Coming to the United States (U.S.) can be a major culture shock for anyone, especially if you are coming to the U.S. as a refugee. If you are here as a refugee, you have most likely already been given permission to travel and stay in the U.S. Unfortunately, if you do not apply to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR, also commonly referred to as a Green Card) after one (1) year, then you will be asked, and possibly forced, to leave the U.S. if enough time has passed. In this article I will go over the basics to obtain this LPR status and give some direction on how to best handle your possible situation.
Upon arriving in the U.S., you have probably already gone through the process of obtaining refugee status to stay in the U.S. for 1 year. You may have also received help from a nonprofit organization (like World Relief) to help you resettle and get acquainted with the American culture and customs. However, your journey through the U.S. immigration policies and laws is not over yet. If you follow these basic steps, you can best prepare you and your family to become LPRs and avoid worrying about your status as an immigrant in the U.S.
1. Remember and mark your calendar with the day you are first physically present in the U.S.
Your first day physically present in the U.S. is important. This day is the day that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will start the countdown of your 1 year to apply for LPR status. You need to mark this day on your calendar or phone as well as that same day of the following year so you will not forget when you need to apply for LPR status.
2. Maintain records that prove that you are living and have lived in the U.S. continuously for 1 year.
One of the requirements to get LPR status is to prove that you have lived continuously in the U.S. for 1 year. During your first year in the U.S. it is probably best that you keep all lease or mortgage agreements, car insurance documents, utility bills, driver’s licenses, tax bills, and receipts from restaurants. While all of these are not required, these items can help prove to USCIS that you have lived in the U.S. for 1 year, so be sure to keep these documents in a safe place if you have them.
3. Keep your proof of admission as a refugee and other important documents
Proof of your admission as a refugee is typically your Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record). This document can typically be obtained online, but this document will be required to obtain LPR status.
If available, you also will need a copy of your birth certificate, passport page with nonimmigrant visa, and a copy of your passport page with admission or parole stamp (issued by a U.S. immigration officer). While these are not required, they will make the process much easier and quicker, so be sure to keep these documents in a safe place if you have them.
If applicable, you will need to maintain certified police and court records of criminal charges, arrests, or convictions. USCIS will do a complete investigation into your life in the U.S., so if you have committed any crimes, been arrested, or been convicted while in the U.S. then you will need to file these with your LPR application. The best idea is to not commit any crimes while in the U.S. because this can seriously hinder your chances of being allowed to stay within the country, but if you have committed crimes, it is better to let USCIS know up front so you can better explain the reasoning why a crime was committed or show how you have changed.
4. Start the process of filling out the application early
It is suggested that you start the process of filling out the application and getting all the necessary information and documents together 2 months before your 1 year of physical presence within the U.S. The earlier you can submit the application the better, so why not submit the application the day after you have been physically present within the U.S. for 1 year? In order to do so, you will need to already have everything ready to submit when that day arrives.
5. File Form I-485 as soon after your 1 year of being in the U.S.
The form you will need to file with USCIS is Form I-485. This form is called an Adjustment of Status. As of the writing of this article, the fee is currently $0 for refugees to adjust their status. I could list all of the documents you will need to file with this form, but USCIS is constantly changing their forms and requirements to obtain LPR status, so your best option is to hire an Immigration Attorney who knows the laws and how they are constantly changing, or find an organization who is knowledgeable and willing to help you make sure everything you need is in place. The specifics for filing these forms are very detailed and need to be strictly followed or your application could be denied and a lot of time and money could be wasted.
With that said, along with Form I-485, you will need to file Form I-693 (Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record) and Form I-602 (Application by Refugee for Waiver of Grounds of Excludability, if applicable).
6. Hire an Immigration Attorney or seek help
If you feel uncomfortable or are not sure about how or where to file your forms, seek help. Immigration attorneys and organizations are dedicated to helping refugees get the help that they need. Some law firms and organizations will even give heavy discounts for people in your specific situation. If you feel confident in doing all of this by yourself, all of the forms and information can be found on the USCIS website (https://www.uscis.gov).
7. Possible Interview
After filing the paperwork and USCIS receives it, they may issue you a notice to appear for an interview. This interview could be given for a variety of reasons, but if an interview is scheduled, this is where an Immigration Attorney or organization can offer you ever more help as they will know how to properly prepare you for what the interview may hold based on your situation.
8. Stay up to date
Be sure to stay up to date with the website as you fill out your forms because the laws and policies can change in an instant. It might even be a good idea to check every month or so on USCIS’s website to make sure no more requirements are needed from you to obtain LPR status. Again, hiring a professional can help you to best be equipped to make sure that you and your family are able to stay in the U.S. for as long as you want to.
In conclusion, it is important to keep track of dates and documents upon arrival in the U.S. Be sure to avoid committing any crimes and start the process of filling out Form I-485 early, preferably with the help of an Immigration Attorney or an organization dedicated to helping refugees. File your application as soon as you can after your 1 year of physical presence has passed and stay up to date on the laws and policies concerning your situation throughout the entire process on the USCIS website (https://www.uscis.gov).
I wish the very best to you and your family and hope that your life in the U.S. is a safe place and a refuge for your heart, soul, and mind.
This article and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal advice on any legal matter. If you would like to hire us as your attorneys please call (864.301.9009) or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).