Married Permanent Resident, Living in the U.S.: When Can I Adjust Status and Get Green Card?

Not everyone is eligible to adjust status. One of the rules is that the U.S. must have a permanent resident “space” for you, available immediately.

By , J.D., UC Davis School of Law

When you marry someone who has lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. (a "green card"), you can apply for permanent resident (LPR) status, too. In fact, if you're already in the U.S., you might be able to ask USCIS to adjust your status to permanent resident (if eligible to use the "adjustment of status" procedure), and avoid a trip to the U.S. consulate in your home country. However, as we explain in this article, which procedure you use isn't a sure thing. What's more, getting through the application process and can take a significant amount of time.

To get an idea of when you can apply for a green card and when you will actually get it, read on. We'll cover all the steps, from initial petition to required paperwork to interview and approval.

First, the U.S. LPR Spouse Must File a Form I-130

The first step in the U.S. immigration process is for the U.S. lawful permanent resident spouse to file an I-130 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Its purpose is proving that you're married to each other and that your U.S. spouse really is a green card holder. The U.S. government needs to be sure of those things before it will allow you to apply for permanent residence.

For details on filling out the form and attaching the appropriate documents, see Preparing an I-130 Petition for Immigrating Spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident. It normally takes USCIS anywhere from a month to one year to approve the petition. Once you get the I-130 approval notice from USCIS, you can go on to the next step.

Why You Might Have to Wait Before Adjusting Status

Not everyone is eligible to adjust status. (See Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status.) One of the rules is that the U.S. government must have a permanent resident "space" for you, available immediately. (USCIS calls this an available "visa" or "visa number," but it means green card, too.) Unfortunately, as the spouse of a permanent resident, there might not be room for you immediately when you get your I-130 approval. Instead, you could be put on a wait list (though there was no wait as of early 2023).

A waiting list often develops because the number of green cards for spouses of U.S. permanent residents is limited. Before a green card becomes "immediately available" to you, the U.S. government must finish work on the case of everyone from your country who wants to get a green card through their permanent resident spouse and who applied before you did. The exact mechanism for this is described next.

In the meantime, if and while you're on the wait list, make sure you're maintaining "lawful immigration status" and don't work illegally—otherwise you'll lose your ability to adjust status.

How to Read the Chart Showing When an Immigrant Visa/Green Card Is Available to You

Unfortunately, USCIS is not going to send you a letter telling you when your wait (f any) is over so that you can apply to adjust your status. You're going to have to figure that out on your own. Here's how.

The first piece of information you'll need is your "priority date." That will be the date USCIS received your U.S. spouse's I-130 petition for you. It's shown on the I-130 receipt (Form I-797C Notice of Action) or approval (Form I-797 Notice of Action).

Next, go the USCIS Web page containing filing dates. There, USCIS links you to a page containing a chart you need to look at to determine when to apply, based on priority date. You'll see the link underneath the words "Current Month's Adjustment of Status Filing Charts."

The chart you'll see will be called either the "Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications" chart, or the "Application Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases" chart. USCIS borrows these from the State Department's Visa Bulletin, which is updated every month.

Generally speaking, you'll be able to apply sooner if USCIS is using the "Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications" chart. And the sooner you can apply, the sooner you can receive work authorization from USCIS, if you don't already have it (most likely on the basis of some temporary visa). Your application for employment authorization (a work permit or "EAD") can be filed (for no extra charge) at the same time as your application for a green card, by adding Form I-765 to your adjustment packet. You should receive work authorization about three months after applying—even though USCIS most likely cannot give you a green card until later.

When looking at the chart, find the row that begins with "F2A" in the column on the far left. (F2A is the category for spouses of permanent residents.) Then look for the column for your country. If you don't see your country, you're in the "All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed" column. There will be a date in the box where your column meets the F2A row. That's the "cutoff date." Or it might just say "C," which means there's no wait and everyone's priority date is current.

If a cutoff date was listed, compare it to your priority date. If your priority date is on or before the cutoff date, or there's a "C," congratulations! You can send your application to adjust status to USCIS. If your priority date is after the cutoff date, however, you have to keep waiting. Check the USCIS website again the following month to see the new chart, which could have a new cutoff date. Often the cutoff date is a little bit later than the previous month's chart (which is progress!), but it could be earlier (not good news—you'll be waiting longer).

When You'll Actually Get Your Lawful Permanent Residence and Green Card

No matter when you're allowed to file your adjustment application, USCIS can't actually give you a green card until a visa number becomes available. If USCIS is using the "Application Final Action Dates" chart, you shouldn't have to worry about any further delay, because the green card is available even before you apply. But if it's using the "Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications" chart, you'll be able to apply well before the green card actually becomes available. In that case, USCIS will probably won't approve your adjustment application until the green card actually is available, and unexpected delays could hit.

Look again at the "Application Final Action Dates" chart in the latest Visa Bulletin to see if your priority date is on or before your cutoff date, or if there's a "C." If so, USCIS can approve your green card. If it's not, you'll have to wait. (See How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current?)

The actual USCIS approval will take place after USCIS calls you to one of its field offices for an in-person interview. Both spouses will be expected to attend. Assuming you're approved, the green card itself will arrive by mail some weeks later.

Getting Legal Help

An immigration attorney can help you figure out exactly when you'll be eligible to apply for a green card through your LPR spouse, check whether you're eligible to adjust status without leaving the United States, and handle all the paperwork and bureaucracy. See Choosing, Hiring, or Firing an Immigration Attorney.

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