Can I Change Jobs While I-485 is Pending? Understanding Employment Mobility

The process of obtaining a green card in the United States is intricate, often involving lengthy waiting periods for various applications to be processed. One of the key stages in this process is submitting a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. During this period, applicants may find themselves questioning whether they can accept a new job or change employers without jeopardizing their application. In response to such concerns, U.S. immigration law provides specific guidance under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21), allowing for certain job changes.

 

Under the provisions of the AC21, individuals with a pending I-485 application have the flexibility to change jobs or employers without affecting the validity of their I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or their adjustment of status application, provided the new position is in the same or a similar occupational classification. The application must have been pending for at least 180 days to be eligible for employment portability under AC21. It is also crucial for applicants to ensure they notify the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of any employment changes in compliance with the regulations set forth.

Understanding the I-485 Process

In the context of United States immigration, the I-485 application is a critical step for individuals seeking to adjust their status to permanent resident while in the country. The following subsections detail the framework and requirements of this process.

Overview of Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of Status (AoS) refers to the procedure that allows certain foreign nationals already in the U.S. to apply for lawful permanent resident status—also known as obtaining a Green Card—without needing to return to their home country for visa processing. An I-485 form is the primary vehicle for this transition, filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Key points about AoS:

  • It applies to individuals already in the U.S.
  • The applicant must not leave the country while the application is under review, unless they have received specific permission known as “advance parole.”
  • Processing times vary based on individual circumstances and USCIS caseloads.

Eligibility Criteria for I-485

To file an I-485, an individual must meet certain eligibility criteria. They should fall into one of the categories for which an immigrant visa number is immediately available unless they are adjusting based on an application or petition filed before April 30, 2001. The applicant must be physically present in the United States and should have entered the country legally.

Eligibility highlights include:

  • An immediate visa number availability
  • Physical presence in the U.S.
  • Lawful entry into the country
  • No violations of immigration laws or conditions of the applicant’s current status

Job Change Implications on I-485

When an individual has an I-485 application pending, changing jobs can have significant implications on the status of their application. The ability to change jobs without affecting the application hinges on specific criteria set by immigration laws.

Job Portability Under AC21

Under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21), individuals with a pending I-485 application for adjustment of status may have the flexibility to change jobs or employers. To do so without jeopardizing their application, the I-485 must have been pending for at least 180 days, and the individual must inform the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about the job change.

Key requirements for job portability under AC21 include:

  1. Pending I-485: The application must be pending for more than 180 days.
  2. Approved I-140: The individual must have an approved I-140, which is an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
  3. Notification to USCIS: The applicant must notify USCIS about the employment change by submitting the appropriate documentation that confirms the new job details.

Same or Similar Occupational Classification

The new job offer must be in a “same or similar occupational classification” for the individual to be eligible for job portability under AC21. This means:

  • The new position should not represent a significant deviation in terms of job responsibilities or the field of employment.
  • Key factors used to determine whether a job is in a similar occupational classification:
    • Job descriptions
    • Required skills and experience
    • Rate of pay
    • SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) codes

Meeting these criteria is crucial for the portability provision to apply, thereby allowing the individual to progress with their adjustment of status while pursuing new employment opportunities within a similar occupational field.

Timing and Process of Changing Jobs

When an individual’s Form I-485 is pending, they have the opportunity to change jobs without jeopardizing their application, but certain conditions must be met, including adherence to the 180-day rule and properly notifying USCIS.

180-Day Rule

Under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21), an individual is eligible to change jobs while their I-485 application is pending if:

  • Timeframe: At least 180 days have passed since the I-485 application submission.
  • Job Consistency: The new job is in the same or a similar occupational classification as the job outlined in their approved I-140 or labor certification.

It is paramount that the new employment aligns closely with the original job description to ensure compliance with the rule.

Notifying USCIS of Job Change

Upon changing jobs under the AC21 rule, it is advisable to notify USCIS to maintain the integrity of the pending I-485. The process generally involves:

  1. Written Notification: Providing a letter to USCIS that outlines the job change.
  2. Evidence: Submitting documentation that affirms the new job’s classification is the same or similar to the previous one.

This step is critical and should be done promptly to prevent any negative impact on the Adjustment of Status application.

Risks and Considerations

Changing jobs while an I-485 is pending is permissible under certain conditions, but it carries potential risks that can impact the application. Understanding these risks and carefully considering them is essential for maintaining eligibility for an adjustment of status.

Impact on I-485 Adjudication

When an individual opts to change jobs during the I-485 pending phase, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires the new position to be in the same or a similar occupational classification as the original job. This is crucial because changing to a role that is not similar could lead to the denial of the I-485 application. The applicant must have had their I-485 pending for at least 180 days and have an approved I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) under an Employment-Based preference category to qualify for this job flexibility.

Potential Delays and Complications

Changing jobs can introduce additional scrutiny to the case and may cause delays in the adjudication process. The applicant is obligated to notify USCIS of the employment change, which could result in a request for further evidence (RFE) and subsequently, more processing time. Moreover, if the I-140 was filed with a request for a downgrade from EB-2 to EB-3 classification, for instance, it might complicate matters further, because each category has different criteria and processing times.

Documentation and Evidence

In the process of changing jobs while an I-485 application is pending, applicants must provide specific documentation and evidence to show that the new employment is in the same or similar occupational classification as the previous job. This is essential for maintaining the validity of their application.

Supplement J Form

The Supplement J Form, officially known as Form I-485 Supplement J, is a required document for individuals changing jobs under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act (AC21) portability provision. Applicants must accurately complete and submit this form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It provides details such as:

  • Applicant’s Information: Full name, Alien Registration Number (A-Number), and address.
  • New Employment Details: Job title, duties, SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) code, and salary.
  • Previous Employment Details: For comparison to ensure the new job is in the same or similar occupational category.

Employment Offer and Verification

Applicants need to secure a formal job offer from the prospective employer. The job offer should be presented in written form, typically on the company letterhead, and include specific information:

  • Position Offered: Clear statement of the job title and a detailed list of the job duties.
  • Confirmation of Job Offer: The employer’s signature and the date of the offer to confirm authenticity.

In addition to the job offer, applicants may be required to provide verification of the new employment. This could involve items such as recent pay stubs or an employment verification letter, further substantiating the applicant’s employment claim. Both the job offer and the verification documents should demonstrate that the new position is similar to the one specified in the original I-140 petition to satisfy USCIS requirements.

Legal Guidance and Support

In navigating the intricacies of changing jobs while an I-485 application is pending, applicants should seek specialized legal advice and utilize official resources to ensure compliance with immigration laws.

Consulting an Immigration Attorney

An immigration attorney can provide crucial assistance when an applicant is considering a job change during the green card process. They can help to ascertain that the new job falls under a similar occupational classification as required by AC21, thereby preventing potential jeopardization of the pending I-485 application. An attorney’s guidance is also valuable in interpreting any changes in legislation or policy that may affect the applicant’s status.

USCIS Resources and Assistance

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers resources and assistance for applicants with pending I-485 applications. Information on how USCIS determines “same or similar” occupational classifications is available, which is essential for applicants seeking to change jobs or employers. USCIS customer service and their official website provide regulatory guidelines and relevant forms that an applicant may need when considering job transitions while an application is pending.