Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows certain foreign nationals who are physically present in the U.S. to adjust to permanent resident status and avoid filing for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad.
But unless an exception or exemption applies, you are barred from filing for INA 245(a) adjustment if you are in unlawful immigration status at the time of filing a Form I-485 [INA 245(c)(2) bar]; you have violated the conditions of your nonimmigrant status or visa [INA 245c)(2) and INA 245(c)(2)(8) bars]; and/or you failed to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status when you would otherwise be eligible for employment-based immigration [INA 245(c)(7) bar].
Statutory Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a)
The bars to INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status (AOS) include the following:
1. You Are In Unlawful Immigration Status at the Time of Filing a Form I-485 Application: INA 245(c)(2) Bar
Under INA 245(c)(2), an INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status application will be denied if at the time of the Form I-485 filing, you are not in lawful immigration status. For purposes of the INA 245(c)(2) bar, lawful status includes nonimmigrants (e.g. B1/B2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B professional worker); refugees; asylees; parolees; and foreign nationals in Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
You are in unlawful immigration status if you have never had lawful status (e.g. entered the U.S. without inspection and admission or parole) or your lawful status has ended (expired or was rescinded, revoked, or otherwise terminated due to violation of nonimmigrant status or other reason).
Having authorized stay is different from having lawful immigration status. The timely filing of a pending application to extend or change status (Form I-129 or Form I-539), or a pending application for adjustment (Form I-485), generally provides authorized stay, but does not provide lawful immigration status.
A person who has a timely-filed pending Extension of Status (EOS) or Change of Status (COS) application may file a Form I-485 application after his or her nonimmigrant status expires. But if USCIS denies the EOS or COS application, you are generally considered to be in unlawful immigration status as of the expiration of your nonimmigrant status and on the date the adjustment application is filed. The INA 245(c)(2) bar would then apply, unless an exemption is available.
2. You Failed to Continuously Maintain Status and/or Violated the Terms of Your Nonimmigrant Visa: INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245(c)(8) Bars
You are not eligible to file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, under INA 245(a) if, other than through no fault of your own or for technical reasons,you have ever:
Failed to continuously maintain a lawful status since entry into the United States. [You are barred from adjustment of status under INA 245(c)(2) if you are in unlawful immigration status on the date of filing the Form I-485 application.]
Violated the terms of your nonimmigrant status, such as worked without authorization. [You are barred from adjustment of status under INA 245(c)(8) not only if you violated the terms of your most recent nonimmigrant status, but also if you ever violated the terms of your nonimmigrant status at any time during any prior periods of stay in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant.]
To be eligible for AOS, you only need to maintain your nonimmigrant status until you properly file a Form I-485 adjustment application with USCIS, so long as you do not engage in unauthorized employment after filing the adjustment application. But to protect yourself from being placed in removal proceedings if your Form I-485 is denied, you should continue to maintain your nonimmigrant status (e.g. H-1B) when possible.
When the INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245(c)(8) Bars May Be Excused
For purposes of INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245(c)(8), a failure to maintain lawful immigration status or violation of nonimmigrant status may be excused only for the specific period under consideration if:
a. The applicant was reinstated to F, M, or J status
If USCIS reinstates F or M student nonimmigrant status or if the U.S. Department of State reinstates J exchange visitor nonimmigrant status, the reinstatement only excuses the particular period of time the nonimmigrant failed to maintain status. The reinstatement does not excuse prior or future failure to maintain status.
b. The applicant’s failure to maintain status was through no fault of his or her own or for technical reasons
- Inaction of another person or organization designated by regulation to act on behalf of an applicant or over whose actions the applicant has no control, if the inaction is acknowledged by that person or organization.
- Technical violation resulting from inaction of USCIS (e.g. USCIS failed to adjudicate a properly and timely filed request to extend or change nonimmigrant status).
- Technical violation caused by the physical inability of the applicant to request an extension of nonimmigrant stay from USCIS in person or by mail.
- Technical violation resulting from Legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)’s application of the 5-year or 6-year period of stay for certain H-1 nurses, if the nurse was re-instated to H-1 status as a result of the Immigration Amendments of 1988.
c. The applicant was granted an extension of nonimmigrant stay or a change of nonimmigrant status.
The immigration officer will consider all your current and previous entries into and stays in the United States, including current and previous applications for extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS).
If USCIS approves a timely filed EOS or COS application, or excuses and approves an untimely filed EOS or COS application, the approval is effective as of the date of the expiration of the prior nonimmigrant status. In that event, you will be considered to have maintained lawful status despite the gap in time between the expiration of the prior nonimmigrant admission and the date of the EOS or COS approval.
3. You Are an Employment-Based Applicant Who Is Not in Lawful Nonimmigrant Status: INA 245(c)(7) Bar
If you are an employment-based adjustment applicant who is not in a lawful nonimmigrant status at the time of filing your Form I-485 application, you are barred from adjusting status under INA 245(c)(7). This bar does not apply if you were in a lawful nonimmigrant status at the time of filing for adjustment, subsequently left the United States, and returned using an approved advance parole travel document while the adjustment application remains pending.
For purposes of this bar to adjustment, the term “lawful nonimmigrant status” includes a foreign national in a lawful status classified under the nonimmigrant statutory provisions(e.g. B1/B2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B professional worker) and a foreign national in Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
Lawful nonimmigrant status does not include parolees, asylees, or certain other foreign nationals who are otherwise authorized to stay in the United States.
Exceptions and Exemptions to the Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a)
The INA 245(c)(2), INA 245(c)(8), and INA 245(c)(7) bars to adjustment do NOT apply to:
- Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens [spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older)]
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners/VAWA-based applicants
- Certain foreign doctors/physicians and their accompanying spouse and children
- Certain G-4 international organization employees, NATO-6 employees, and their family members
- Special immigrant juveniles
- Certain members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses and children
- Employment-based applicants and eligible dependents in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and certain 4th preference categories who meet the INA 245(k) exemption.
- To qualify for the INA 245(k) exemption, the applicant must not have committed any of the following immigration violations for more than an aggregate of 180 days since the most recent lawful admission: failed to continuously maintain lawful nonimmigrant status; engaged in unauthorized employment; or violated the terms of the nonimmigrant status.
- With respect to the INA 245(k) exemption, the law counts only status violations and unauthorized employment since the applicant’s most recent lawful admission. Regardless of how long the immigration violations under INA 245(c)(2), INA 245(c)(7) and INA 245(c)(8) lasted, the applicant who leaves the U.S. and is lawfully readmitted (and is an eligible employment-based adjustment applicant), may qualify for the INA 245(k) exemption as long as there were no violations totaling more than 180 days in the aggregate since the most recent lawful admission.
Bars to Adjustment are Different from Grounds of Inadmissibility
Bars to adjustment should not be confused with the grounds of inadmissibility listed in INA 212.
When you are inadmissible under section 212, you may not adjust status unless you qualify for a limited exception or unless a waiver of inadmissibility is available, you qualify for it, and it is granted to you. Inadmissibility grounds include health concerns (communicable disease of public health significance), criminal activity, national security, public charge, fraud and misrepresentation of material facts to gain immigration benefits, unlawful presence, and prior removals.
Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney
Because there are various bars and inadmissibility grounds to prevent AOS, as well as exemptions and waivers available, you need to consult an immigration attorney before you file a Form I-485 application to adjust to permanent resident status.
To learn more, read our related article, Who is Eligible (and Not Eligible) for Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status?
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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.