So you’ve filed your adjustment of status paperwork and know that it will likely be between three and six months until you get called to your local USCIS office for an interview. If approved at interview, your green card will come in the mail a few weeks later. But, what can you do in the meantime? Can you work? Can you travel?
People who are considering the adjustment of status process need to be clear on the special rules that will govern their stay in the US while the application is pending. Failure to do so may spell disaster down the line.
One of the first questions asked is whether or not you will be able to work while your adjustment of status application is pending. For most applicants, the answer is yes — but not right away. If you do not already have permission to work in the US, you must file form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization first. Approval of this application gets you a temporary work card. The card is good for a year, but is typically superceded by the green card once your entire adjustment case has been approved. People who are in the US on certain non-immigrant visas should check with an immigration lawyer before using the work card as doing so may cancel out their current visa. This is especially true for students who are in the US on an F1 visa.
In order to avoid delay, your immigration attorney should file this application along with your adjustment of status package. About 3 – 4 weeks after your application is received and receipted, you will be called to a local Applicant Support Center (ASC) to get your biometrics recorded. For most applicants, “biometrics” means their photograph, fingerprints and signature.
Once you have completed your biometrics appointment…you wait. USCIS has 90 days in which to make a decision on your temporary work card application. Applicants can usually expect to receive approvals within 60 days and then it is another week or two before they get the card in the mail. Once the card has arrived, the adjustment applicant must apply for a social security number (if they don’t already have one) at the local Social Security office. Again, it will take a couple of weeks for this card to arrive. Once the applicant has received both the temporary work card and social security card, they can legally work in the United States and (in most states) apply for a driver’s license. Given that the wait for green card interview in most places has been reduced dramatically over the last few years, many applicants won’t ever have a chance to use their temporary work card before the green card interview. If approved for a green card at the interview, the officer will confiscate the work card before it was ever used.
You may be asking yourself why you should even bother applying for this card if it probably won’t be used. There are two very good reasons to do so. First, it’s a benefit offered by the US government that is completely FREE (i.e. the cost of applying for the temporary work card is included in the filing fee associated with the adjustment of status case). Second, if your case is not approved at interview, you will want the ability to work during the interim. If you wait to apply for temporary work privileges after your case hits a delay, it could be three months before your can start to work.
Unless you are currently in the United States on an H or L visa traveling abroad while your adjustment of status case is pending will cause your case to be denied for abandonment, unless you have already received permission for temporary travel. This permission, called Advance Parole, is applied for via Form I-131 at the same time you apply for temporary work privileges. As a matter of fact, authorization for both work and travel will be documented on the same card.
The situation becomes more complicated for people who are currently in the US on a nonimmigrant visa that allows for travel outside the US. These people should not leave the US on advance parole until they have cleared the trip with their immigration lawyer.
For clients who are applying for adjustment of status by way of marriage to a US Citizen or LPR, they are advised to spend the time between case filing and interview gathering documentation to show the validity of the marriage. This “relationship proof” documentation is essential for all marriage cases and failure to bring enough with you could delay your case or worse — trigger a fraud investigation.
The other essential task you should be completing during the time between filing and your interview is making sure you have all the original documentation needed for your particular case. For instance in a marriage adjustment case you will certainly need a birth certificate and marriage certificate, in addition to divorce decrees if either party was previously married. Because you can file the case with photocopies of these documents, some clients forget to obtain the original from family back home or order one from their local government. Failure to have original or certified copies of these documents at the interview will likely delay approval of your case.