When you marry someone who has lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. (a “green card”), you can apply for permanent resident status too. if you’re already in the U.S. and you’re eligible under the rules, you can ask USCIS to adjust your status to permanent resident. However, as we explain in this article, it’s going to take some time. To get an idea of when you can apply for a green card and when you’ll get it, read on.
The first step is to have your U.S. lawful permanent resident spouse file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Its purpose is proving that you’re married and that your spouse is a green card holder. The government needs to be sure of those things before it will allow you to apply for permanent residence.
Your spouse files the petition using USCIS Form I-130. (See Filing an Immigration Petition (I-130) for a Foreign Spouse.) It will normally take USCIS anywhere from a month to six months to approve the petition. Once you get the I-130 approval notice from USCIS, you can go on to the next step.
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. 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 probably won’t be room for you immediately when you get your I-130 approval. Instead, you’re put on a wait list.
A waiting list 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 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.
(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.)
Unfortunately, USCIS is not going to send you a letter telling you when your wait 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.
First, go the USCIS Visa Bulletin information Web page. There, USCIS links you to a page containing a chart you need to look at to determine when to apply. 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.
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. Your application for employment authorization can be filed (for free) at the same time as your application for a green card. (See How to Apply for a U.S. Work Permit (EAD).) You should receive work authorization about three months after applying—even if USCIS cannot give you a green card until later.
To know when you can apply, the first piece of information you’ll need is your “priority date.” That will be the date USCIS received your spouse’s I-130 petition for you. You can find it on the I-130 receipt (Form I-797C Notice of Action) or approval (Form I-797 Notice of Action).
When you're looking at the chart, first 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.”
Now, compare that cutoff date to your priority date. If your priority date is on or before the cutoff date, 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).
As of early 2016, USCIS has been consistently using the "Dates for Family-Sponsored Visa Applications" chart. When this is the case, most spouses of permanent residents will find that they can apply to adjust status about eight months after their I-130 was filed. That’s not a very long wait, especially because some, if not most, of that time you have to wait for your I-130 to be approved anyway.
No matter when you’re allowed to file your adjustment application, USCIS can’t actually give you a green card until one becomes available. If USCIS is using the “Application Final Action Dates” chart, you won’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 is available.
If you want to know when that will be, look at the “Application Final Action Dates” chart in the latest Visa Bulletin and see if your priority date is on or before your cutoff date. If it is, 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?) As of early 2016, most spouses of permanent residents will find that they can get their green card about a year and a half after their I-130 was filed.