What You Need to File I-485 for Adjustment of Status

If you're adjusting status (to a permanent U.S. resident, or green card holder) you'll need to complete form I-485 and select the appropriate forms and documents to accompany it.

Form I-485 is the primary application form used by would-be immigrants who are:

  • eligible to apply for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), and
  • eligible to do so while living in the U.S., without leaving for an overseas consular interview.

Only a very limited group of people fit both criteria, most often people who came to the United States on a temporary visa, but married a U.S. citizen; those who received ashylum in the U.S; those who came on a temporary work visa such as an H-1B and had their employer sponsor them for a green card; and those who came to the U.S. as the fiancé of a U.S. citizen and got married before their fiance visa expired. By contrast, people who entered the U.S. without inspection, or those who overstayed a visa and are not the immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, are usually not eligible to adjust status, even if they are otherwise eligible for a green card. They will need to use a procedure called Consular Processing.

Form I-485 itself is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and available for free download on the "I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status" page of its website.

In this article we will take a closer look at how people who are eligible to adjust status should prepare this form and the supporting materials.

Tips on Filling Out Form I-485

The questions on Form I-485 are reasonably straightforward, but a few of them may give you trouble. In Part I, if you don't have a Social Security number, you can leave that blank. The same goes for the "A#," meaning your alien number. You would only have one if you had prior contact with the immigration services; for example, if you had already applied for an immigration benefit, or been placed in removal (deportation) proceedings. (Note: If you have ever been in removal proceedings, you may not be eligible to apply for a green card at this time, or ever. Be sure to consult with an immigration attorney for a full analysis.)

Also in Part I, the question on "Date of Last Arrival" really means your most recent entry to the United States. Many applicants get confused and enter the date when they first came, but if you have since made even a short trip outside the U.S., you need to enter that date here. Providing your I-94 number is important because it helps prove that you entered with a visa or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) -- which is, for some applicants, crucial to proving their eligibility to adjust status instead of going through consular processing.

For "current USCIS status," you could put the name of your current visa or other status (such as "B-1 visitor," "F-1 student," "K-1 fiance," or "asylee"); "OOS" for "out of status" if your permitted stay under your visa has expired; or "EWI" for "entered without inspection" if you never had a visa or permitted entry.

In Part II, you will need to choose the basis of your eligibility for a U.S. green card. For most family and employment-based candidates, the answer is "a." But consult an immigration attorney if you're not sure.

Part III asks for more personal and immigration-related information. Again, if you entered without being inspected by a U.S. government officer (for example, by being smuggled across the border), the chances that you are eligible to adjust status are slim. On Question C, listing community or other groups that you are a member of is fine; and if you are adjusting as an asylee, you should certainly mention any group affiliations that you described as part of your asylum claim. However, if any of the groups you might name here are seen as the U.S. as having terrorist links, listing them here may make you inadmissible to the United States (that is, ineligible for a green card).

For the yes and no answers in Part III, your answer should be "no" to all of them, as these too reflect grounds of inadmissibility. That doesn't mean you should check off all the "no" boxes without looking at them. Read them carefully, and if the true answer to any of them is "yes," or even "maybe," consult an immigration attorney. Giving false information on an immigration form can get you in as much trouble, or even more, then revealing a negative piece of true information.

Part IV gives you a chance to ask for the assistance you might need if you are disabled -- for example, to have a medical caregiver accompany you into the interview. Do not hesitate to use this if you need it. 

Part V requires you to sign the form. Parents can sign on behalf of children; just write their name, and then write "by [your name], parent." Notice that by signing, young men are agreeing to have their name put into the "Selective Service" list, which will be used to call upon them if the U.S. ever reinstates a military draft.

If you are filling this form out on your own, you can leave the rest blank. If someone else is filling it out on your behalf, they will know how to fill in the rest.

Other Forms and Documents Needed With Form I-485

Form I-485 is the main piece of your adjustment of status packet, but it is by no means the only piece. Different people need to attach different backup forms and evidence depending on their individual immigration situations. Here's what you most likely need to submit with your completed Form I-485 for starters:

  • proof of your eligibility for a green card (for example, your notice of approval as an asylee; a Form I-130 and marriage certificate if you married a U.S. citizen; your visapetition approval notice and marriage certificate if you entered as a fiance; and so forth)
  • Form G-325A Biographic Data Sheet
  • Form I-693 Medical Examination Sheet (filled out by a designated Civil Surgeon, and in a sealed, unopened envelope
  • Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, with supporting financial and tax documents (if your basis for applying is through a U.S. family member
  • Form I-765, in order to request permission to work (even if you don't plan to work, it gets you a handy photo identity card, and you won't have to pay a separate fee for it if you include this application with your adjustment of status packet)
  • Form I-131, to receive what's called "advance parole" in case you need to travel out of the U.S. while the adjustment process is still underway (if you leave without obtaining advance parole, your green card application will be canceled; and as with the I-765, it's a good idea to file this form now, because if you wait until later, you'll have to pay a separate fee) 
  • evidence of any criminal convictions (if you have any, it's highly possible you are inadmissible -- see an attorney)
  • two color photos, taken within the last 30 days, passport style
  • photocopy of the nonimmigrant visa page of your passport (if any)
  • your birth certificate, with an English translation if it's not already in English, and
  • required fee for the application and for biometrics (fingerprinting).

Carefully read the instructions that come with Form I-485 to find out what else you need to include. You will submit the Adjustment of Status packet by mail to USCIS. (You cannot submit it in person.) Some months after submitting it, you will be called in for fingerprinting. A few weeks or months after that, you will be called in for a personal interview at a USCIS office, where your permanent residence will be granted or denied.

Will You Need a Lawyer?

Determining your eligibility for a green card and to adjust status, and filing Form I-485 and the other needed forms and documents, is a complicated process and requires organization and thoroughness. Consulting an immigration attorney before you begin the application can be a wise move -- and cost effective, given the value of your time and what is at stake here.

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