-485?

The I-140 establishes your eligibility to apply for permanent residency via the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-2 NIW processes. The I-485 is the form you used to apply for the adjustment of status or the green card. In other words, in most cases, you need an approved I-140 to apply for an I-485.

Are there any differences between the adjustment of status processes for the EB-1, EB-2, or any other method?

No, the adjustment of status process is the same for all applicants.

Does the I-485 have premium processing?

Unfortunately, the I-485 does not qualify for premium processing. However, you can track average I-485 processing times online.

Can I travel while my I-485 is pending?

Whether you can travel with a pending I-485 depends on your current immigration status in the U.S. For instance, if you are on valid dual intent nonimmigrant status (such as H-1B or L-1), you can travel internationally throughout the green card application process.

Single-intent visa holders (such as T.N. or E-3) cannot travel with a pending I-485 unless they apply for Advance Parole. Green card applicants can file Form I-131 with their I-485 application or after the I-485 has been filed. Upon approval of Form I-131, applicants can travel internationally.

How long is my green card valid?

Green cards are valid for up to ten years. After ten years, applicants can renew their permanent residency via Form I-90. They also have the option to apply for citizenship after five years of permanent residence (3 years if you're married to a U.S. citizen). 

When can I apply for citizenship?

Foreign nationals can apply for citizenship after five years of permanent residence (or three years if you're married to a U.S. citizen).


About the author:

Ahmed Mousa

Account Executive, Legalpad

Ahmed helps international founders understand their U.S. immigration options so they can focus on the important things, like growing their startups.