How to Prepare and Send Adjustment of Status Application to USCIS

If you're an immigrant applying for a green card from within the U.S., you'll need to gather and prepare the forms and documents needed to submit your request for lawful permanent residence.

By , Attorney Temple University Beasley School of Law
Updated 3/01/2024

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).

Are You Really Eligible for a Green Card and to Adjust Status?

There are two big questions to answer before going ahead with your adjustment of status application:

  • Is a green card actually available to you yet?
  • Are you truly allowed to use adjustment of status as your application method?

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.

To What Agency Do You Apply for 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.

Forms and Documents Required With Adjustment of Status Application

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:

  • USCIS approval notice for an initial petition (for example in response to a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or employer having filed Form I-130 or Form I-140 on the person's behalf; a self-petition on Form I-360; or the equivalent). In some cases (such as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who entered the U.S. lawfully), the initial petition can be filed along with the adjustment application instead of awaiting USCIS approval first.
  • If you are not the primary immigrant, but immigrating along with a family member, proof of that family relationship, such as a copy of a birth or marriage certificate.
  • Two photos, passport style. It's best to go to a professional to have these taken.
  • Proof of identity, in the form of a photocopy of your passport, refugee travel document, or other government-issued ID.
  • A copy of your birth certificate (long-form version), with an English-language translation if it's in another language. See Creating Substitute Documents or Affidavits for Immigration Applications if you don't have a birth certificates. Asylees and refugees need not submit a birth certificate.
  • USCIS Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is the main application for a green card.
  • If applying based on employment, USCIS Form I-485 Supplement J, Confirmation of Bona Fide Job Offer or Request for Job Portability under INA Section 204(j).
  • Proof that your most recent entry into the U.S. was legal, such as a copy of your passport page with admission or stamp, your I-94, or an Advance Parole document. (Various exceptions apply, for example, asylees, VAWA self-petitioners, and people applying under Section 245(i) need not submit this.) If you don't have an actual document proving lawful entry; for example, you were in a car-load of family who were "waved through" at the border; definitely get an attorney to help draft affidavits or collect corroborative evidence.
  • Proof that you have maintained lawful status in the U.S., such as your I-94 or (for students) Forms I-20. (Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who entered legally need not provide this.)
  • USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. This one is optional, but you'll probably want to fill it out so as to apply for a work permit—a handy form of photo identification even if you don't plan to work.
  • USCIS Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. This is important to fill out in case you want to leave the U.S. while your adjustment application is awaiting a decision. You'll use it to use this to apply for what's called "Advance Parole," so that USCIS won't cancel your application while you're gone.
  • USCIS Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record (if, that is, you haven't already submitted a medical report as part of an earlier portion of your immigration application). You'll need to have a USCIS-approved doctor fill this out.
  • USCIS Form I-864, Affidavit of Support (family-based immigrants only). You'll use this to show USCIS that you won't rely on benefits once you are allowed to live in the U.S. permanently, by having your petitioner/sponsor fill it out. In some circumstances, you can use Form I-864EZ or be exempted entirely.
  • If you think you're at risk of being deemed a likely public charge, a personal statement explaining how the positive factors outweigh the negative in your case. This is particularly important if you have received any of a list of public benefits in the United States.
  • If you have had any criminal charges, arrests, or convictions, certified police and court records. See an attorney before filing if you've had any run-ins with police or immigration authorities.
  • Other forms and documents, as required depending on what category you are applying in; see the instructions to Form I-485 for details.
  • Filing fees, paid by check, money order, or credit card (using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions). Check the USCIS website for the latest fees associated with Form I-485. There are exemptions, including for refugees (but not asylees, though they can request a fee waiver) and for other survivors/humanitarian applicants, such as T and U visa and VAWA adjustment applicants.

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 might be called upon to prove that you actually submitted something.

Mailing Your Adjustment Application

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 or similar tracking, so that you will have proof that it got there.

What Happens After USCIS Receives Adjustment Application

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. 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 (though interviews are waived in some cases, usually the most straightforward ones).

Your green card should, if all goes well, be approved at this interview or soon after. The actual card should arrive by mail some weeks later.

Getting Legal Help

An experienced attorney can be a big help with preparing the adjustment of status paperwork (forms and documents), making sure your case doesn't present legal issues, and keeping the case on track to a successful conclusion.

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