What is Adjustment of Status?
Adjustment of status (AOS) is when an individual who lawfully entered the U.S. with a temporary visa (such as a student visa, tourist visa, etc.) applies for Lawful Permanent Resident status (i.e., a green card). Non-immigrants who have lawfully entered the U.S. on temporary visas are allowed to change their immigration status to lawful permanent resident provided they meet certain requirements and successfully go through the adjustment of status application process. If the green card applicant, for whatever reason, is a viable green card applicant but not eligible to apply through AOS, he or she can apply for a permanent residency through consular processing (for more information, see our article on consular processing). The adjustment of status application process involves submitting a packet of forms and documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and undergoing an interview at a local USCIS office.
Step 1: Make Sure you are Eligible for a Green Card
The first step in starting the adjustment of status process is to see if you are eligible to apply for a green card. Applicants will need to have a petition filed on their behalf by their U.S. based family member or employer. While there are other paths to obtain a green card (refugees, asylum seekers and other special provisions), we will focus on the family-based application process since it is the most common.
For family-based immigration, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident will have to file Form I-130, or Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of the applicant who wishes to immigrate. For more information on this process, please read out article on Filing a Petition to Bring Family Members to the U.S. Please note that not everyone who is eligible to be petitioned by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member is also eligible to undergo the adjustment of status process.
U.S. citizens who want to bring their fiancé (and any eligible family members of the fiancé) to the U.S. for marriage will have to file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). Please note only fiancés of U.S. Citizens can be sponsored this way; lawful permanent residents cannot apply for Petition for Alien Fiancé(e). Also, after arriving in the U.S. and marrying their petitioner, all fiancés must go through the adjustment of status process.
Step 2: Who Can Apply for Adjustment of Status?
An adjustment of status application will be rejected unless the applicant meets certain basic requirements. These are:
- The applicant must be physically located in the United States when the adjustment of status application is filed. Generally, the applicant must remain in the U.S. to complete the AOS process, or obtain permission to travel while their application is pending.
- The applicant must have made a lawful entry to the United States, meaning that they entered with valid documentation and made face to face contact with a U.S. immigration officer who acknowledged their entry into the country. If the applicant entered with a valid visa which has since expired, it is still counted as a lawful entry.
- The applicant must be in valid visa status during the application process and not have stayed past the expiration date of their temporary visa or worked illegally. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as being sponsored by immediate relatives – for more information on this, please consult with an immigration lawyer.
- Applicants applying under the family-based immigration process must have an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and an available visa number prior to filing the AOS form. Applicants applying as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens don’t have this limitation and can file concurrently (i.e. simultaneously file the adjustment of status application together with the I-130 petition). There are certain situations in which other AOS applicants may also file concurrently – for more information on this, please consult with an immigration lawyer.
- Asylees and refugees must wait for one year since either their asylum approval or entry into the United States with refugee status before they can file for adjustment of status.
Because of its limited scope and fairly strict eligibility requirements, only a select few immigrant classes bother to file for an adjustment of status. These include: immediate relatives, spouses that entered as K-1 fiancés, asylees, refugees, and those who arrived on an employment visa (e.g. H-1B) and the employer later sponsored them for a green card.
Step 3: The Forms Required for Filing an Application to Adjust of Status
Applicants who meet all the requirements for adjustment of status (highlighted above) can start the process by filing Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Typical family-based AOS applications will have the following forms:
- Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- Form I-130A, Biographic Information (if relative is a spouse)
- Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
- Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
- Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (optional)
- Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (optional)
Each form in the application packet will also require additional supporting documentation from the applicants. Make sure you have a qualified immigration attorney with experience in dealing with USCIS to help you fill out the required paperwork and prepare the application packets for the highest chance of a successful outcome.
Step 4: The Adjustment of Status Interview
The interview is usually the final hurdle applicants face before getting their green card. It takes several months after filing the application to be called in for an interview. The relative who filed the I-130 petition on the applicant’s behalf will also be asked to attend. The adjustment of status interview is an opportunity for a USCIS officer to verify the information in the application packets provided by the applicant and the petitioning relative. The interview typically lasts between 20 and 30 minutes and may include questions to determine the applicant’s eligibility and their petitioner’s financial capacity to support them (and any additional family members also included in the AOS application). For marriage based AOS applications, the interviewer will want to see proof that the applicant and petitioner are really married and living together.
Adjustment of Status Vs. Consular Processing
It takes significantly longer to obtain a green card from an adjustment of status application (8-14 months) than it does with consular processing (4-12 months). It is also more expensive to apply for an adjustment of status (roughly $1,760) versus consular processing (around $1,200). That being said, the adjustment of status process allows the applicants to remain with their families in the U.S. and prevents prolonged separation. Denied AOS cases can also be appealed by the applicant through the judicial appellate processes, whereas decisions obtained via consular are final and have little to no scope for appeals.