Form I-485: What you need to know

This application for lawful permanent resident status can seem complicated. This information will help.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

There are a few paths to obtaining a green card and becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. For many individuals, an important step is completing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

Like any government form, this paperwork can be confusing, and knowing how important it is may make you more stressed about filling it out accurately. Take a deep breath. This guide will help you better understand what Form I-485 is, when to file, what to include and how long it may take to process.

Form I-485’s purpose

You use Form I-485 to request a green card when you’re already in the U.S. and need to either register for legal status you didn’t previously have or change your status from a temporary visa to a permanent one.

Before filing the I-485

Filing Form I-485 isn’t the first step in the green card process. Every path to a green card begins by asking the government to acknowledge that you qualify to immigrate to the U.S. under some provision of U.S. immigration law.

Common ways to qualify for a green card include:

  • Family sponsorship
  • Employer sponsorship
  • Asylum, refugee status or another humanitarian program

The chart below details common paths to filing a Form I-485, including what underlying petition to file first:

Visa categoryPetitionerPre-I-485 form
Immediate relativeU.S. citizenI-130, Petition for Alien Relative
Immediate relativeWidow or widower of a U.S. citizenI-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant
Family preference (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4)U.S. citizen or LPRI-130, Petition for Alien Relative
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Abused spouse, parent or child of U.S. citizen or LPRI-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant
Employment-based (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3)Employer or selfI-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers
Special immigrant (EB-4)Employer or selfI-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant
Investor (EB-5)SelfI-526, Immigrant Petition by Standalone Investor or I-526E, Immigrant Petition by Regional Center Investor
AsyleeSelfI-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal

Usually, the government must approve your underlying petition before you file the I-485. Rarely, you may file the forms together.

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When to file

The simple answer to when to file Form I-485 is when a visa is available. Unfortunately, knowing when a visa is available isn’t simple.

Most visa categories are subject to per-year and per-country caps. Family preference visas are limited to 226,000 per year, while employment visas are limited to 140,000 per year. Each nation can account for at most 7 percent of the visas issued in any given year in either of these categories.

Cap exceptions

Immediate relatives and humanitarian visas aren’t capped. When you submit an I-130 for an immediate relative, you may submit your I-485 simultaneously. Asylum and refugee status require you to hold your status for one year before you file your I-485. Other humanitarian programs follow similar rules.

Capped petitions: How to read the Visa Bulletin

For other categories, knowing when to file usually requires consulting the Visa Bulletin. The U.S. State Department publishes the Visa Bulletin monthly to provide processing timelines for immigrant visas.

Visa Bulletin background

To understand the Visa Bulletin, you must first know your “priority date”. This date is generally the date the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) received your underlying application. Your priority date should be printed on all documents you receive from USCIS in a box toward the center of the top. 

Second, you need to know the difference between filing for a green card in the U.S. and filing for a green card outside the U.S. Both start with asking USCIS to declare you’re qualified for a particular visa by filing an I-130, I-140, I-360 or other qualifying form. 

When you’re outside the U.S., the rest of your application is processed by the U.S. State Department through consular processing, not by submitting Form I-485. You submit your paperwork to a U.S. Consulate, which issues the visa once it’s available.

When you’re inside the U.S., you only file with USCIS, including filing Form I-485.

Visa Bulletin dates

There are two charts with dates on the Visa Bulletin, divided between “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing”. All dates listed under those terms refer to your priority date. 

The Final Action Date category means the U.S. State Department is now issuing visas with the priority dates listed. Most of these dates are significantly backlogged.

In August 2023, for example, the U.S. State Department began issuing visas for F1 beneficiaries whose I-130s were received on or before:

  • January 1, 2015 for all countries except the Philippines and Mexico
  • March 1, 2012 for the Philippines
  • April 22, 2001 for Mexico

The Dates for Filing category refers to the date when a person may submit their paperwork to request a green card. This date is often years before the visa will be issued. 

In August 2023, the U.S. State Department began accepting documents from F1 beneficiaries whose I-130s were received on or before: 

  • September 17, 2017 for all countries except the Philippines and Mexico
  • April 22, 2015 for the Philippines
  • April 1, 2005 for Mexico

Which date to use for the I-485

The Visa Bulletin is designed for immigrants seeking their green cards abroad. Yet USCIS uses it to determine when you should file your I-485 too. Each month it announces whether to use the “Final Action Date” or “Dates for Filing” chart.

