Whatever your legal status while residing in the United States, adjustment of status refers to the process of changing your status to that of permanent residency, and obtaining your green card, from within the U.S.
You must have been inspected at the border and be present in the U.S. with lawful status to be eligible for adjustment of status; however, there are many exceptions.
Spouses and unmarried children under the age 21 of U.S. citizens who are lawfully present in the U.S. may apply to adjust status to permanent residency without leaving the country to first obtain an immigrant visa.
Similar rules apply to family members of permanent residents, who, unlike immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, may still have to wait until the priority date on their immigrant petition is current before filing the adjustment of status application.
Many other scenarios may allow you to apply for permanent residency within the United States—it would be difficult to list every nuance of adjustment of status here.
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
To apply for adjustment of status, the immigrant must file Form I-485 with USCIS. This form can only be filed within the U.S. If you file from abroad, your application will not be considered.
Please note that to be eligible to file Form I-485 you must be the beneficiary of an immigrant petition. Family members and employers may generally petition for you, but there are also some limited circumstances where you may petition for yourself.
(There are even special cases where an immigrant petition is not necessary—discuss with your immigration attorney for details.)
You should send a copy of the approval notice of your immigrant petition with your I-485 application, or you may submit the petition together with your I-485 application.
After your I-485 is approved, you are authorized to work in the United States. Your status as a lawful permanent resident will not change unless you commit a removable offense under immigration law.
Please note, however, that if you are granted conditional permanent resident status you will have to remove conditions or reapply for a green card after two years.
The only way to obtain permanent resident status from abroad is to go through consular processing. This is a separate process from an adjustment of status that also leads to a green card.
For relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents residing in their home countries, consular processing is the correct pathway to permanent residency in the United States.
Steps to Citizenship
After you have successfully adjusted your status and been a permanent resident for 5 years, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Some permanent residents, such as spouses of U.S. citizens, may be eligible to apply for citizenship after just 3 years as a permanent resident.