If you are an immigrant who has applied for a green card from within the United States, by filling out Form I-485 (along with other forms and documents), you are using a process called adjustment of status.
With any luck, everything will go smoothly: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept your mailed-in application as complete (instead of returning it to you for further documents or changes), it will schedule you for a biometrics appointment where your fingerprints will be taken, and you’ll attend an interview at which USCIS approves your U.S. permanent residence (green card).
However, it doesn’t always work this way. Here’s some information on what to do if USCIS denies your adjustment of status application.
USCIS rarely issues a flat-out denial without giving the applicant some warning beforehand, usually at the end of the green card interview.
For example, if your U.S. petitioner doesn’t make enough money to sponsor you, you will be given time to come up with an additional sponsor.
If you appear to have a medical condition that would make you inadmissible, USCIS may send you to a doctor for another examination.
If you haven’t proven to USCIS’s satisfaction that your marriage to your U.S. citizen petitioner is bona fide (the real thing, not a fraud), USCIS may ask you to provide further documents showing that you and your spouse live together and share financial assets and so forth.
If something like this happens at your interview, and you were not represented by an attorney, find one immediately to help you gather the needed documents or other proof. It’s much easier to overcome USCIS’s doubts and get your green card approved then to deal with the consequences of a denial.
If USCIS rejects your application for adjustment of status, it will send you a written notification informing you of the reason for the denial. There is no procedure for appealing this decision. But you may be able to request that USCIS review its decision, or else simply reapply, as described below.
Unfortunately, you might also have the “opportunity” to have an immigration judge hear your case. That’s because, if you don’t have a valid, unexpired right to be in the United States, most likely under a visa, USCIS will send you into immigration court (removal) proceedings.
In certain situations, you can ask USCIS’s Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) to review the decision. This is done on USCIS Form I-290B. However, you’ll need an attorney’s help with this. The idea is to prove that the USCIS personnel who reviewed your case made a mistake, and USCIS rarely likes to admit to mistakes.
You must pay an application fee for this review, which was $675 in mid-2019.
It is important to file a request for review quickly. You have 30 calendar days from the date of service of the decision to submit the request. If the decision was mailed to you, you must submit the request within 33 calendar days. Weekends and public holidays are counted while determining the number of days. Once USCIS receives your request to review, it will process your request and inform you of its decision in writing.
Most adjustment of status denials are made without prejudice, meaning you can file another application for a green card. This can actually be easier than filing a request for review, because you’re not asking USCIS to admit a mistake.
However, if you don’t have a lawful right to remain in the United States, you might have to leave in order to succeed at this. Meanwhile, if you’ve already spent time in the U.S. unlawfully, you may not be allowed back for several years. Don't make a decision about what to do without consulting an attorney first.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve cleared up whatever underlying problem caused your adjustment of status application to be denied in the first place.
Unfortunately, not all problems can be cleared up. For example, if you’re clearly inadmissible because of a criminal record, or USCIS has obtained convincing evidence that your marriage is fraudulent (and it really is), neither appeals nor further applications are likely to help much.
Adjustment of status is granted at the discretion of USCIS. If your application for adjustment of status has been denied, you can be subject to deportation (removal) proceedings. Seek the assistance of an experienced U.S. immigration attorney. The attorney can help you decide what to do next.