STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS OF ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS
My name is Marina Shepelsky. I’m an immigration attorney in New York and am CEO & Founder of Shepelsky Law Group. Our telephone number is (718) 769-6352. We practice immigration law in all 50 states of the United States and the US territories.
Here’s how to go through the process of becoming a green card holder in the United States, called adjustment of status.
You can adjust that as the lawful permanent residence or green card holding status. If you entered the United States legally with a visa and inspection, and even if you overstayed, but you have a spouse who is a US citizen through that marriage, you have the privilege of becoming a green card holder. If you file the right forms and present the right facts and the right documents to USCIS – which is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, a part of the Department of Homeland security – you can get a green card through a family relationship or marriage.
In very simple terms, the process of Adjustment of Status is only for people who are here legally, or at least entered legally – with a real visa, even if they had overstayed their status, and they have a spouse who is a US Citizen. If your spouse is a Green Card Holder, you can adjust status, but only if you are in status right now. That’s because the category of spouses and kids under 21 of Green Card holders is current for visa issuance right now. Adjustment of status is a way to get an Immigrant Visa in the United States, basically.
If your spouse lives outside of the United State, it is impossible to file through adjustment of status. People overseas get Immigrant Visas to come to the US with a green card. Your Immigrant Visa process is called CONSULAR PROCESSING. But that’s separate. We’re only discussing the process where both spouses are living in the United States.
One is an immigrant and one is a US citizen.
What do you need to start the process of adjustment of status? First, you need your major identity documents, so you will need your passport, and your spouse needs proof of their US Citizenship and ID.
You will definitely need your I-94 entry record. If you came before approximately 2013 to the United States, both spouses will need birth certificates, divorce documents, and any other changes of name or similar identity documents. The major documents are included as well: a social security card and any prior immigration paperwork that you already have from any prior attempts or any other visas you had in the past.
For adjustment of status, the immigrant spouse will need to do a medical exam with one of the civil surgeons that you can find on the website of USCIS. The civil surgeon fills out the USCIS Form.
The government filing fee regularly is $535 for Form I-130 Alien Relative Petition and $1,225 for I-485 and I765 and I131 forms jointly. The total USCIS filing fees are currently $1,760.
In addition, the US spouse by law has to be the sponsor of the affidavit of support. They have to support the alien spouse, even if the alien spouse is a millionaire in their country. The immigrant’s income does not really matter (unless they are on a work visa in the US). Therefore, we look only at US Citizen spouse’s income alone. For that, we will ask you to prepare copies of your tax returns for the past three years, especially the federal tax return part. W2’s, 1099’s and current pay stubs to prove current income to show that the U S spouse is working right now. Sometimes the US spouse doesn’t have enough income, and they don’t have enough money to support the other spouse, which is okay.
In the case where the petitioner spouse’s income is too low, we always recommend that our clients get someone else to step in as a co-sponsor or JOINT Sponsor. This could be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or anybody who is on good terms with your family and can provide also three years of their federal tax returns. The documents you need for this process include W2’s, 1099’s for those three years and current pay stubs, as well as a copy of their green card or US passport will show that they have legal status in the United States. Also, a copy of their ID.
We prepare biographical forms for each spouse. Each form will ask you information about the last five years of your life: your addresses, jobs (including those jobs’ start and finish dates and addresses). Also, we’ll need to know both of the spouses, parents names, dates of birth and dates of any other divorces and prior marriages besides the family petition that we were planning to file and the green card application. We filed for our clients applications for receiving work authorization or employment authorization, a work permit as it’s called in simple terms, and also advanced parole, which is a travel document that under current law allows the alien spouse (even if they had overstayed prior to filing and have been out of status for a while) to travel and leave United States while they’re awaiting their interview.
When the forms are ready, you review and sign them. We apply for the family petition, work permit, advance parole for travel, and affidavits of support.
The next step is to file all this paperwork with USCIS. All the forms filled out, the government fees, passport sized photos for each spouse. We send that all out by federal express to USCIS.
We await Receipt Notices to confirm our cases are received and there is a case number for each form. For each application we file, USCIS will send us receive Receipt Notices. They’re called notice of receipt, noting the fees, knowing everybody’s names and dates of birth. After that, in about three or four weeks the alien spouse will have to do biometrics and fingerprints at a designated USDA’s biometrics office. After that, we just wait for the interview. In New York, it takes about anywhere from two months to six, seven months to get the date of the interview for the family petition and the green card application. They’re all done in one interview. At the interview, you get to meet a USCIS officer who will question you on two things.
The first question is about your marriage. You have to prove you’re really married, not just for papers. They ask you things like, where are you living, who everybody’s living with, who lived, where, when you met your spouse do you know their parents? Do you know their family? Do you have good pictures or photographs of the family, out and about in the community with friends, with family on holidays? They check to see that you both show the community that you’re married by appearing with family and friends in photographs because otherwise, how can you prove it? And they also check to make sure you live together under the same roof. We prepare our clients for these interviews very thoroughly. Sometimes it takes a few meetings and a few hours to go over all the questions and all the rough areas. If you’ve had arrests, you must bring all original certificates of disposition to your interview to show that the arrests have been finished, the cases have been closed.
Hopefully, there is a positive outcome. Even for minor crimes on your record, we’ve been very successful in getting people green cards. In certain cases, if there’s a bigger type of crime or more serious violation, we need to have a special petition called the waiver petition from the U S spouse. The second part of the interview will cover the alien spouse or the immigrant spouse’s eligibility personally, for the visa. S/o definitely we’ve got to talk about the crimes and any other immoral behavior, things that USCIS is considered bad things that people have done in the past: owing taxes, bringing other people illegally into the United States, having been involved in terrorist activities, or having had more than one marriage at the same time. Over the years, we’ve had all kinds of crazy things come out in interviews. Please be honest with your lawyer and tell us what is going on with you.
