There are a lot of items that go into a marriage-based adjustment of status application – also called a green card application. If you are handling the process yourself it can be very stressful to ensure that you are including all of the required items. We have created the instructions on this page based on the protocol we follow at our law firm when preparing adjustment applications for our own clients. We explain all of the forms involved, and list all of the supporting documents that go into a standard adjustment package.
Remember that merely following these instructions will not guarantee success in your case! One of the most important steps of any immigration process is to decide whether you are eligible to apply before you start filling out forms. If you are not eligible to apply then it does not matter if your flawlessly prepare all of the required forms. Some of the reasons an application can be denied are obvious – such as criminal history. But other example are less obvious, such as immigrant intent and even prior mental health challenges.
With that cautionary note, let’s look at what goes into a marriage-based adjustment application. Start by watching our video overview of what goes into the packet:
Forms for marriage-based adjustment applications
Every required USCIS form is freely available for download at https://www.uscis.gov/forms. You never need to pay for a blank USCIS form. The forms may either be filled out with black ink or typewritten. It is a very good idea to prepare the forms on a computer so you can save progress and revise as needed. Here is the complete list of forms you would prepare for a marriage-based green card application:
- Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. We think of this as the “invitation” that is filed by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Basically, the petitioner is seeking to establish the qualifying family relation – here, a bona fide marriage to the foreign national spouse.
- Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is the primary green card application filed by the foreign national. Essentially, the I-485 says, “hey, government, we established our qualifying relationship with the I-130 petition, so now that the relationship is established I would like to apply for resident status based on that marriage.” (Even though that is logically a two-step process, the forms are filed at the same time). The I-485 focuses on background questions about the foreign national, including detailed questions about ground of inadmissibility.
- Form G-325A Biographic information. A copy of this form must be filed by both the U.S. petitioner and the foreign national spouse. The form asks for general background information, including family information, and residential and work history for the past five years. It is very common that applicants are unable to fit their entire address history on this form, so an additional addendum page may be used.
- Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. This is a financial sponsorship form filed by the U.S. petitioner. It is a mandatory component of the process in all except very rare cases (primarily where the foreign national has a lengthy work history in the U.S.). Many consider this to be the most technical form involved in the adjustment process. For detailed guidance on completing this form please see our free, downloadable guide.
- Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (not required). This form is not required, but we file it in every single adjustment packet we prepare. Why? First off because it’s free and there’s no reason not to. The purpose of the form is to issue temporary work authorization while the primary Form I-485 is still pending. It can take easily 6-8 months for the I-485 to be approved, but the I-765 should be approved within 90 days. This means that the applicant can get temporary work authorization while waiting for the primary green card process to be completed.
- Form I-131 Application for Travel Document (not required). Like the Form I-765, this one is not required either, but it’s a good idea to file it anyway. Like the I-765, this one is also free if filed along with the rest of your application. Normally, if you leave the U.S. before the Form I-485 is approved then USCIS will determine that your application is abandoned. This means that you lose the application and filing fee, and at best have to start from the beginning. That is the reason to file the Form I-131. Once approved, this gives you permission to travel abroad for limited periods of time while your I-485 is still being processed. That is extremely helpful if you will have to travel – or might have to travel – for business or family reasons. Once approved, travel authorization is issued on a single “combo card” along with the temporary work authorization.
The following are the standard documents required in marriage-based adjustment of status applications. Before preparing your packet, make sure you understand whether you need to file original documents.
Supporting documents filed by the petitioner
- One passport style photograph. The photo needs to be two-inches square and meet the Department of State guidelines, as shown here. We strongly recommend you do not try to take and print the photo yourself. Instead, just go to a drug store – we have never seen a commercially prepared photograph be rejected. By contrast, DIY photographs often get rejected (by us, before filing a packet for a client).
- Proof of citizenship or residence. Most adjustment applications are filed by U.S. citizens who were born in the country.Such individuals may file either a valid U.S. passport or their birth certificate to document their status as a citizen. If the person became a citizen through naturalization then a copy of the naturalization certificate is provided. For a U.S. citizen who was born abroad, and who gained citizenship through his parent(s), s/he files a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). If the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), a copy of both the front and back of the Form I-551 (green card) is provided.
