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Immigration Form I485 Explained

Article written by Illinois & Iowa Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
April 22, 2020

In this article, we will discuss the various parts of Immigration form I-485, cover some of the individual questions, and attempt to summarize the lengthy portions of the document. This article is not meant to be an all-encompassing guide to form I-485, but rather a simplified and condensed summary. Obtaining permanent status in the United States is not an easy process, but it can be much less stressful with the help of a qualified attorney. If you have any questions about the topics covered in this article, or about immigration in general, don’t hesitate to call our office. For more information check out our article on Employment-Based Visas.

What is Form I-485: Application to Register Residence or Adjust Status?

Immigrants interested in applying for lawful, permanent residence in the United States—a green card—will need to complete form I-485, which collects information about the applicant in order to determine his or her admissibility or denial. The information entered into this form should only refer to the person seeking the green card, and not the petitioner.

You can complete Form I-485 on paper or via the computer, which is the suggested way to do it, as it allows for easier corrections. It’s very important to read the document carefully. We suggest slowly reading through each line, more than once as needed, to confirm you have the directions for each line correct. Some lines will ask for information you don’t have, such as a middle name.

For these lines, it’s best to leave the answer blank, unless directed otherwise on the form. If an area is missed or requires additional information to proceed, and you are filing on a computer, the program will typically highlight the area missed. At times you may also need to include more information that can fit in the space provided. Have extra sheets of blank paper on hand and be sure each of these papers is attached to the physical form and contains your name, Alien Registration Number (if you have one), the page and part number to which the item refers and your signature.

Tips for Filling Out Form I-485

Information About You (The person who is applying for permanent residence)

  • Make sure you use the name on your passport unless it has changed since you received your current passport. If any other names might appear on your paperwork, list those as well.
  • Depending on your living situation you will enter one of three options for a mailing address: 1) your current address, 2) the address of someone who will receive mail for you (“In Care Of”) line, and 3) if you are applying for a green card due to being in an abusive relationship see the “Alternate and/or Safe Mailing Address” line.
  • Under the “Place of Last Arrival to the United States” line USCIS is typically looking for the place that you spoke with a CBP officer. For most people, this will be the airport they landed at when they came to the US. If you’re not sure you can go to the I-94 website and search under the “Travel History Button.”
  • To find the date of your last arrival, look inside your passport for a stamped date. If you arrived in the US illegally then you should speak with an attorney. Under the section asking about your status at your last arrival, you’ll want to put whatever corresponds to the visa method you used to enter the US. If you did not enter via a visa or are not sure put whatever most closely explains your status, such as “asylee”, or “student.”
  • Make sure you have your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record Number. This can be found stapled to your passport if you came before April 30th, 2013. If you came after April 30th, 2013, unless you drove from Canada, you’ll likely need to look the number up on the I-94 website. You will need your passport number in order to retrieve this information.
  • Status Expiration: In the “Expires on” box you’ll need to enter the date that your status expires. This can be found on your I-94 form, or on the I-94 website. Often, it is different from the expiration of your visa, so make sure you note the difference. For those who don’t know or don’t have an expiration date, you may need to speak with an attorney. Some individuals, such as students, will have “duration of status” listed on their I-94 form. In this case, recording D/S in the “Expires on” box is usually the best option. If you’re still unsure, speak with a qualified attorney.
  • Make sure you’re clear in your description under “Current Immigration Status.” Use simple words such as “student” or “visitor,” or use your visa designation, if you have one. If your stay period has passed, or you entered the country illegally, it is highly advisable to speak with an attorney. 

Application Type or Filing Category

  • Determine which category you fall under for filing type. For most people, you will be applying through a family member, or an employer has petitioned for you. Put an X in the appropriate box. If you’re not sure, speak with a qualified attorney.
  • Very few people apply based on the Immigration and Nationality Act. If you think this is the case you should probably speak with a qualified attorney.
  • For the “Underlying Petition” item you’re looking for the receipt number from USCIS located on the I-797 approval notice. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you then you may need to talk to a lawyer or you’re filing your petition at the same time as the I-485. In this case, you would leave this item black
  • Your answer for “Priority Date” will depend on your situation. Immediate relatives and others in a category in which visas are immediately available will typically already know this information. If you’re not in this category then you need to find a six-digit number on your USCIS approval notice. If you are a derivative applicant (riding in on another person’s petition) you would need to identify the principal applicant (probably a spouse or parent).

Additional Information About You

  • Items 1-4 apply to those who have applied for a green card in the past. If you did, be sure to check “yes” under question 1 and fill in the information below. Record the application decision (approved, denied, etc), and don’t be concerned if you were denied, there is no need to provide an explanation.
  • Under items 5-7 you will list your address history for the past five years. List your current address first and if there is not enough space to list all the applicable addresses you can use the space under Part 14, additional information. For items 9-10, list any address where you have lived outside the US for more than one year. This information is used primarily for background checks.
  • Items 11-18 are for employment history over the last five years. Fill it out as accurately as possible. If you have not been working leave it blank. Items 19-22 are for employment outside of the US over the last 5 months, even if it was within the last year.

Family Information

Part 4 concerns information about your parents, including questions about demographics, for background purposes. Fill it out to the best of your knowledge and if one or more parents are deceased be sure to answer DECEASED in the appropriate boxes.

Information About Your Marriage

Here you will list whether you are single, married, divorced, etc. This section is of particular importance if you are immigrating for or based on marriage. Be as thorough as possible and if extra info is necessary, write it in Part 14. Note that if you are married to more than one person this could pose a problem and should be something to address with a qualified attorney prior to completing the application.

Information About Your Children

Indicate the total number of children, including step-children and adult children. Be sure to list all their names as accurately as possible and include all children and step-children whether they are immigrating now or not. If you fail to list any children and then attempt to immigrate them later you may run into problems.

Biographic Information

The information you will enter into this section includes race, ethnicity and other physical information. This helps USCIS to confirm your identity. If you’re not sure which box you should indicate, USCIS has a guide on its website.

General Eligibility and Inadmissibility Grounds

This section is long and can be intimidating. However, as long as you answer truthfully there should be no problem. This section is meant to weed out criminals, terrorists and those who may do harm after entry into the US. If you were involved in any group that can be linked backed to violence, even if it was a nonviolent subgroup of an organization, it’s best to seek the counsel of a qualified attorney. Conversely, if you are in or were in any support groups, religious groups, etc, you can list those here and the USCIS officer may look favorably upon your application.

You will also need to disclose any arrests, even if you were never charged, or you were proved innocent. It’s not necessary to list driving tickets as long as drugs and alcohol were not involved, and the office did not result in a fine over $500. 

Again, it is very important to answer truthfully here. Even if the answer is yes to one or more inadmissibility questions you should still answer yes. These are not immediate denials based on inadmissibility, and a lawyer can help you better navigate this section, answer accordingly, and explain your options.

The rest of the application should be pretty straightforward. A few more items to note include:

  • Indicate any accommodations due to language limitations or disability in Part 9
  • Make sure your interpreter (if you utilized one to complete the form) fills out the information in Part 11; it would be best if that same interpreter was present at the green card interview with the USCIS officer

Filling out form I-485 can be very intimidating and confusing. You don’t want to have your application denied due to a simple error or misunderstanding. A qualified immigration attorney can help ensure the greatest chance for your successful permanent immigration to the US. For any questions please call out office at (630) 624-6666.

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