The process of applying for a U.S. green card can be overwhelming. This article walks you through seven necessary steps (including required forms) that all applicants must complete. The green card process explained here is for immigrants who are able to apply for an immigrant visa from within the United States, a process called “Adjustment of Status.”
Ready to start the green card process now? Before you file any paperwork, I highly recommend that you have your case reviewed by a licensed immigration attorney. Immigration is complicated and there may be aspects of your case that could lead to your application being rejected or denied. An immigration attorney can help.
#1 Form I-130, Family Petition
In my YouTube video, I discussed the family-based immigration petition Form I-130. As I explained, Form I-130 is not an application for a visa in and of itself, but rather it is a part of the family-based immigration process. If you want to immigrate based on a family, you will need to have the I-130 application approved.
The I-130 petition proves that you have a qualifying relationship with an individual who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. In some cases, it is possible to submit this application and be able to remain in the United States while it is being processed by the USCIS—a process called “adjustment of status.” Depending on your family relationship, you may be able to submit the I-130 application and I-485 application at the same time.
If you qualify for adjustment of status, I strongly advise that you immigrate this way. It’s preferable over the other option, “consular processing,” for a few very important reasons.
- First and foremost, adjustment of status allows you to remain in the U.S. with your family and provides you with a work permit while your case is being processed. Consular processing requires that you leave the U.S. and complete the process abroad.
- Adjustment of status can sometimes be less costly and faster than consular processing.
- Adjustment of status means you can become a permanent resident without having to leave the United States. Leaving the U.S. is always risky. There is always a chance that your application will be denied and you will be stuck abroad, potentially indefinitely.
Want to Know if YOU Qualify for Adjustment of Status?
Read this Ebook
I have created a FREE ebook resource to help you understand if you qualify for adjustment of status. Note that this ebook is not an alternative to seeking legal advice, but simply a resource to help you understand what immigration options are available to you.
#2 Form I-485, Adjustment of Status
The I-485 application is the application to change your immigration status to permanent residence. While the I-130 petition is filed by the U.S. relative, the I-485 application is filed by the person who is actually seeking a green card.
If you are applying for permanent residence through a U.S. citizen immediate relative, you have a big advantage. These applicants are allowed to file both the I-485 and the I-130 petition at the same time. This can save a lot of time! Immediate relatives are:
- Spouses of U.S. citizens
- Unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens
- Parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old
If you are filing through a relative other than an immediate relative you will not have a visa immediately available. This means that you cannot file the I-130 at the same time as the I-485. However, you may be able to file the I-485 before your visa is available. See my video on this topic to learn more. You can also find information on your visa priority date by checking the visa bulletin.
WARNING: Travel with Pending I-485 Is Not Advised
I strongly advise my clients not to travel when they have a pending immigration application. As I said before, it is always a risk to exit the United States as there is a chance you will not be readmitted upon reentry. If you absolutely must travel, you should get permission from the USCIS before leaving. In order to do so, you should apply for a travel document (Form I-131). Do not travel without permission granted.
Another reason not to travel is that you may receive an appointment notice from the USCIS while you’re abroad. In most cases, the USCIS does not give you much time to appear for an appointment (a few weeks, not months) so it may be difficult to appear if you are abroad. Failure to appear for your interview can have devastating results. Worst case: your entire case gets denied and your case is referred to immigration court for removal proceedings.
#3 Apply for a Work Permit
It’s possible to apply for permission to work in the United States when you file your I-485 adjustment of status application. This is a big deal and one of the major advantages of filing for permanent residence within the United States. The application for a work permit is Form I-765.
#4 Form I-864, Affidavit of Support
One of the final steps in the green card process is finding a sponsor. In this case, I am talking specifically about a financial sponsor, someone who lives in the U.S. who promises to financially support you in case of difficult times. This is something the U.S. requires of all immigration applicants. The sponsor will have to make a minimum yearly income.
The I-130 petitioner in your case will need to fill out Form I-864, even if their income doesn’t qualify them to be a sponsor. If this is the case, you can request another person sponsor you (a “joint sponsor”), who will complete a separate Form I-864.
#5 Medical Exam
All permanent residence applicants are required to get a medical exam. In October 2018, the guidelines for this requirement changed. Now, all medical exams have a 2-month validity period. This means that you must get your medical exam no more than two months before your interview. If the exam took place more than two months before your interview, it is considered expired and the USCIS will not accept it.
You have the option to submit the medical exam with the initial filing OR present at interview. I highly recommend presenting the exam at interview. If you submit the medical exam with your initial application, it’s likely that it will expire before your interview and be invalid.
Note: It’s important that you keep the document sealed—don’t open the envelope!
#6 Pay USCIS Filing Fees
You will need to submit payment with each application you file. Here’s a breakdown:
Note that immigration filing fees are always subject to change. Please check the USCIS website for the most up to date filing fees.
#7 Prove that You are Not Inadmissible to the United States
This is the most important step! You need to prove that you are not inadmissable to the United States for any reason. There are many reasons a person could be inadmissable, some they may not even be aware of. If it turns out you do have issues of inadmissibility, you certainly want to know about it before you present your case to immigration to ensure you are well prepared to address such matters. This is why I highly, highly recommend consulting with an immigration attorney before you proceed with your case so that they can screen you and make sure there are no issues of inadmissibility. There are many instances where an attorney can help you with these issues, for example by requesting a waiver, when possible.
Immigration Help: I-485 Green Card Application
If you have any questions about your I-485 application I'd be happy to help. I’m a dedicated and passionate immigration attorney, fluent in English and Spanish , located in the Los Angeles area. Call (310) 803-3040 or visit https://abaudlegal.com/appointment/ to schedule an appointment.
I have never met a person as determined and focused to help her community, as Attorney Abaud
I have never met a person as determined and focused to help her community, as Attorney Abaud. She cares about every single detail of any case. It was a pleasure and honor to work with her for many years. I learned a lot from her.