An I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) petition allows an immigrant within the United States to either file for adjustment to permanent resident status or to register as a permanent resident. Once an immigrant becomes a permanent resident (or Green Card holder) he or she has been granted authorization by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to live and work within the US permanently.
An immigrant can obtain his or her Green Card by a variety of methods. Most commonly, one is sponsored by a family member (who must complete an I-130 petition on behalf of alien relatives seeking to emigrate) or an employer (who must complete an I-140 on behalf of an alien worker seeking to become a permanent resident). However there are many other means by which permanent resident status may be obtained (asylum, refugee, humanitarian grounds etc.).
An immigrant may apply to adjust his or her status if either of the following conditions is met;
- an immigrant visa number is instantly available conditional on the approval of the petition or
- an immigrant visa number would be instantly available conditional on the approval of
- a relative petition
- special immigrant juvenile petition or
- special immigrant military petition
The number of visas issued annually to Green Card seekers is set via the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). While visas available for immediate relatives of US citizens are unlimited in number, visas for preference categories are finite and often not available directly following an immigrant visa petition.
To qualify as an immediate relative of a US citizen (and thereby be eligible for an immediate visa number) an immigrant must bear any of the following relations to the US citizen:
- be a parent
- be an unmarried child under the age of 21 or
- be a spouse
As stated above, all other visas are issued on the basis of availability with roughly 225,000 being issued annually for family sponsored cases and 140,000 for employment based cases.
Relatives of a US citizen who do not meet the definition of an immediate relative are issued available visas on the basis of the following relationships to the citizen:
- Unmarried children over the age of 21
- Spouses and the unmarried children (of any age) of Green Card holders
- Married children and their families
- Brothers and sisters and their families
Immigrants seeking visas on the basis of employment are issued visa numbers in correspondence with the following priority system;
- Workers with remarkable abilities, academic credentials etc.
- Individuals holding advanced degrees or endowed with unique skill
- Skilled workers (with a minimum level of training and education)
- Special workers (ex. Employees of international organizations etc.)
- Immigrant employment investors
Along with one’s preference category, the availability of a visa number is conditional upon a priority date. For family preference cases, the priority date is the date the petition is filed with UCIS. For employment preference cases, the priority date is either the date of petition filing or the date of acceptance of a labor certification by the Department of Labor. The priority date is located on the I-797 (Notice of Action) form which is distributed upon the approval of a petition.