Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident Under the Cuban Adjustment Act

A Cuban immigrant who has entered the U.S. legally and lived here for one year can apply to become a lawful permanent resident under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 (CAA). The immigrant's spouse and children (unmarried, under age 21) can also receive green cards, whether or not they are from Cuba.

There is no limit on how many people from Cuba can apply for green cards under the CAA.


Like every immigrant, those seeking green cards under the CAA must prove that they are not inadmissible to the United States. The immigration laws contain a long list of grounds of inadmissibility, most of which concern commission of crimes, having physical or mental disorders that present a risk to others, and presenting a security risk. (See Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.)

However, the following inadmissibility grounds do not apply to Cubans filing for green cards under the CAA:

  • public charge
  • arriving at a place other than an open port of entry -- so long as the immigration authorities paroled the person into the United States.

History of the CAA

U.S. legislators enacted the CAA in response to Fidel Castro's January 1, 1959 overthrow of Fulgencia Batista's governmental rule in Cuba. Fearing the new regime, Cubans began fleeing to the U.S., many by boat. By 1966, hundreds of thousands had settled in the U.S. but had no designated status.

How the CAA Works in Practice

The CAA applies to "any native or citizen of Cuba who has been inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States after January 1, 1959 and has been physically present for at least one year; and is admissible to the United States for Permanent Residence."

For immigrants of most other countries, the requirement that they've been inspected or paroled into the U.S. would mean that they'd need to either get a visa ahead of time or face being stopped and refused entry at the U.S. border.

However, the path to a green card is simpler for Cubans. Under what's commonly known as the "Wet Feet/Dry Feet Policy," those Cubans who are caught by the U.S. Coast Guard before making it to dry land are considered to have "wet feet" and are repatriated to Cuba unless they can prove that they will be persecuted if returned.

But those Cubans who make it to the U.S. with "dry feet" are permitted entry -- in technical terms, they may, upon arriving at a U.S. border or being caught by immigration officials, be "paroled in" to the United States. They may apply to adjust their immigration status after a year.

To avoid the risk of being caught at sea, many Cubans began traveling to Mexico first, and then entering the U.S. through a border post there.

How to Apply Under the Cuban Adjustment Act

A Cuban citizen who has lived in the U.S. for one year and one day can apply for lawful permanent residence by filling out and submitting USCIS Form I-485, with the following supporting documents:

  • Two photos, passport-style.
  • A copy of the applicant's birth certificate (with a full, word-for-word translation, if it's not in English).
  • Fees for applications and biometrics (as specified on the USCIS website).
  • Form G-325A, Biographic Information, for applicants between 14 and 79 years of age.
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, filled out by a civil surgeon after your medical exam.
  • Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record (or other evidence of inspection and admission or parole into the United States).
  • Evidence of having spent one year physically present in the United States (such as school records, apartment leases, pay stubs from a U.S. employer, and so forth).

You must prepare and submit a separate application for each family member. The application must be sent in by mail, not submitted to a local immigration office. Complete instructions can be found via the link to the form above, on the website of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Family Members

The CAA extends to the spouse and children of a paroled Cuban immigrant no matter the family member's country of origin. The immigrant needs to show:

  • the relationship continues to exist up until the spouse and/or child adjusts status
  • the spouse and children are residing with the principal immigrant in the U.S.
  • they formally apply for adjustment of status under the CAA
  • they are eligible to receive an immigrant visa, and
  • they are admissible to the U.S. for permanent residence.

Find an Attorney

If you are a Cuban immigrant in the U.S. for a year or more, you may wish to consult with an attorney experienced with immigration laws, particularly the CAA, to determine what you need to do to adjust your status and help you prepare and submit your application.

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