For August 2023, USCIS announced that family-preference visas should use the Dates for Filing chart, while employment-based visas should use the Final Action Dates chart.

Using the F1 visa as an example again, that means beneficiaries could file their I-485s if their I-130s were received on or before: 

  • September 17, 2017 for all countries except the Philippines and Mexico
  • April 22, 2015 for the Philippines
  • April 1, 2005 for Mexico

In contrast, beneficiaries of an I-140 requesting an EB-2 visa could submit their I-485s if their priority date is on or before:

  • December 1, 2022 for all countries except China and India
  • October 8, 2019 for China
  • May 1, 2012 for India

Who should file and what to include

For each form, USCIS publishes instructions that answer many common questions and clarify portions of the form that aren’t self-explanatory. So read the Form I-485 instructions before you start filling it out.

For all visa types, the person who will receive the green card—the applicant—files the I-485. If an applicant is applying with “derivatives”, meaning a spouse or unmarried child under 21 of the applicant, each derivative should submit a separate I-485. Include all related I-485s in one group together.

Filing fee 

You need to pay a filing fee when you submit Form I-485. For most individuals, the current Form I-485 fee is $1,140. Most applicants must also pay a biometrics fee of $85, which covers the cost of fingerprinting. Because of the way USCIS processes these fees, you should never combine multiple fees into one check. 

There are some exceptions to these fees:

Filer isForm feeBiometrics feeTotal cost
Under 14, filed with a parent’s application$750$0$750
Under 14, filed without a parent’s application$1,140$0$1,140
Age 14-78$1,140$85$1,225
Age 79+$1,140$0$1,140

Those who can’t afford to pay may request a waiver by submitting Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. You may qualify for a fee waiver if:

  • You, your spouse or the head of your household is currently receiving a means-tested benefit, like Medicaid or food stamps
  • Your household income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level
  • You’re currently experiencing a financial hardship

Documents to include

The documents you need to include with your USCIS Form I-485 vary based on your underlying petition and what status, if any, you held in the past. However, everyone—principal applicant and derivative alike—must submit:

  • Two passport-style photographs
  • A copy of a government-issued identity document that includes a photograph
  • A copy of your birth certificate
  • Documentation of your entries and departures from the U.S.
  • Documents confirming your immigration category (unless you submit your I-485 with your underlying petition)

USCIS has a checklist to help you determine what additional documents to submit.

Where to send your application

USCIS is in the process of converting to an online filing system. Until that process is complete, you must send a paper copy of your application. Where you send your application depends on:

  • Where you live
  • What your underlying category is
  • Whether you use USPS or a delivery service

USCIS provides a detailed list of what address you should use based on this information. 

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Processing time

After you submit your application, you’ll receive a receipt notice from USCIS. This notice will contain a receipt number. You may enter your receipt number online to check your application’s status.

You may check general Form I-485 processing times online as well. In the drop-down boxes, select Form I-485, then your underlying category. Your receipt notice should specify an address in the bottom left under “USCIS Office Address”. Select that address in the third box, and you’ll see USCIS’s processing timelines based on your priority date.

How an attorney may help

Although you can file any immigration form on your own, it’s often beneficial to consult an immigration attorney to minimize delays and help you get your green card in your hands as quickly as possible. 

Immigration attorneys can help you correctly fill out your application, collect your documents and address any questions they anticipate from USCIS at the outset to keep things flowing smoothly. They can also help you stay on top of deadlines, answer your questions and prepare you for your USCIS interview.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a Form I-485 used for?

People in the U.S. who qualify for permanent residency use Form I-485 to request a green card from the U.S. government.

Where do I send my I-485 form?

Where you send your form depends on where you live, the type of underlying petition you file and the service you use to send the application. USCIS provides a list of addresses on its website.

How long does Form I-485 take to process?

Processing times for Form I-485 vary depending on where the form is filed and what your underlying petition is. USCIS regularly updates processing times, but as of this article’s date, you can expect most I-485s to take approximately nine to 32 months to process.

What is the difference between I-130 and I-485?

Form I-130 asks the government to declare that you have a family relationship that qualifies you for a U.S. immigrant visa. Form I-485 asks the government to issue you that visa.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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