For people who entered the U.S. with permission and are eligible for a green card (lawful permanent residence), a process known as "adjustment of status" can allow them to do the entire application process without leaving the United States. This is convenient for a number of reasons; most notably, the immigrant might already have been living in the U.S. for years, and also might wish personal help from an attorney at every step of the process.
The required forms and documents for adjusting status are far different, however, from those used by immigrants coming from overseas. Applicants from abroad must first obtain a U.S. entry visa from the U.S. Department of State before entering the U.S. to claim their permanent residence and a green card.
This article looks at what's involved in applying directly to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Warning: The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in long delays in every part of the immigration process, owing to government office closures and staff shortages. Expect delays and occasional changes in procedure.
There are two big questions to answer before going ahead with your adjustment of status application:
First, understand that only people who are "immediate relatives" (spouses, parents, or minor children of U.S. citizens) or have an immigrant visa immediately available to them in the family or employment immigration category, which often comes with a long wait for their "priority date" to become current, can proceed with the adjustment application.
Second, simply living in the U.S. isn't necessarily enough to make someone legally eligible to adjust status there. It's a particular problem if the person entered without permission, in which case the chances of being allowed to use this procedure are slim. See Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status.
While immigrants coming to the U.S. from overseas interact mostly with the U.S. State Department, those within the U.S. must submit their adjustment of status application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is done via mail to a central processing facility. You will never go in person to that particular office.
You will, however, need to attend an appointment at a local processing office, after USCIS has received and begun processing your application. This is for having your biometrics (fingerprints and so on) taken. You will probably also be required to attend an interview at a local USCIS district office.
Exactly what forms and documents you must submit depends on what category you are applying in. The required packet usually consists of some combination of the following:
Make a complete copy of every form, document, photo, and check or money order in your packet, for your records. Government agencies have a tendency to lose things, and you may be called upon to prove that you actually submitted something.
Send your completed packet to the address listed on the I-485 page of the USCIS website. Notice that the address is slightly different if you use a courier service (like FedEx) rather than the U.S. Postal Service.
Whatever service you use, make sure to ask for a return receipt, so that you will have proof that it got there.
Once USCIS has received and accepted your adjustment of status packet for processing, it will put you on its waiting list for an interview. The agency will send you paper receipt notices—one for your I-485, and one each for your I-130, I-765, and I-131, if you filed those applications at the same time.
These receipts are important. Make several photocopies and store them in secure places. Among other things, they will contain the immigrant's A-number, which becomes necessary when you have to correspond with USCIS about the case.
Not long after getting your receipts, you should receive an Application Support Center (ASC) Appointment Notice. The notice will schedule you for your biometrics appointment. When exactly this happens will depend on the coronavirus epidemic; ASC offices were open in early 2022 but with some restrictions on access.
The photo and signature taken during this appointment are used to create your work permit and Advance Parole travel document, if you requested those. Your fingerprints are taken for security checks.
The work permit you receive will be good for one year. Once your case is approved by USCIS and you become a permanent resident, you will no longer need a work permit. Your right to work will be evidenced by your permanent resident card. In case your application is delayed for some reason, however, you can renew the work permit for one-year periods for as long as you are waiting for a decision on your adjustment of status application.
Finally, you are likely to be called in for an interview at your local USCIS office. (Again, however, the COVID-19 pandemic might cause delays.)
Your green card should, if all goes well, be approved at this interview or soon after.