The processing time of Form I-485 (Application to Adjust Status) is 8 to 14 months on average, mainly depending on your eligibility category (employment, marriage, family, asylum, etc.) and USCIS backlogs.
The journey to becoming a US citizen by naturalization takes several years to complete. For many immigrants, this journey begins after their marriage to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. That’s when they first encounter the Adjustment of Status Form I-485, commonly known as the green card application form.
The green card application process is not always easy because each application has unique circumstances that may require more paperwork, investigations, and processing time.
Additionally, a marriage-based green card isn’t the only way of acquiring lawful permanent resident status in the US. Other categories of immigrants may be eligible for a green card after meeting specific requirements.
However, many immigrants never know what to expect when they begin the green card application process. The biggest question is always about how long the process takes.
These processing timelines vary depending on several factors such as;
- the eligibility category;
- USCIS backlogs;
- the circumstances of an application;
- the application requirements, or;
- the USCIS Service Center.
Now that you are ready to apply for your green card, you need to understand how the process works. This guide has all you need to know about processing Form I-485 timelines and everything in between.
Form I-485 Processing Timeline Explained
Foreign citizens living in the US can complete Form I-485 to change their nonimmigrant visa to lawful permanent resident status. However, not every immigrant is eligible for an Adjustment of Status application.
The USCIS provides seven immigrant categories and several subcategories that define the eligibility requirements of different immigrants. These categories include:
- Special immigrant
- Special programs
- Human trafficking or crime victim
- Asylum or refugee
- Additional options deemed by immigration law.
Here’s an overview of the steps for filing Form I-485 and the timelines involved.
Eligibility Requirements for Filing Form I-485
Form I-485 eligibility depends on several factors. In general, you must be in the US to qualify for this application. This usually means that you have a nonimmigrant visa, such as a K1 visa, student visa, or employment visa.
Depending on your immigration category, the application process may differ slightly. In most cases, the applications begin with a visa petition to the USCIS. Most applicants have sponsors who petition on their behalf, while others can file on their own.
To apply, you must complete Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) and attach the Required Initial Documents requested by the USCIS. These documents include your birth certificate, government-issued ID, passport photos, among others.
Once you complete all forms correctly, pay the required fees, and attach copies of all documents, the next step is to mail your application. You can find the Direct Filing Address from the USCIS website based on your location and eligibility category.
In about 2 to 3 weeks, the USCIS will confirm receipt of your application by mailing you a receipt notice known as Form I-797C (Notice of Action). The government agency will accept your application if you meet all the filing and eligibility requirements. However, if you missed a step or made mistakes in your application, the agency may reject your application or send a Request For Evidence (REF) that requests more information.
Biometrics Notice and Appointment
The USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment for you within 5 and 8 weeks from the date of filing and notify you a week or two earlier. The appointment notice will specify the date, time, and place – usually the USCIS Application Support Center closest to you.
During the USCIS biometrics appointment, a USCIS officer will record your fingerprints to conduct a background check as part of the application process.
You will also need to carry a government-issued identification with you, such as a driver’s license or passport issued in your country of origin.
Missing your biometrics appointment can cause delays in your application because USCIS will need to reschedule the appointment. Given that these offices are often busy, you may have to wait a few more weeks before securing another biometrics appointment.
Employment Authorization Document Card
If you applied for a work permit and an advance parole travel document along with your Adjustment of Status application, you may receive an employment authorization document card (EAD).
The Employment Authorization Document is a combo card that gives you the authorization to work in the US and travel per the conditions allowed in the advance parole travel criteria.
Adjustment of Status Interview Notice
About 4 to10 months after filing your Form I-485, the USCIC will send you an interview notice for the Adjustment of Status interview. In some cases, the USCIS may also notify your petitioner to attend the interview, while in others, the USCIS may waive the interview.
The Adjustment of Status Interview
The Adjustment of the Status interview may happen anywhere between 6 and 12 months later. This interview usually lasts about 30 minutes or less, scheduled at a USCIS office nearest to you.
A USCIS officer will ask several questions regarding your application to verify the information you provided. Additionally, you will be required to carry some documents to the interview, including:
- the original required supporting documents;
- a copy of your Form I-485 application, and;
- your passport containing your visa.
Receiving Your Green Card
The last stage of this process is receiving your permanent residence status, commonly known as the green card. This happens about two months after your interview, and, depending on the outcome, the USCIS may approve or deny your application. If approved, the USCIS will mail your green card to your address a few weeks later. If denied, the USCIS will send you a notice explaining the reasons for the denial.
