Refugee status is a special legal protection granted to people who have left their home country for their own safety and are afraid to return. For more information about refugee status and how to apply, see Nolo's articles on Asylum & Refugee Status.
After one year of physical presence in the U.S. as a refugee, you must apply to adjust your status to a lawful permanent resident (seek a green card). The one-year period is calculated from the date that your I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, was issued.
Why You Should Apply for Your Green Card
Other than the fact that it’s legally required, applying for your green card as soon as you are eligible is in your best interest for a number of reasons. First, seeking your green card is the next step before being able to apply for U.S. citizenship. Becoming a U.S. citizen has various benefits such as allowing you to vote, serve on a jury, travel with a U.S. passport, bring family members to the U.S., obtain citizenship for children under 18 years old, apply for federal jobs, become an elected official, maintain your U.S. residency, become eligible for federal grants/scholarship, and obtain government benefits.
Also, your refugee status and right to remain in the U.S. may be revoked if conditions in your country change or if you no longer qualify as a refugee (i.e. your ground for protection has changed).
What to Do If More Than One Year Has Passed
What if significantly more than a year has passed after you have been admitted to the U.S. as a refugee, and you haven't yet applied for your green card? In many cases, USCIS will overlook such delays if other conditions are met, in particular, if you haven't become deportable andconditions in your home country haven't changed for the better. However, you cannot and should not count on this. Therefore, it is best to observe the one-year deadline, and to consult with an attorney if you already have missed it.
Documents You Need to Apply for Your Green Card
As a refugee, no fee is required to apply for your green card. In order to apply, you will need to complete and submit the following to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that handles immigration matters within the United States:
- Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. On Part 2, mark box “h” and write “refugee” on the line that follows.
- Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, if you are represented by an attorney (in which case he or she will fill this out for you).
- Form G-325A, Biographic Information Sheet, if you are between 14 and 79 years old.
- Vaccination portion for Form I-693, Report of Medical Exam and Vaccination Record, signed by you and a civil surgeon, in a sealed envelope. You must visit a designated civil surgeon (doctor) to make sure you have all of your required vaccinations, and get any missing ones. However, if you fit into one of the following two categories, then the doctor will need to conduct a full exam and complete the whole I-693 for you:
- Medical grounds of inadmissibility were noted at the time of your arrival in U.S. such as a communicable disease or mental disorder that poses a threat to the public.
- Your refugee status was granted by an approved Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition.
- Certified copy of your criminal record if you have ever been arrested, detained, or convicted.
- Evidence of refugee status and eligibility, such as a copy of your I-94 or a copy of your Employment Authorization Document.
- Proof that you have lived in the U.S. for the last year, such as copies of your pay stubs or government benefits.
- Two passport-style photos. Write your name and A-number on the back, in pencil. (This helps in case the photos get separated from the rest of your application.)
- Proof of any legal name change since you were granted refugee status, if applicable, such as a copy of a court order or marriage certificate showing your new name.
All foreign language documents included in this application packet will need to include a completed translation into English as described in “Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications.”
You must complete a separate I-485 application packet for each family member who wants to apply for a green card.
What Happens After You Submit Your Packet
After you submit your adjustment of status application packet, USCIS will send you a notice saying that your application has been received, usually within a few weeks.
Several weeks later, USCIS will schedule you for a biometrics appointment. There, you will have your fingerprints, photo, and signature taken. Your fingerprints will be checked against U.S. law enforcement databases to make sure you haven’t committed any crimes or immigration violations that would bar you from receiving a U.S. green card. This can add delays to the process, particularly if you have a common name.
Last, you will receive a written decision on your adjustment of status application. Although most green card applications do not require an interview, you may be called in for an interview if the USCIS office has any questions regarding your application or eligibility.
If your green card is granted, your “adjustment of status” date will be recorded as the day you entered into the U.S. as a refugee. That’s especially important because it means that you will already have a year of permanent residence behind you when you start counting your five years toward U.S. citizenship. See "How to Become a U.S. Citizen" for more on this topic.