- Proof of name change (if applicable). If the petitioner has ever changed his/her name, proof of every name change needs to be provided. If the petitioner’s name changed as a result of marriage, only the marriage certificate is required. But if the petitioner ever had a court-ordered name change then you will need to provide a copy of the court order.
- Proof that prior marriage(s) was ended. If the petitioner has ever been married before s/he must show how that marriage ended. In virtually all cases that means providing either a divorce decree or death certificate of the prior spouse. For a divorce decree, the decree itself is all that is needed. You do not need to file the lengthy fact findings, and order showing how assets were divided. Nor do you need to provide custody orders. All that USCIS cares about is whether the marriage was legally terminate, because if it was not then your subsequent marriage is invalid.
- Three years of IRS tax transcripts. Recall from above that the petitioner is required to file the Form I-864 financial support contract. To document this form the petitioner needs to show his/her income history. Technically you are allowed to provide only your most recent year’s federal income tax returns. You are allowed to provide either a copy of the return itself – along with all W-2s and schedules – or you can file a tax transcript. The tax transcript is the official IRS record of your return. Unlike a copy of the 1040, the tax transcript shows that your return was actually filed, and lists all of the income sources in the transcript itself. Basically the transcript is simply more definitive, and it’s also less paperwork. You do not need to provide three years of transcripts, but doing so is typically best practice. Since you have to report your income from those years on the I-864, it is a good idea to document the income as well. You can request your transcript for free online, or at your local IRS office.
Supporting documents filed by the beneficiary (foreign national)
- Seven passport style photographs. These must meet the same requirements as those listed above for the petitioner. Note that if the beneficiary had photos taken outside the US they almost certainly do not meet these requirements. Most countries have their own photo requirements that are different from the US standard.
- Proof of name change. As with the petitioner, the beneficiary must provide documentation of any name changes.
- Proof that prior marriage(s) was ended. Just the same as the petitioner, the beneficiary must show that any previous marriages were legally ended.
- Biographical and visa page of passport. The beneficiary needs to provide a photocopy of the biographical (i.e., photo) page of her passport, as well as the page showing her most recent visa stamp. Some applicants – such as ESTA entrants and most Canadians – will not have a visa stamp, which is okay. In addition, if the beneficiary has made other trips to the US to meet the petitioner, provide copies of those visa pages. Doing so helps to document the couple’s relationship history.
- Form I-94 arrival record. The I-94 form is issued by Customs and Border Protection when a foreign national arrives in the United States. One of the requirements for adjustment of status is that the applicant have been inspected upon entry to the US. For that reason you will want to provide the I-94 form to document the applicant’s lawful entry. The I-94 used to be a small paper slip that was stapled into an individual’s passport. Now, virtually all I-94s are electronic. That means the I-94 is no longer handed out at the port of entry. Instead, you need to visit https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov and download your form. Doing so is easy. You will simply need to provide your name, birth date, passport number, and country where it was issued. Note that CBP sometimes makes errors on the I-94 form, and it will not be available for download. The website provides instructions on who you should contact if the I-94 is not automatically available.
- Birth certificate. USCIS is entitled to inspect the beneficiary’s original birth certificate. At our office, we typically file a copy of the birth certificate, then bring the original with us to the USCIS interview. If you have an additional original birth certificate it is okay to file it with your initial packet. But if you have only one, and they are hard to obtain, just file a copy and take the original to your interview.
- Unopened medical exam. The beneficiary is required to get a medical examination from a certified doctor called a “civil surgeon.” USCIS lists all such doctors at https://my.uscis.gov/findadoctor. Feel free to shop around, as prices and availability can vary dramatically. USCIS used to require applicants to file the medical examination with their initial packet. Fortunately that has changed, and you are now allowed to bring the exam to your adjustment interview. Which strategy is right for you depends mostly on timing. If you are able to get the exam done before your packet is prepared, it is a good idea to just go ahead and file it. Sometimes interviews can be set with little advance notice – as little as just a few days – so you will not necessarily have time to get the exam complete if you wait until the last minute.
