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

A look at how people who are eligible to adjust status and receive permanent residence from within the U.S. should prepare the main USCIS application form and the supporting materials.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

Form I-485 is the primary application form filled out and submitted by would-be immigrants to the United States who are both:

  • 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 interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate, through the process known as "adjustment of status."

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

Does This Mean Not Every Green Card Applicant Uses Form I-485?

That's right, only a limited group of people fit both the criteria described above, and therefore can adjust status, which involves using Form I-485. Most often, those who fit the criteria are foreign nationals who either:

  • came to the United States on a temporary visa, but married a U.S. citizen
  • received asylum in the U.S
  • came on a temporary work visa such as an H-1B and had their employer sponsor them for a green card, or
  • came to the U.S. as the fiancé of a U.S. citizen and got married before their K-1 fiancé visa expired.

By contrast, foreign nationals who entered the U.S. without inspection, or who overstayed a visa/I-94 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, handled by the U.S. Department of State, which issues its own application forms.

Tips on Filling Out USCIS Form I-485

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.

The questions on Form I-485 are reasonably straightforward, but a few of them might give you trouble. The following bits of guidance refer to the version of the form issued on 02/21/2023 (but be sure to check whether USCIS has since revised the form).

In Part I, Information About You, Question 10, you would have an Alien Registration Number (A-Number) only if you'd had an immigration file opened for you, most likely because you applied for lawful permanent residence in the past, applied for an employment authorization document (EAD) as student in F-1 status, or been in deportation (removal) proceedings. If you don't have an A-Number, enter "N/A" for "not applicable."

(Note: If you have ever been in removal proceedings, you might not be eligible to apply for a green card at this time, or ever. Consult with an immigration attorney for a full analysis.)

For Question 11, there's every likelihood that you do not have an Online Account Number. It's also for people who've had past interactions with USCIS, and registered for such an account. If you don't have one, you can enter "N/A."

Under Social Security Card (Questions 14-17), if you don't have a Social Security number, simply answer "No" to the first question, then skip to Questions 16 and 17, which give you an opportunity to apply for one. You'll want this number for working in the United States and for personal identification purposes. By requesting one here, you can avoid visiting a Social Security office.

In the Recent Immigration History portion of Part 1, the question regarding "Date of Last Arrival" 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 latter date here.

For purposes of answering Question 26, your I-94 is either a card stapled into your passport when you entered the U.S. or (more likely) a document within the Customs and Border Protection website, which you can access online. It 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 (outside the United States).Your "Status on Form I-94" is a letter-number combo such as K-1 for a fiancé visa, B-2 for a tourist visa, F-1 for a student visa, and so on. (For a list, see Types of Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Visas: Who Qualifies?.)

Your "Current immigration status" (Question 27) might be the same as your I-94 status, unless it has changed since when you last arrived in the U.S., with or without USCIS permission. If so, you could enter "OOS" for "out of status" if your permitted stay has expired. If you never had status, or entered unlawfully, enter "EWI" for "entered without inspection" (but consult an attorney; it's unlikely you're able to adjust status at all, since this procedure can normally only be used by people who are lawfully present in the United States. Your only possibility might be to leave the country and apply for your green card via a U.S. consulate, thereby exposing yourself to various grounds of inadmissibility, particularly for unlawful presence in the United States).

In Part 2, Application Type or Filing Category, 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 one of the boxes in 1.a through 1.c. But consult an immigration attorney if unsure.

Parts 3 through 7 ask for more personal and immigration-related information, including about your parents, your marital history, and any children. Listing organizations that you are a member of is in most cases 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. government as having terrorist links, listing them here could make you inadmissible to the United States (that is, ineligible for a green card). Consult an attorney in such a situation.

For the yes and no answers in Part 8, General Eligibility and Inadmissibility Grounds, your answer should be "no" to most of them, as they also reflect grounds of inadmissibility. That doesn't mean you should check off all the "no" boxes without looking. 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.

The exception is Question 24, where if you are a J-1 visa holder subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, you'll need to be able to answer yes to the questions of whether you've either spent two years outside the United States or gotten a waiver of this requirement.

Question 61 related to the "public charge" ground of inadmissibility to the U.S. (someone who likely to someday need government financial assistance). It's simply a threshold question, about whether you are "subject" to this ground; in other words, whether the law requires people in your visa category to show that they won't need monetary help. Most visa applicants are; but some aren't, such as asylee, VAWA, special immigrant juvenile, or cancellation of removal applicants. Then for those who answer yes to Question 61, Questions 62 or 68 dig deeper, to find out your overall financial situation and prospects. If you've received public benefits in the past, that doesn't mean you've done anything wrong or illegal, but it does mean you'll have to work harder to show that you won't need more such help in the future.

Part 9, Accommodations for Individuals With Disabilities or Impairments gives you a chance to ask for reasonable adjustments to the usual process 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. The government is obligated by law to make reasonable accommodations for those who need it.

Part 10 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 Parts 11 and 12.

Part 13 shouldn't be filled in or signed until your interview.

Part 14 is an extra page, upon which you can enter information that didn't fit in the earlier portions of the form.

Other Forms and Documents Needed With Form I-485

Form I-485 is the main piece of an 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 will most likely need to submit with your completed Form I-485 (for starters):

  • proof of your eligibility for a U.S. green card (for example, your notice of approval as an asylee; a completed Form I-130 and marriage certificate if you married a U.S. citizen; your USCIS I-129F petition approval notice and marriage certificate if you entered the U.S. on a K-1 fiancé visa; and so forth)
  • Form I-693 Medical Examination Sheet (filled out and signed 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); or if you're a family applicant but nevertheless not obligated to have a financial sponsor, Form I-864W, Request for Exemption for Intending Immigrant's Affidavit of Support. (See Who Is Exempt From Submitting Form I-864 Affidavit of Support for details; exemptions mainly apply to immigrants who've already worked in the United States for 40 Social Security "quarters" (approximately ten years, or they've been married while the U.S. spouse worked for 40 Social Security quarters, or a combination of the two.)
  • 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 advance parole, your green card application will be canceled)
  • evidence of any criminal convictions (if you have any, it's highly possible you are inadmissible, so see an attorney)
  • two color photos, taken within the last 30 days, passport style; it's best to pay a professional for these
  • photocopy of the nonimmigrant visa page of your passport (if any)
  • your birth certificate, with a word-for-word English translation if it's not already in English, and
  • required fee for the application and for biometrics (fingerprinting), paid by check, money order, or credit card (in the latter case, using USCIS Form G-1450).

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 (biometrics). 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 to Help File the Adjustment Application?

Determining your eligibility for U.S. lawful permanent residence and to adjust status, as well as filing Form I-485 and the other needed forms and documents, is a complicated process. It requires organization and thoroughness, and is much easier for those with experience. Consulting an immigration attorney before you begin the application can be a wise move, as well as cost effective, given the value of your time and what is at stake here. The attorney can also accompany you to the personal interview at a USCIS office, as is required in most types of cases.

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