Based on marriage to an American citizen, you may qualify as an immediate relative. You may be eligible to file for permanent resident status even if you have previously worked without authorization or been in the United States without legal status. If you marry a permanent resident you still can adjust to permanent resident status if you are legally here, but you have to wait for your petition to become current, and you must show that you have always been in legal status and have never worked without permission. If you are eligible for adjustment in many jurisdictions, including Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, you can file a petition and complete your conditional permanent resident status within 6 months. If you have been married less than 2 years at the time of your adjustment to permanent resident status, the status will be given conditionally and you have to apply to remove the condition in 21 to 24 months after you receive your conditional permanent residence.
The marriage based adjustment may seem like a simple process, but the fact is there are lots of things that can go wrong in ways that can have lasting impact. To begin with there are a half dozen forms, some of them quite complex, that must be filed to initiate the process, and a single mistake or omission can lead to all of your materials being returned to you after several weeks, and a substantial delay in your processing. If you came to the U.S. more than once and overstayed substantially before returning, or if you committed visa fraud when you entered, the process could result not only in your adjustment being denied, but in you being placed in removal proceedings.
Once the case is filed the next major stage is the adjustment interview at your local immigration office. The USCIS is aware that many people fake their marriages in order to get a green card, so they are very thorough in examining each case. When the interview process goes smoothly, it can be very positive and make you feel like you are not only approved, but welcomed into the United States. However, when the interview process turns sour the potential is there for your case to drag on for years. Luck is a big factor, as drawing a positive examining officer can make a huge difference, but if you have the benefit of a good attorney and strong preparation, you can be approved quickly no matter which officer you draw.