If you’re in the U.S. and hoping to adjust status (get a green card without having to leave the country), but you’re in a family-based or employment-based “preference” category that has a wait list, how will you know when it’s time for you to apply for your green card?
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. This article explains 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."
If you're getting a green card through a family member, the chart for you will be called either “Dates for Filing Family-Sponsored Visa Applications,” or “Application Final Action Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases.” If you're getting a green card through employment, the chart for you will be called either the “Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications” chart, or the “Application Final Action Dates for Employment-Based 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 showing you the “Dates for Filing” 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.
If USCIS is showing you the "Application Final Action Dates" chart, it means you can't apply to adjust your status until there is a green card available to be released to you. You won't be able to get a head start on the application process, and get employment authorization early, like you would if USCIS were using the "Dates for Filing" chart.
To make sense of the chart, the first piece of information you’ll need is your “priority date.” If you’re in a family-based preference category, that will be the date USCIS received your relative’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) that you got from USCIS.
If you self-petitioned on Form I-360 (for example, if you were married to a U.S. citizen who recently died, or filed as an abused spouse or child under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)), the priority date will be the date USCIS received your I-360.
If you’re in an employment-based preference category and your employer had to obtain “labor certification” before petitioning for you, your priority date is the date when the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor. (Your employer must have filed the I-140 petition for you within six months of filing the labor certification application in order to use that date.) You will find your priority date on the USCIS I-140 receipt (Form I-797C Notice of Action) or approval (Form I-797 Notice of Action).
If labor certification was not necessary in your employment-based category, your priority date is the date USCIS received your I-140, or, if you are in the EB-4 or 4th preference category (such as a religious worker), the date USCIS received your I-360. If you are adjusting as part of the EB-5 investment program, your priority date is the date USCIS received your I-526.
When you're looking at the chart, first look at the row that corresponds to your preference category. 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 either be a “C” or a date in the box where your column meets your row. “C” (for “current”) means there is no more wait and you can file your adjustment application now. If there’s a date, that’s the “cutoff date.”
If you have a cutoff date, compare it 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 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 "C" or 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).
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 tells you it’s using the “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” chart, you’ll be able to apply before the green card actually becomes available. In that case, USCIS 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 “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.