The Green Card Process in California
To get a green card in California, you will need to go through an immigration process called an adjustment of status. An adjustment of status (AOS) is a process through which eligible foreign nationals can apply to change their immigration status to lawful permanent residents (LPRs). When you apply for an adjustment of status for a green card, you won’t have to travel back to your country of origin when your visa expires but instead can stay in the U.S. until the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes your application and makes a decision.
Before you can apply to adjust your status, you will need to have a valid visa and be in lawful immigration status. You also must ensure that you are eligible for the type of green card for which you are applying. You won’t be allowed to adjust your status if you don’t meet the eligibility requirements. Here are the 11 steps of an immigration case you should know from a Riverside immigration lawyer at the Fontes Law Group.
1. Verify Your Eligibility for a Green Card
To adjust your status to become an LPR, you must qualify under one of the following categories:
- Family-based green cards – Spouses, children, parents, or close relatives of U.S. citizens or lawful
- Employment-based green cards – Sponsorship through an employer or based on your abilities
- Humanitarian or diversity-based green cards – Green cards through the diversity lottery, humanitarian grounds, or other reasons
In general, immediate family members, refugees, asylees, and individuals with certain types of employment visas can adjust their status to become LPRs. To submit an AOS application, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:
- You meet the eligibility requirements for the type of green card for which you are applying.
- You entered the U.S. lawfully with a valid visa and are physically present in the country.
- Your visa is valid.
- You have filed an I-130 petition that has been approved.
- You have a current visa number.
- You entered on a K-1 fiance visa and have married your U.S. spouse while your visa remained valid.
- You were granted refugee or asylum status, and it’s been at least one year.
- You are eligible for AOS under the Immigration and Nationality Act Sect. 245(i).
To qualify for AOS, your most recent entry into the U.S. must have been made lawfully with a valid visa or through the Visa Waiver Program. Most applicants are required to be in lawful status at the time they apply for an adjustment of status, although their visas might expire while they are waiting for a decision. However, there is an exception to this general rule for those who apply for AOS based on their marriages to U.S. citizens. In that type of situation, you can apply for AOS even though you overstayed your visa. However, your original entry into the U.S. must still have been lawful using a visa waiver or a valid visa.
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2. Sponsor Files the Petition
If you have confirmed your eligibility for the type of green card for which you are applying, your sponsor will then need to file a petition with the USCIS on your behalf. If you qualify for a family-based green card, your sponsoring family member will file a petition for you using Form I-130.
If you qualify for an employment-based green card, your sponsor will need to file a Form I-140 for you. Finally, if your green card will be based on humanitarian reasons, your sponsor will need to file a Form I-730 for you.
3. Be Mindful of the 90-Day Rule
Even if you qualify for an adjustment of status, there are some other things you need to understand. The 90-day rule is particularly important. Under this rule, when you enter the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa, the government expects your stay in the U.S. to be for the purposes stated under your visa. If you enter the U.S. on a tourist visa and then get married within 90 days of your entry, the government will assume that you misrepresented your reasons for entering on your visa application.
While you must have a valid visa before you can adjust your status, coming into the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa with the sole purpose of trying to adjust your status to an LPR can negatively affect your application. If you apply for AOS fewer than 90 days after your arrival, your application could be denied. If the government determines that you made misrepresentations on your original application for your nonimmigrant visa, you could also be barred from coming back to the U.S. based on fraud.
4. Wait for the USCIS’s Decision
After your sponsor has filed your I-130, I-140, or I-730, you will have to wait for the USCIS to approve or deny it. The waiting period can last for months, depending on the type of green card for which you are applying and other circumstances.
5. Check for Visa Availability
Once the USCIS approves your petition, you will need to check for visa availability for your category of green card. This will vary based on your country of origin, your circumstances, and the type of green card for which you are applying. The immediate family members of U.S. citizens will not have a waiting period. However, some applicants in other categories might have to wait for months or years. You can check for the availability of a visa by going to the visa bulletin website here.
6. File the Adjustment of Status Application
When there is a visa available, and you have your visa number, you can then file Form I-485 to adjust your status. You should also file requests for an employment authorization document (EAD) and an advance parole document to allow you to travel while you wait for the USCIS to make a final determination about your AOS application. You can only file Form I-485 after you have received a visa number.
To work while you are waiting for your green card, you will need to file Form I-765 to get your EAD. To travel abroad while you wait, you will need to file Form I-131 with Form I-485. Each of these various forms requires supporting documents. Your immigration lawyer in Santa Ana at the Fontes Law Group can help you understand the types of documents you will need to submit to ensure that your application is complete and fully supported.
7. Attend the Biometrics Appointment
After the USCIS receives your I-485 AOS application, it will send you a date, location, and time for your biometrics appointment. At this appointment, your fingerprints, an eye scan, photograph, and signature will be taken so that the USCIS can run a criminal background check through the FBI database.
8. Attend the Green Card Interview if Required
After the USCIS receives your background check and reviews your Form I-485, you might be asked to attend an in-person interview. Not everyone is required to attend an interview. However, if you are, you need to be prepared. During your interview, you will be sworn under oath. The officer will question you about your application, background, and supporting documents.
9. Submit Additional Evidence
The USCIS might ask you to submit additional evidence to consider. If it does, you will receive a formal request for information in the mail. If you receive this type of request, make sure that you comply and send the documents they need. You might also be called for a second interview to follow up on any questions the USCIS might have.
10. Immigration Decision
The USCIS will eventually decide whether to grant or deny your AOS application. If it grants your application, the USCIS will send an approval notice to you in the mail. You will receive your physical green card afterward. If you were interviewed, you will receive a decision about your application shortly after your interview. Your application could be approved or denied. If you adjusted your status from a K-1 fiance visa to a marriage-based green card, your green card will be conditional and must be renewed in two years. You can check the status of your application for a green card by going to the online case tracker and entering your receipt number.
11. Understanding a Denial
If your AOS application is denied by the USCIS, your immigration status in the U.S. will no longer be lawful. If you have an EAD after filing Form I-765, your employment authorization will also not be valid, so you’ll have to stop working immediately. Since you will want to avoid accruing unlawful presence, you will need to make plans to leave the U.S. as soon as you can.
Your AOS application could be denied for multiple reasons, including filling out a form incorrectly, turning in an incomplete form, including the wrong filing fees, or a determination that you were ineligible for the type of green card for which you applied. In some cases, you might be allowed to submit a new green card application. However, it will not be an AOS application if you do not have a valid visa. In other cases, you might not be allowed to reapply for a green card. This is a good reason to work with an experienced Riverside immigration lawyer at the Fontes Law Group from the start to avoid potential mistakes and denial.
Get Help From an Immigration Lawyer in Santa Ana
If you entered the U.S. lawfully and believe that you might be eligible to adjust your status to become a lawful permanent resident, you should speak with an experienced immigration lawyer at the Fontes Law Group. We can help you confirm your eligibility and assist you with submitting the correct forms and supporting documents. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.