Important Changes to the Adjustment of Status Process

On September 9, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with Department of State (DOS), announced important changes to the adjustment of status process, which will go into effect beginning on October 1, 2015.  Importantly, many people will now be eligible to apply for adjustment of status even before a visa would be available based on their priority date.

Many applicants for permanent residence face extremely long wait times, depending on the applicant’s home country and the person or employer who has petitioned for him or her.  Each beneficiary of a petition is assigned a “priority date,” which is based on when the initial petition was filed by the applicant’s family member or employer.  Every month, DOS publishes a chart (called the “visa bulletin”) which indicates cutoff dates for each category:  everyone with a priority date that is earlier than the cutoff date on the visa bulletin is eligible to apply for a green card, and everyone with a later priority date must continue waiting.

For example, for the 4th preference category of Mexican siblings of U.S. citizens, the cutoff date for October 2015 is March 22, 1997.  Therefore, anyone in this category with a priority date earlier than March 22, 1997 will be eligible to apply for a green card in October 2015.

Under the previous system, a person could not file an application for adjustment of status until their priority date was current. Importantly, once the application was filed, the applicant was eligible to obtain a work permit, a social security number, and a travel permit to leave the United States and return lawfully.

The new system:
What has changed under the new system is that many applicants may be eligible to file their application for adjustment of status before their priority date is actually current.  This means that individuals will be eligible to apply for a work permit or travel permit far sooner than under the old system.

The visa bulletin now has two charts instead of one.  One chart is called the “Application Final Action Dates.”  This is equivalent to the previous chart, and indicates the priority date where a visa is available. The second chart is called the “Dates for Filing Applications.”  This chart will likely have later cutoff dates than the original chart, and indicates when someone can file an application for adjustment of status, even if the priority date has not actually been reached and a green card is not available.

For example, starting on October 1, the cutoff date for Mexican siblings of U.S. citizens on the Dates for Filing chart is May 1, 1998.  This means that all the applicants who have a priority date earlier than May 1, 1998, can file for adjustment of status in October of this year.  Although they will not be able to obtain a green card until the priority date is current on the Final Action chart, they will be able to file their applications now and be able to obtain a work permit, travel permit and social security number.  Before this change, only people who had a priority date of March 22, 1997, could file an application and obtain these benefits.  Essentially, by allowing individuals to apply for adjustment of status earlier than before, they will become eligible for a work permit or travel permit far earlier than they previously were.

Importantly, USCIS has indicated that each month they will make a decision about which chart they will use to determine who can file an application for adjustment of status.  The Visa Bulletin is issued approximately one month ahead of time.  This means that no one knows what the “Application Final Action Dates” or “Dates for Filing Applications” will be the next month. This means that if your case is now eligible to be filed, it must be acted on and filed as quickly as possible in case the priority dates retrogress.

This change has the potential to affect many people who have been waiting years to apply for a green card.

If you have any questions about how this new change could impact you or your relatives, please feel free to schedule a consultation with our office by calling 312-782-1804.