The green card replaces the EAD card giving you the right to live, work, and travel in and out of the US.
Family-based Green Card Application
Applying for a marriage-based green card is the fastest means of attaining US citizenship. In addition, it allows relatives of a US citizen or a green card holder to become lawful permanent residents after meeting specific eligibility requirements.
The USCIS divides these relatives into two subgroups that impact the processing timelines. The first group comprises immediate relatives of the US citizen such as spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents. The USCIS doesn’t have a cap limiting the number of green cards issued to members of this group. As a result, their green card processing is quicker.
The other category is known as the Family Preference Relatives, and comprises the following:
- siblings of adult US citizen;
- unmarried children over the age of 21 of the US citizen;
- spouses of permanent residents;
- unmarried children of permanent residents, and;
- married children of US citizens.
The USCIS has restrictions on how many green cards they can issue to members of this group in a year. As a result, their applications may take longer than the average 8 to 14 months to process.
Employment-Based Green Card Application
The prerequisites of an employment-based green card include:
- an approved Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker), and;
- a certification from the Department of Labor.
The green cards in this category are available for three groups of applicants. They include those with:
- advanced degrees;
- exceptional ability, and;
- national interest waiver.
Each group contains further eligibility requirements that you and your employer must meet.
It may take about six months to get the petition for alien worker application approved. However, if the application needs to go through the PERM Labor Certification, you may have to wait for up to 2 years before obtaining the certificate.
The good news is that you can expedite the process through premium processing at a fee and reduce the processing time to 15 calendar days.
Once you receive your certification, you will have to wait for your priority date to become current before submitting your Adjustment of Status application. You may have to wait for six months or more, depending on the USCIS application center with your file.
Due to all these requirements, employment-based Adjustment of Status applications can take ten months to four years to complete.
Common Reasons For Form I-485 Application Delays
Delays in the application for Adjustment of Status are common and often result from simple mistakes made during the application process. The USCIS receives tens of thousands of applications from different immigration categories every year.
Given that the agency keenly investigates each application, any mistake can cause delays or possible rejections. Unfortunately, the agency doesn’t refund filing fees for rejected applications.
You can check the status of your green card application online to find out the following:
- if the agency sent a Request For Evidence to request more information from you;
- if the agency has scheduled a biometrics appointment date, place, and time, or;
- If the agency transferred your case to a different USCIS Service Center.
Here are some common reasons for delays in your Adjustment of Status application.
Form I-485 Missing Evidence and Information
A simple detail such as a missing signature can cause delays in your application. Usually, the typical application review process begins when the agency receives your application through one of the USCIS Service Centers and sends it to one of its local field offices.
If your case takes too long at the agency’s service center, chances are that there is some missing information or evidence in your application. In that case, the agency will send you a Request For Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Both documents provide further instructions on the information needed to process your application.
Form I-485 Processing Errors
You can’t rule out the possibility of office errors in recording data, especially if your application involves challenging tasks. For example, if you have a criminal history, the USCIS may take more time to investigate information and encounter several errors along the way. To avoid these errors, ensure that you provide the agency with all the relevant information they need.
You can also contact the agency to understand the circumstances surrounding your application.
Background Checks and Investigations
USCIS conducts a thorough criminal background check for criminal records that may take months to complete. For example, if the officer handling your application believes your marriage to a US citizen is suspicious, they may take longer to conduct their investigations. In some cases, red-flagged terrorism-related applications may take several years to investigate and involve other agencies such as the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Sometimes, working with an experienced immigration attorney who understands the circumstances of your application may help speed up the investigation process.
Change in Address
If you move to a new location, you must inform the USCIS of your new address within ten days to avoid missing notices from them.
Sometimes, the USCIS may transfer your file to an office near your new location. When that happens, there may be possible delays in processing your paperwork.
Tips on Avoiding Form I-485 Application Delays
Here are some tips to help you avoid mistakes and delays in your green card application.
- use the USCIS checklist to file your application correctly (remember not to include this checklist in your application).
- hire an experienced immigration lawyer, especially if your case is complicated;
- meet all deadlines and honor appointments to avoid rescheduling;
- attach all copies of supporting documents required in your application;
- keep all your communication lines open and update the USCIS as soon as you make any changes;
- avoid shortcuts and unlawful procedures to cheat the system, and;
- frequently check the status of your application online.
In a nutshell, the USCIS has different timelines throughout the stages of green card application. Other than the unavoidable office-related and unavoidable delays, mistakes and errors can cost you a lot of time when filing Form I-485.