If you are applying for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a "green card") through the process known as "adjustment of status," in which you submit your application materials to, and attend your interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), then you can expect a long wait for an interview. That wait is typically months long, depending on the workload at your local USCIS office. This article will acquaint you with some of the legal and practical aspects of dealing with this wait.
Within ten days of moving to a new address within the United States, you (and every immigrating member of your family) must let USCIS know about this. The law requires this of most non-U.S. citizens who remain in the U.S. for more than 30 days. (Parents of children should notify USCIS of the child's change of address.) The only people exempt from this notification requirement are diplomats with an "A" visa and official government representatives to an international organization with a "G" visa.
You do not need to notify USCIS about temporary addresses so long as you maintain your present address as your permanent residence and continue to receive mail there.
Failure to tell USCIS about a change of address is a misdemeanor and can be punished with a jail term of up to 30 days, a fine of up to $200, or, in some cases, removal from the United States. Although it is unlikely that you will be prosecuted for this, there is still a good incentive for advising USCIS of your change of address. If USCIS doesn't know where to reach you, it might send important correspondence, including your interview notice, to the wrong address, and you might miss it entirely.
USCIS is required to send notices only to the last address it has for you. "I never got my interview notice" will not be an excuse for missing an interview if you moved and did not change your address with USCIS. You should not count on the U.S. Postal Service, or anyone living at your old address, to forward your mail to you at your new address.
The procedure for advising USCIS of your move is to use Form AR-11. For most adjustment of status applicants, the best and easiest way to submit Form AR-11 is online at USCIS's Change of Address Page.
Click yes to the question "Is this change of address for an application or petition currently in progress?" In the case information section, select "I485." In the Receipt Number box, enter the receipt number that appears on the Form I-797C Notice of Action that USCIS mailed you when it accepted your I-485. (If you filed Form I-765 and Form I-131 with your I-485, add these too.) Fill in the rest of the form, give your email address for confirmation, and when everything looks okay, click the Submit button.
Print a copy of the confirmation result page for your records. It will show the date and time the form was filed, and will contain a USCIS confirmation number.
If you are adjusting status on the basis of an approved VAWA I-360 petition, "T" visa, or "U" visa, you can't change your address online. Per USCIS's instructions, you must mail a completed and signed AR-11 form to one of its regional service centers, depending on where you live. (Don't use the address on the form.)
The blank form is available online at the USCIS website.
If you are not in one of these special categories but simply prefer to file your AR-11 by regular mail (or if you find you have no choice, because the system has glitches and gives you error messages), that's okay. You should fill the Form AR-11 out, sign it, and mail it to the address shown on the form. When mailing the AR-11, it's best to use certified, registered, or some other form of return-receipt or tracked mail and retain copies of what you sent and proof of mailing.
If you mail your AR-11, however, you will still have to notify the USCIS interviewing office of your address change. Do this by calling its Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283. For TTY (deaf or hard of hearing), call 1-800-767-1833.
While waiting for your adjustment of status interview, you might want or need to visit your home country or somewhere else, perhaps to visit family or continue arranging your final move to the U.S., for example. You can legally travel, but must use great care. If you simply get up and go without getting official permission (called "advance parole," described below), the law says you will have given up (or abandoned, in USCIS terminology) your adjustment of status application. You will need to start all over, including payment of another fee.
Worse yet, depending upon the nonimmigrant status you previously had, you might not be able to return to the U.S. for many months or much longer until you get an immigrant visa (green card) from the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
There are exceptions to the general rule that traveling abroad without advance parole will abandon your adjustment of status application. One is if you arrived in the United States on a K-3 visa (a so-called "fiancé visa" designed especially for already married couples). People with K-3 visas can use these to reenter the United States as many times as they like until a decision has been made on their green card application.
Other exceptions are for persons in the U.S. in lawful H or L status, including dependent family members, who can travel abroad and return using an H or L visa and keep their adjustment applications pending.
To protect yourself (if you don't have a K-3, H, or L visa), ask USCIS for advance permission to leave (called "Advance Parole") and come back by filing Form I-131. You can either file the Advance Parole application together with your adjustment of status application, or you can file it separately later, along with proof that your adjustment of status application has already been filed. Once you've received Advance Parole, your adjustment of status application, including its place in line, will be preserved if you leave the United States. Your trip shouldn't delay the processing of your application, either.
It will take some time for USCIS to process your application and grant you Advance Parole. To shorten the time you won't be able to travel, apply for Advance Parole and permission to work (on Form I-765) at the same time you apply to adjust status. The applications will be free in this case, and within a few months (subject to delays and USCIS approving your I-131 and I-765), it should send you a card good for work and travel for the rest of the time your adjustment application remains pending.
On the I-131, you should ask for a multiple-entry Advance Parole document, so that you can take as many trips outside the country as might become necessary while you're waiting for your green card to be approved.
Although other applicants might have to justify their need for Advance Parole, USCIS will consider the fact that you have applied for adjustment of status as a sufficient reason for granting you Advance Parole. You will not need to provide any documentation showing that you have encountered an emergency or otherwise qualify for Advance Parole when filing the I-131.
The Advance Parole document is your ticket back into the U.S., but it is not a guaranteed ticket. Its function is to keep your adjustment of status application alive while you're gone—but it won't protect you from being found inadmissible to the United States, for example if you have a crime on record or have spent too much time in the U.S. unlawfully. This could result in being barred from returning to the United States for a period of years, and in rare situations forever.
So if you have any doubts about your admissibility back into the U.S., don't leave without first consulting with an immigration lawyer, particularly if you have been arrested since the last time you entered the U.S., or if you have spent any time in the U.S. in unlawful immigration status.
Even if you have Advance Parole, don't be alarmed if, upon returning to the U.S., you are pulled into a separate line. This is called "secondary inspection," and it is not an uncommon procedure for anyone returning with an Advance Parole document.
If you anticipate any problems, you might want to contact an attorney ahead of time, so that you can call that attorney from the airport or other entry point for emergency consultation. (See How Expensive Is an Immigration Lawyer?)