We can definitely help you! We just need to know what’s going on. I have to note, and it’s very important to say, that we don’t represent people who have fake marriages. If you tell me that your marriage is only for papers, if you’re doing this for a friend or for money, or as a favor, no attorney can represent you because that’s lying and committing fraud on the court. And if you tell us, we cannot represent your annual longer.
When we file the documents, I had already mentioned that we also file for work permit and a travel authorization called advanced parole from the date of filing. It takes USCIS about 90 days or three months to generate the plastic card. Most likely, you’ll have it before your interview. You can start working and applying for a social security number way before your interview time comes. By the time of your interview, you should already have the plastic work permit card, and you should probably already have your social security card in the United States to apply for a social security card.
You have to bring your password, your birth certificate, and the plastic work permit card to your local social security card center. (Not every social security center issues cards.) They will give you a social security number and send you a social security card before you interview (in most cases, people get them before the interview). When we receive a copy of your interview notice we’ll call our client, or you might get it before us. You’ll call us, and we’ll set up an appointment or video conference. We’ll definitely find a way to prepare you for your interview.
You need to be prepared for this interview. First of all, we need to prepare for the questions that they ask that focus on both your family life or your couple life. How do you live in your marriage together? All kinds of questions about your lives, your work, your kids, perhaps, and also the alien’s visa, eligibility, or green card eligibility by discussing any prior issues you might have had with the law or how you entered. Very specifically, we always ask, what did you say in the US consulate in your country when you got your visa? Because anything we say in interview cannot be any different from what you said. If it is different, we have to explain the discrepancy and sometimes all kinds of issues will pop out from that.
This is for the questions for the documents part. I always ask my clients right away when we already filing, just filing the documents to start generating joint documents, meaning documents with both spouses’ names on them, as early as possible. By the time you have your adjustment to status interview, you should have several joint bank statements and joined bills. Then you prove travel together of spending money together and earning money together. Some people might have already entered a contract to buy a house together. Some people have joined children together. I will definitely need birth certificates of those kids you have with your spouse. Then other paperwork, like if you purchased major items as a couple, such as a couch or furniture or a computer or a trip or anything like that; if you had a wedding and you booked the wedding hall in two names, if you have contracts with vendors, even a plumber with two names, I will need all the paperwork for the interview.
We must have one set of copies for USCIS. They will take those copies from you at the interview. To the interview, what do you have to bring to this interview? First, all the major identity documents I had mentioned: marriage certificates, passports, birth certificates, divorces sometimes even marriage certificates from prior marriages and children’s birth certificates. All the originals must be brought to the interview. Both spouses, if they both have state ID, should bring their state IDs with them. And both IDs must have the same address for both spouses on them. If they don’t, it’s really difficult, but possible to explain the difference. In addition to that, all the joint documents I had mentioned, the originals and one set of copies. Also, you must bring your family photo album with you, and any other evidence or documents that you think the government will find helpful to give you the green card, all interviews I recorded.
You must swear to tell the truth, right in the beginning of the interview. Depending on the state you live in (you have to check with your local field office), some offices allow you to bring your own interpreter to the interview if the alien spouse or sometimes even the US citizen spouse doesn’t speak good English, and they don’t feel comfortable conducting the interview in the English language. In other places, you cannot bring your interpreter, and you need to use the interpreter on the premises. For example, the New York the New York field office (the Manhattan field office 26 Federal Plaza, NYC, NY) has a staff of government interpreters there, so you cannot bring your own. Other states will require you to bring your own interpreter and it’s mandatory. If you are in NYC – as soon as you check in for your interview, you must ask for an interpreter right at the window. When you check in for your interview and the interpreter will come within an hour, usually to your interview place: to the floor, to the room for your officer.
We’ll be there at the interview with you if you wish. If you don’t need an interpreter, you must clearly tell when you check in for the interview, we don’t need an interpreter. Maybe people ask me, do I need to bring a lawyer to an adjustment of status interview? After all, it’s a very difficult interview and it’s definitely life-deciding; this is a fate-changing interview after which hopefully you’ll walk away with a green card. Some people will definitely need a lawyer at the interview. People with crimes or problems or prior divorces that have gone wrong, or police records or anything like that. If you have any issues with your visas or trouble with the law, you must bring a lawyer with you. It’s almost a must. Other people don’t really need a lawyer. If you’re well-prepared, you might get away with having no lawyer. Many people also ask me, well, doesn’t it look bad that I’m bringing a lawyer to the interview?
I don’t think it looks bad at all to bring a lawyer with you. Every other person does! It’s fine. Most people nowadays bring a lawyer to their adjustment of status interview and it’s traditional by now. So it’s very helpful to have a lawyer with you and I insist that our clients hire us to come to the interview with them and prepare ahead. We do a lot of adjustments to status cases.
We understand all the intricate details, and it’s always very helpful to have a licensed attorney, especially an attorney who does immigration law on a regular basis and knows the inside information about your local UCIS office.
We welcome Adjustment of Status cases and all kinds of Immigration and Green Card cases! Our phone number is 718-769-6352. Our website is www.ShepelskyLaw.com
Call Shepelsky Law at any time, if you have any problems and you wish to speak to an immigration attorney about your case, we’ll be very happy to help you. Have a great day.