Understanding the Green Card Process
To get a green card, you use Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status. Form I-485 is sometimes referred to as a green card case or application. Below is some helpful information on checking your I-485 case status.
But before explaining further, you’ll want to know some basics.
Understanding the Green Card Process
First, a quick summary of the green card process.
When you file for a green card, you’re asking to become a lawful permanent resident. If you apply from inside the U.S., you’ll file with the immigration agency known as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). (Outside the U.S. is referred to as immigrant visa processing. We also provide an overview of the green card process outside the U.S. here)
Requesting a green card inside the U.S. is often referred to as “Adjustment of Status” or “AOS.” To adjust your status, you’ll use Form I-485.
Often, there are delays that affect your AOS process. For this reason, understanding how to do an I-485 status check is important.
Checking Your I-485 Case Status
I-485 Status Check Online.
If you filed for your green card with USCIS, you can do an I-485 status check online. (If instead you filed a Form I-130, you’ll want to read more here.)
To check your I-485 case status online, you’ll need to find the Receipt Number for your I-485. When you first filed the form, you should have received a document known as a Receipt Notice, I-797 Notice of Action. On your Receipt Notice, you’ll find your Receipt Number, which is at the top left corner of the I-797 and is made up of three letters followed by 10 numbers. (Ex NBC1234567890).
Once you’ve located your receipt number, you can check your case status online using the USCIS online system. Here are some possible things the system could tell you.
Possible information the online I-485 status check tells you about your case.
USCIS scheduled a biometrics appointment
The system may say that USCIS mailed you a fingerprint appointment notice, sometimes referred to as a biometrics appointment.
If so, you’ll need to make sure you got the notice in the mail, to find out when and where to go to give your fingerprints. Immigration officials need your fingerprints to find out your immigration and criminal history.
USCIS sent a Request for Further Evidence
Another possible result of your I-485 status check is that the government sent a request for additional information. Immigration refers to this as a Request for Evidence (RFE). Usually, an RFE has a deadline for responding. If you don’t respond by the deadline, USCIS could deny your I-485. So if your green card case status check says an RFE was sent, make sure you received it.
USCIS transferred the case to another service center or a local office where you live.
Occasionally, your I-485 status check says that immigration transferred your case to a different USCIS service center. Sometimes this happens when there is a backlog, and to speed things up they send your case somewhere else. In this situation, all you can do is wait until the service center makes a decision on your case or sends it to a local field office. If USCIS sent your case to the local field office, the agency may schedule you for an interview. We’ve created a guide to help you prepare for a green card interview.
What Affects a I-485 Case Status?
Sometimes, the online system simply says “your case has been accepted” for processing. The message will look like this:
If you mailed your I-485 a long time ago and the system still gives you this message, you’ll want to know why. Well, the delay of your I-485 processing depends on several things. To demonstrate, let’s look at some examples related to a family-based immigration case with USCIS.
The basis of your I-485 affects the processing.
Is your application based on a child-parent relationship? Usually, green card applications based on child-parent relationships are faster. The agency moves quickly because they often do not require an interview since the birth certificate establishes the child-parent relationship. But if you base your case on a marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, processing is typically slower. This is because USCIS almost always requests an interview for marriage-based cases.
The location of your filing affects processing times.
One other thing to keep in mind during a green card case status check. The processing time depends on where you are applying. Meaning, that processing times for green card applications differ quite a bit by your city and state especially if USCIS wants to interview you. For example, the processing times in Los Angeles, California will be far longer than in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
So if your green card case status check shows a delay, you should ask what is the basis of your application or where do I live. Often that will explain a perceived delay.
What If the I-485 Status Check Shows a Delay?
Before you spend time (and money) taking steps to speed up a decision on your green card application, you should start by checking processing times. If your case is within normal process times, there is not much you can do. USCIS has provided average processing times to give you an idea if there’s truly a delay in your case.
If you do an I-485 status check and it’s processing slower than normal, then you should consider taking the steps below:
- First, you’ll want to make a request online, called a USCIS case inquiry. This sometimes helps cases by drawing attention to problems or delays on the part of the government. After you send the inquiry, USCIS will then send you an email or letter telling you that an office received an I-485 case status request and by when you’ll get a response. Beware, USCIS often does not respond or update the case status by the date stated in the response.
- If the online request does not help — it usually does not — you will want to escalate the situation by calling the USCIS phone hotline at 1-800-375-5283 When you call, have your Receipt Number ready and be able to explain that the I-485 status check shows the case is taking longer than it is supposed to.
- Last, if you know USCIS immigration already sent your I-485 application to a local field office, then write a letter to that office asking for an update. When you send the letter make sure to include all identifying information such as form type (I-485) and Receipt Number so USCIS will be able to locate your file.
For further information can also check out our article on fixing USCIS delays and our article on fixing delays in your green card case.