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Adjustment of Status From Nonimmigrant to Lawful Permanent Resident

The journey to becoming a permanent resident of another country can be overwhelming. The path is particularly daunting when transitioning from temporary status to lawful permanent resident (LPR). This transition is called "adjustment of status." Adjustment of status allows a foreign national with a temporary U.S. visa to transition to a permanent resident. As a permanent resident, you can practice complete immersion into the country. This enables you to live, work, or study.

This article explains the complex rules of migrating into the United States as a lawful permanent resident.

Understanding the Adjustment of Status

If you are in the United States with a nonimmigrant or temporary visa status and wish to make the U.S. your permanent home, you should look into the adjustment of status.

Although U.S. immigration laws provide various avenues to apply for a green card or lawful permanent resident status, there are eligibility requirements that the visa applicants should meet. The requirements may vary depending on the immigrant status or visa category that the applicant is applying under. Thus, the first step of the green card application process is looking into the specific immigrant category that applies to your case.

Am I Eligible To Apply for Permanent Resident Status

Before starting your adjustment of status application, looking into your eligibility for LPR status is essential. A noncitizen or a nonimmigrant visa holder should meet the following eligibility requirements before filing a green card application or adjustment of status to that of an LPR.

  • An immigration officer inspected and admitted or paroled the visa applicant into the United States.
  • The visa applicant should properly apply for adjustment of status.
  • The visa applicant should be physically present in the United States when the application is filed.
  • The visa applicant should be qualified to receive an LPR status.
  • The visa applicant should be admissible to come to the U.S. for LPR or is eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or if there is another type of relief for which he or she is qualified.
  • The immigrant visa should be available immediately after the applicant files for the adjustment of status and at the time of the final adjudication.
  • The applicant should exercise favorable discretion.

Note that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) puts an exemption to the inspected and admitted or inspected and paroled requirement to the following foreign nationals seeking an adjustment of status:

  • Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 245(i) applicants. This provision applies to certain undocumented immigrants, allowing them to become permanent residents. It includes those with labor certification or immigrant visa petitions filed on their behalf within a deadline.
  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) applicants

What Are the Various Immigrant Visa Categories

The U.S. immigration system divides immigrant visa categories into three. Learning about these different visa categories allows you to assess the steps you must take and the visa forms and requirements you must submit. Below is a chart containing all the different immigrant visas and their purposes. They include immediate relative and family-based visas and employment-based and employer-sponsored visas.

Immediate Relative and Family-Based Visas

Visa Category Family Members
IR1, CR1 Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4 Intercountry Adoption of Orphan Children by U.S. Citizens
IR2, CR2, IR5 Certain family members of U.S. Citizens
F2A, F2B Certain family members of lawful permanent residents
K-3 Spouse of a U.S. Citizen waiting for approval of U-130 immigrant petition
K-1 Fiancé visa to marry U.S. Citizen and live in the United States

Note that K-3 and K-1 visas are technically temporary nonimmigrant visas. However, the USCIS lists K visas in the immigrant visa category because they are often secured for immigration-related purposes.

Employment-Based and Employer-Sponsored Visas

Visa Preference Category Description
E-1 First Preference: Priority workers and persons with extraordinary ability
E-2 Second Preference: Professionals with advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability
E-3 Third Preference: Skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers
E-4 Fourth Preference: Certain special immigrants
E-5 Fifth Preference: Immigrant investors

The USCIS website talks in detail about employment-based immigrant visas.

Steps To Adjusting Your Immigration Status

After determining your basis to immigrate, such as whether a family member or employer may petition on your behalf, you are ready to begin adjusting your status. The following steps are meant to serve as a general guideline, but some cases may benefit from the counsel of an immigration attorney.

1. Determine Your Eligibility To Apply for Lawful Permanent Residence

The U.S. immigration laws provide various ways to apply for permanent resident status (green card). The eligibility requirements may vary depending on the visa category you are under. Thus, the first step is to assess your specific immigrant visa category.

2. File a Petition

In most cases, someone else (a family member or employer) must file a petition on your behalf. In some cases, you may be able to file your petition (or have it filed on your behalf) while you file an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485). See the USCIS page on concurrent filing for details.

Below are the main types of immigrant petitions:

  • Family: A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR or green card holder) may file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) on behalf of their family members. This petition is called family-based immigration. See FindLaw's family visas subsection for more information.
  • Employment: A prospective U.S. employer must file a Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140) on your behalf. Here, a U.S. employer sponsors your application for permanent residency. See the employment-based visas section for more details.
  • Special Immigrant Classifications: Special immigrants are foreign nationals who fall under specific categories. This includes religious workers, certain broadcasters, armed forces members, foreign nationals who provided aid to the U.S. government, and more. They often fall under the fourth visa preference category in employment-based visas. See the USCIS page on employment-based immigration, fourth preference, for more details.
  • Humanitarian Programs: The USCIS assists several humanitarian protections to help those needing shelter from disaster, emergency medical issues, oppression, and other urgent events. See the USCIS humanitarian page for more details.

3. Check the Availability of a Visa

Generally, the U.S. limits the number of immigrant visas issued to foreign nationals. The Immigration and Nationality Act limits immigrant visas that the Department of State can issue yearly. However, the visa numbers are unlimited for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. See the USCIS page on visa availability and priority dates for more information.

4. File an Application To Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

Suppose you are physically present in the U.S. and eligible to apply for adjustment of status. In that case, you may file form I-485 or the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjustment of Status.

5. Attend your Biometrics Appointment

After you file Form I-485, you will receive a notice for your biometrics appointment. The notice will provide information about your biometrics appointment's time, date, and location. Here, you will give your photographs, fingerprints, and/or signatures. The biometrics data are used to conduct background checks and verify your identity. See the USCIS Service and Office Locator to find a location near you.

6. Attend Your Visa Interview

The USCIS officer will review your case and decide if a visa interview is necessary. If they schedule an interview, they will ask you to be present at the USCIS office. Here, an immigration officer will ask you questions under oath and affirm the information you previously provided. Before your visa interview, you will also send your notice of time, date, and location.

When you attend your interview, you must bring the original documents you submitted and your Form I-485. These documents may include official travel documents, passports, and Form I-94.

7. Submit Additional Documents if Needed

The USCIS officers may ask you to submit additional documents or evidence. The request will state evidence or documents that you need to submit. It will also tell you the date by when and where you should submit the requested documents.

8. Check Your Case Status

The USCIS website has a tool to help you check your case status online. With this tool, you can track the status of your immigration petition.

9. Wait for the Final Decision

USCIS will send you a written notification to inform you whether they have approved your petition for permanent residency. If your address has changed since filing your petition, follow the directions outlined in the USCIS change of address page.

If the USCIS denies your application for adjustment of status, you may appeal the decision. While only some decisions may be appealed, your decision notice includes specifics about your appeal rights and how to file an appeal. See the USCIS page Questions and Answers: Appeals and Motions for more details.

Seek Legal Advice From an Immigration Lawyer

Understanding the intricate process of changing from nonimmigrant status to lawful permanent resident of the United States can be challenging. The adjustment of status process involves various steps, and mistakes could cause delays in processing times or denial of your adjustment application. Thus, you should seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer.

They can assist you with understanding your options for lawful status and guide you through migrating to the United States. For instance, they can help you fill out USCIS forms, understand consular processing, or process your application. They can also keep track of the visa bulletin and the progress of your immigration application. With their guidance, your worries of going through removal proceedings or deportation will be at ease.

FindLaw has a directory of immigration lawyers in every city and every state. You can check out the ones near you to get your visa application started.

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