The first step in the family-based green card process is to submit Form I-130 (technically called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid family relationship exists between the sponsor and the person seeking a green card. (See this article for more details about the I-130 petition.)
The second step in the family-based green card process is to submit Form I-485 (technically called the application for “Adjustment of Status”). In the context of a marriage-based green card (spouse visa), the main purpose of the I-485 is to prove that the foreign spouse is eligible for U.S. permanent residency. The spouse, whose signature is on the I-485, is called the “applicant.”
When the foreign husband or wife is present in the United States, it is often possible to file the I-130 and the I-485 at the same time (a process known as “concurrent filing”).
Who can file Form I-485?
An applicant can file an I-485 based on seven major categories (as listed on the form): family-based, employment-based, special immigrant, asylum or refugee, human trafficking victim or crime victim, special programs, and additional options. The I-485 further divides these seven categories into 27 sub-categories for clarity.
For purposes of a marriage-based green card, only a foreign spouse who is physically present in the United States can file an I-485 to apply for a green card. The spouse must have entered the United States on a valid visa. In addition, an immigrant visa must be “immediately available” for the spouse. This means that the Form I-130 must already have been approved (as in the case of the spouse of a green card holder) or the I-130 and the I-485 must be concurrently filed (as in the case of the spouse of a U.S. citizen).
Who Cannot File Form I-485?
First, spouses who are not physically present in the United States cannot file the I-485. Second, even when the spouse is physically present in the United States, there are some eligibility exclusions that prevent the filing of an I-485 application.
You typically cannot file an I-485 if:
- You entered the United States as a crewman;
- You entered the United States for transit purposes (i.e. on your way to another country);
- You were admitted to the United States as a witness or informant; or
- You are “deportable” because you were involved in terrorist activity or involved with a terrorist group.
In addition to the above eligibility exclusions, there are “inadmissibility” grounds that may prevent you from filing an I-485. This means that you are disqualified from receiving a green card based on certain factors specific to you. These disqualifying categories include:
- Health-related grounds (you have a disqualifying communicable disease or mental health condition)
- Criminal grounds (you were convicted of certain specific crimes)
- Security grounds (you are a threat to the national security of the United States)
- Violations of immigration law or procedure (you’ve previously broken U.S. immigration laws)
- Public charge grounds (you are likely to become dependent on public benefits)
- Other grounds (miscellaneous grounds such as entering the United States to practice polygamy, being an international child abductor, and voting unlawfully)
Depending on the family relationship or the category of green card, “waivers” may be available to remedy some of the above grounds of disqualification.
The I-485 application needs to be filed with supporting documents to prove that the applicant is eligible for a green card. The following supporting documents must be included with a marriage-based I-485 application:
- Proof that the spouse entered the United States using a valid visa, demonstrated by a copy of this prior visa and the I-94 travel record (available here).
- Proof of the foreign spouse’s nationality (copy of a birth certificate and foreign passport).
- Proof of the sponsoring spouse’s ability to financially support the spouse seeking a green card (copy of the sponsoring spouse’s latest federal income tax returns and pay stubs)—for more details, see our explanation of the “Affidavit of Support.”
- If the spouse seeking a green card has ever been arrested, proof that there was no conviction (certified copy of the court record).
- The spouse seeking a green must also include a medical examination performed by a USCIS-approved doctor. You can find one in your area by using the USCIS find a doctor tool.
In the event that a required document is not available, you must submit alternative documents (officially called “secondary evidence”) so that USCIS can make a decision on your I-485 application.
For example, if your birth certificate is not available, you can first obtain a statement from the government agency in your home country that is in charge of issuing birth certificates, certifying that your birth certificate is not available through them. You can then submit alternative documents to prove the facts of your birth—essentially, the date and place of your birth, and the names of your parents. Such documents might include baptism records, school records, or census records showing your date of birth, place of birth, and your parents’ names.
If none of the above alternative documents are available, you can submit written statements from at least two people who were alive when you were born, and have personal knowledge about the facts of your birth. These statements could be from your grandparents, uncles, aunts, or even family friends. Each statement should include the author’s full name, address, and date and place of birth; all the facts about your own birth (date, place, and names of your parents); and an explanation of how the author has personal knowledge of these facts.
The I-485 petition is a very important step in any green card application process that’s based on a family relationship. You should think of the I-485 as an opportunity to prove that you are eligible for a green card.
How Much Does It Cost?
The government filing fee for an I-485 application is $1,225. For the full costs of the entire marriage-based green card process, click here. In some situations, the fee for an I-485 might be lower or waived entirely (see the filing fee section of the I-485 instructions for details).
How Long Does It Take?
The processing time for your I-485 petition will depend on your category of adjustment and the USCIS office processing your application. For example, the processing time for I-485 applications filed by spouses of U.S. citizens is currently about 9-11 months. For the full timeline of the entire marriage-based green card process, click here.
Where to File?
Where you should mail your I-485 application depends on where you live and your category of adjustment. USCIS provides a chart with all the different scenarios.