Adjustment of Status: Green Card Application, Eligibility

Explore the Adjustment of Status process in U.S. immigration law, including eligibility, procedures, and challenges for obtaining lawful permanent residency without leaving the country.


Adjustment of Status is a critical process in U.S. immigration law that allows eligible individuals to apply for lawful permanent resident status (also known as a Green Card) without leaving the United States. This process is essential for many non-citizens who wish to establish permanent residency and potentially pursue citizenship in the future. The ability to adjust status represents a significant milestone in an immigrant's journey, offering a path to long-term stability and integration into American society.

In the current legal landscape, Adjustment of Status remains a complex and often challenging procedure. It involves navigating a web of eligibility requirements, documentation, and procedural steps set forth by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As immigration policies and regulations continue to evolve, understanding the nuances of Adjustment of Status is crucial for applicants, their families, and employers seeking to support their employees' immigration journey.

The concept of Adjustment of Status has its roots in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, which established the modern framework for U.S. immigration law. Over the years, various amendments and reforms have shaped the process, including the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2000.

Historically, individuals seeking permanent residency were often required to return to their home countries to complete the immigration process through consular processing. The introduction and expansion of Adjustment of Status provisions have allowed eligible applicants to remain in the U.S. while their cases are adjudicated, reducing family separation and minimizing disruption to employment and community ties.

Applicable Laws and Regulations

The primary legal basis for Adjustment of Status is found in Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This section outlines the general eligibility criteria and procedures for adjusting status to that of a lawful permanent resident. The process is further governed by federal regulations, primarily those found in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations (8 CFR).

Key provisions include:

  • INA § 245(a): General eligibility for adjustment of status
  • INA § 245(i): Adjustment of status for certain aliens who entered without inspection
  • INA § 245(k): Adjustment of status for employment-based immigrants who have violated status

Relevant Regulatory Bodies

The primary agency responsible for adjudicating Adjustment of Status applications is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS is tasked with processing applications, conducting interviews, and making final determinations on eligibility for permanent residency.

Other relevant agencies include:

  • Department of State (DOS): Manages visa availability and priority dates
  • Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR): Handles cases in removal proceedings
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): Enforces immigration laws and may be involved in cases with complex immigration histories

Key Components and Concepts

Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

The cornerstone of the Adjustment of Status process is Form I-485, which must be filed with USCIS in accordance with the form instructions. This comprehensive application requires detailed personal information, immigration history, and supporting documentation to establish eligibility for permanent residency.

Eligibility Categories

Adjustment of Status is available to various categories of applicants, including:

  1. Family-based immigrants
  2. Employment-based immigrants
  3. Diversity Visa lottery winners
  4. Refugees and asylees
  5. Special immigrant categories (e.g., Special Immigrant Juveniles)

Each category has specific eligibility criteria and documentation requirements.

Visa Availability and Priority Dates

For many applicants, particularly those in family-based and employment-based categories, visa availability is a crucial factor. The Department of State publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin that determines when individuals can file their Adjustment of Status applications based on their priority date and preference category.

Admissibility and Grounds of Inadmissibility

To be eligible for Adjustment of Status, applicants must be admissible to the United States. Various grounds of inadmissibility, such as certain criminal convictions, immigration violations, or health-related issues, can render an individual ineligible for adjustment. Waivers may be available for some grounds of inadmissibility.

Rights and Responsibilities

Rights of Adjustment of Status Applicants

While an Adjustment of Status application is pending, applicants generally have the right to:

  1. Remain in the United States
  2. Apply for employment authorization (Form I-765)
  3. Request advance parole for international travel (Form I-131)
  4. Maintain their current nonimmigrant status, if applicable

Responsibilities and Obligations

Applicants must:

  1. Maintain a valid underlying status (if required)
  2. Comply with all immigration laws and regulations
  3. Notify USCIS of any changes in address or circumstances
  4. Attend biometrics appointments and interviews as scheduled
  5. Respond to any Requests for Evidence (RFEs) or Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) in a timely manner

Common Issues and Challenges

Maintaining Status During Pendency

For many applicants, maintaining a valid underlying status while the Adjustment of Status application is pending can be challenging. This is particularly true for employment-based applicants who may face issues with job changes or layoffs.

Visa Retrogression

Fluctuations in visa availability can lead to visa retrogression, where priority dates that were previously current become unavailable. This can significantly impact the timing of Adjustment of Status filings and processing.

Complex Immigration Histories

Applicants with previous immigration violations, periods of unlawful presence, or complex travel histories may face additional scrutiny and potential eligibility issues.

Employment Authorization Delays

Processing times for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) can sometimes lead to gaps in work authorization, causing difficulties for applicants and their employers.

Case Studies and Notable Examples

Matter of Stockwell

This Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision addressed the issue of eligibility for adjustment of status for individuals who entered the U.S. without inspection but subsequently obtained Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly

This case clarified that departures under advance parole do not trigger the three- or ten-year unlawful presence bars for purposes of adjustment of status eligibility.

Best Practices and Compliance Strategies

  1. Conduct a thorough eligibility assessment before filing
  2. Maintain comprehensive documentation of immigration history
  3. Stay informed about visa bulletin movements and file strategically
  4. Address any potential grounds of inadmissibility proactively
  5. Ensure timely filing of all required forms and supporting documents
  6. Prepare diligently for USCIS interviews
  7. Consider seeking legal counsel for complex cases

Recent Developments and Proposed Changes

The landscape of Adjustment of Status is subject to ongoing policy changes and legal challenges. Recent developments include:

  1. Changes to the public charge rule and its impact on admissibility determinations
  2. Proposed fee increases for immigration applications, including Form I-485
  3. Ongoing litigation regarding the implementation of certain immigration policies

It's crucial for applicants and practitioners to stay informed about these developments and their potential impact on Adjustment of Status eligibility and procedures.

Resources for Further Information

  1. USCIS Policy Manual: Volume 7 - Adjustment of Status
  2. USCIS Form I-485 and Instructions
  3. Department of State Visa Bulletin
  4. American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Resources
  5. Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Practice Manual

By understanding the complexities of Adjustment of Status and staying informed about eligibility requirements and procedural nuances, applicants can navigate this critical process more effectively, potentially increasing their chances of successfully obtaining lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

About the author
Von Wooding, Esq.

Von Wooding, Esq.

Lawyer and Founder

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