How to Apply for a Green Card After Winning Asylum

Don't wait to make your status in the U.S. more secure, if you're an asylee!

If you are an asylee in the United States, you can apply for adjustment of status to permanent resident (otherwise known as getting a green card) one year after the grant of asylum. That assumes you have also been physically present in the United States for one year's time.

You can also wait longer than that to apply, if you wish, or if you need to do so in order to meet the one-year's physical presence requirement. But the longer you wait, the higher the risk that conditions in your home country will normalize; in which case U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could decide that you no longer need the protection of the United States. It could not only deny the green card but place you into removal proceedings for possible deportation.

Application Forms and Documents for Asylee Adjustment of Status

The primary application for the purpose of applying for a green card while in the United States ("adjusting status") is USCIS Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. However, the I-485 is just the first of a packet of forms and documents you will need to submit, which should also include:

  • a copy of your official approval for asylum
  • two identical color photographs of you, passport style, with your name written on the back in pencil or felt pen (nothing that will make a heavy mark)
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  • medical exam results from a USCIS-authorized doctor on USCIS Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record (you might need to catch up on your vaccinations, too)
  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, if you think you might need or want to leave the United States before your adjustment of status interview. Don't travel back to the country from which you fled, however, or USCIS might decide that you don't really fear going back there and take away your asylum status rather than granting you a green card.
  • proof of your identity, ideally a copy of your birth certificate, with English-language word-for-word translation if it's in another language and a government-issued identity document from your country, also translated if need be.
  • copy of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (which should have been given to you when you were granted asylum)
  • copies of any pages in your passport showing travel to and from the United States since you received asylum
  • proof of your one year's physical presence in the United States, such as copies of pay stubs, school enrollment records, and your rental lease, and
  • arrest records, if any; definitely see an attorney if you have any U.S. criminal record.

In addition, you will need to pay a fee for the application and biometrics (fingerprinting), unless you qualify for a fee waiver. The latest fee amount and further instructions can be found at on the I-485 page of www.uscis.gov.

Fortunately, as an asylee, you are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility. That means you do not need to prove that your income takes you above the poverty line in the United States. Thus if your income is in fact low, it might be worth applying for a waiver of the fee, using USCIS Form I-912.

USCIS Processing of Your Adjustment of Status Application

The completed Form I-485 must be filed with the USCIS office having jurisdiction over your place of residence in the United States. You can pay any and all fees with a single check, bank draft, or money order, or by using a credit card (in which case you must also file Form G-1450).

USCIS will inform you the time and location of your appointment for biometrics (fingerprinting and so forth).

If your adjustment application is incomplete, USCIS could return the whole packet to you for refiling; or it might follow up with a Request for Evidence (RFE).

Next, USCIS will call you for a personal interview. There, a decision will likely be made on your adjustment of status application (though USCIS might ask for further documents or follow-up instead). If you are approved for residency, a green card will be sent to you some weeks later, and you will be on your way to qualifying for naturalized U.S. citizenship.

When to See a Legal Expert

If you want to apply for adjustment of status as an asylee, you might wish to consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney. That's especially true if your country has been in the news lately, with word of a civil war or conflict having ended or conditions having otherwise improved. The attorney can assist you with the entire immigration application process and accompany you to your adjustment interview at a USCIS office.

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