- Criminal history. If you have ever been arrested or convicted anywhere in the world you will likely need to provide documentation of the event. We explain here that originals are generally required. But more importantly – stop what you are doing. Even “minor” criminal offenses can have devastating consequences for immigration cases. We strongly encourage you to talk to an attorney before filing your case, as a criminal history may cause your application to be denied and can lead to deportation.
Documents about the relationship
All of the documents listed above are just the starting point for an adjustment of status application. The real work begins when you start to document the validity of the relationship. One of the core issues at the heart of an adjustment case is whether the couple is living in a committed relationship as a bona fide married couple. The possible ways of documenting this are virtually endless, but here are the core items that we use in almost all of our cases.
- Marriage certificate. You need to file the official version of your marraige certificate. “Official” here is in contrast to the ceremonial certificate you might also have been given at the time of your marriage. The official certifiate is the one issued by the local civil authority. You are permitted to file a copy, but if you do so then you should bring the original to your interview.
- Bank statements for checking and/or savings accounts showing account(s) are shared by both spouses. Married couples typically share some or all joint expenses and income. So USCIS will expect to see the joint banking accounts used by the couple. Some modern couples choose to keep their finances separate, and there is nothing wrong with this approach. If you do have separate accounts, however, just expect to explain it to the USCIS officer. If you provide documentation of joint accounts these should reflect activity, showing that they are used for regular expenses. It is unhelpful to have an account that is technically open but actually unused. We typically ask for up to – but not more than – six months. To cut down on the clutter in your packet, remove unnecessary pages from the statements, such as standard terms and offers by the banking institution.
- Rental receipts or agreements showing both spouses as lessees. Sometimes apartment managers will be reluctant to add a foreign national spouse to a lease agreement. If so, see if they will add the spouse as an authorized occupant. If not, you can also request a letter from the manager on official stationary, explaining that the couple is living together.
- Auto insurance and registration showing both spouses as carriers and owners. This shows both a joint expense and also that the couple is living together.
- Identification of U.S. citizen spouse such as passport or driver’s license. Likewise, this validates the petitioner’s residence.
- Credit card statements with names of both spouses as joint holders. As with joint banking accounts, this shows joint financial responsibility. As with bank statements, six months is sufficient.
- Wedding announcement and/or wedding photographs. Do whatever you can to document you wedding, including who was there. USCIS officers very often will ask about who was present at your wedding. Beat them to that question by providing a guest list if you have one. You can submit receipts for your venue, rings, dress/tux rental, etc.
- Photographs of you together. Photos are some of the best, strongest evidence you can submit in support of your packet. Again, go for quality over quantity. Good pictures show you together as a couple, in different places over a span of time. It is not helpful to provide 100 photos of a single night out with friends. Instead, go for the greatest possible variety. When traveling, sometimes both members of the couple will not be in the same picture. But if you have two photos – for example – showing each of you individually in front of the Taj Mahal, use those. As a rule of thumb we typically aim to provide 50 photographs, plus or minus. We print the photos four to a page (instructions here). For bonus points you can write next to the photograph, explaining when and where it was taken, and describing what is happening in the image. Lastly, do not submit pornographic photos or nudes. You may ask why I need to say that, and all I can say is that some clients have thought it was a good idea. It is not.
- Supporting statement (i.e., affidavit). Lastly we always submit supporting statements by friends and family members who now the couple. The point here is to provide testimony by people who know you, and can attest to the authenticity of your relationship. Go for quality over quantity. The most valuable affidavits are from people who know you very well. We always submit at least two affidavits, and have submitted over a dozen in some cases. For a free, downloadable copy of instructions that you can share with your affidavit writers, just visit the link below.
I hope this offers some helpful basic guidelines to you. If you have additional, specific questions you are always welcome to ask a question through our online form. There is no charge for doing so. Best of luck to you – we wish you a speedy approval on your case! If you decide that you would like help, please visit this link to book a web consultation from anywhere in the world.