Each year, hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals become lawful permanent residents of the United States under different green card categories. The green card allows these foreigners to live and work in the U.S. and enjoy some privileges similar to U.S. citizens.
However, receiving a green card takes several months or sometimes years. This is because the U.S. government limits the number of green cards immigrants receive under different eligibility categories.
In addition, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has massive backlogs of green card applications from all over the world. Despite that, many immigrants still pursue different ways of getting a green card to immigrate to the U.S. and live the American dream.
Learn how to get a green card below based on your eligibility category and individual situation.
What’s a Green Card?
A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, is a federal-issued document that allows foreign nationals to live and work in the United States permanently. The green card also gives immigrants many benefits, including:
- Right to legal protection under the laws of the United States;
- Ability to sponsor certain family members for a green card;
- Road to becoming a U.S. citizen after a certain period;
- Freedom to travel and live anywhere in the country;
- Right to receive some federal benefits, including education assistance and social security.
There are several ways of getting a green card, depending on your situation, the reason for filing, and eligibility. These include may:
Green Card Lottery
The green card lottery, or Diversity Immigrant Visa program, allows about 55,000 randomly selected foreign nationals to become permanent residents of the U.S. every year. This lottery runs only once a year and allows eligible lottery applicants residing abroad or in the U.S. to apply. However, most winners of the diversity visa program live abroad and come from countries with lower immigration rates to the U.S.
Green Card Through Family
You may be eligible for a green card if you have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Usually, this family member initiates the green card application process by filing a petition on your behalf.
Your eligibility depends on your relationship with the petitioning family member. You can either be an immediate family member or belong to a specific family preference category.
Immediate relative categories include spouses, unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Relatives in the family preference categories include:
- Unmarried adult sons and daughters, above 21 years, of U.S. citizens;
- Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, of permanent residents;
- Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents;
- Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
- Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.
Unfortunately, most extended family members, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, don’t qualify for a family-based green card. They can only be eligible for a green card if they are closely related to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Green Card Through Employment and Investment
You can apply for permanent residency status through employment in the United States. There are specific requirements you must meet to be eligible for an employment-based green card. This category has preference groups that often determine how long you may have to wait before receiving a green card.
The first preference category, (EB-1), is for priority workers. These include:
- Foreign workers with extraordinary abilities in arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics
- Outstanding professors and researchers
- Some multinational managers and executives
The second preference category, (EB-2), is for two groups of workers; foreign nationals with exceptional abilities in sciences, arts, or business and members of professions holding advanced degrees.
The third preference category (EB-3) is for skilled workers, professionals, or other types of workers.
If you’re eligible for the EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 categories and are already in the United States, you’ll apply for the green card through the Adjustment of Status process. This involves properly filing form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Additionally, you must meet the following requirements:
- You were inspected and admitted or paroled into the U.S.
- You must be physically present in the U.S. by the time you file Form I-485
- You’re eligible for an immigrant visa, and the visa is immediately available to you by the time of filing Form I-485
- You’re not barred from adjusting status
- You’re admissible into the U.S.
You may also be eligible for an employment-based green card as a special immigrant, also known as (EB-4), if you belong to one of the following groups:
- Religious workers
- Specific broadcasters
- Special immigrant juveniles
- Retired officers or employees of certain international organizations
- Some U.S. government employees living abroad
- Members of the U.S. armed forces
- Certain Afghan and Iraqi workers employed by the U.S. government
Lastly, investing in the U.S. economy is also another chance to become a permanent resident through the EB-5 immigrant investors category. However, you’ll need a lot of money ($1.8 million) to become an immigrant investor. And, you must create at least ten full-time positions for qualifying employees to be eligible.
Green Card Application Process as a Refugee or Asylee
Refugees and asylees flee their home country because of war, violence, conflict, or fear of prosecution and seek safety in a foreign country such as the United States. However, the U.S. government does more than protect these refugees and asylees.
For example, U.S. immigration laws allow these foreign nationals to apply for a green card after one year of being physically present in the country. This allows refugees and asylees to settle into the country and enjoy benefits such as living and working anywhere in the U.S.
Although refugees and asylees leave their home countries under similar circumstances, they attain their statuses differently. Refugees request protection while still living outside the United States, but not in their home country since they already fled the hostile situations. On the other hand, asylees seek asylum in the U.S. while inside the country or while seeking admission to the U.S. at the port of entry.
The U.S. immigration laws allow asylees and refugees to live in the U.S. indefinitely or until the situation in their home country changes. However, they can apply for lawful permanent residence status after being physically present in the U.S. for one year. They must meet the following requirements to do so:
- Properly file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Must be admitted to the U.S. as a refugee according to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
- Must be physically present in the U.S. by the time of filing Form I-485
- Must still maintain their refugee status
- Must be admissible to the U.S.
Green Cards for Victims of Human Trafficking and Other Crimes
The U.S. government also protects non-citizen victims of human trafficking and crimes such as domestic violence, false imprisonment, and sexual abuse. Usually, such victims may not have immigration status in the U.S., causing them to avoid encountering immigration and other law enforcement authorities. As a result, their abusers take advantage of this fear to manipulate and exploit them.
To solve this problem, the U.S. government created two immigration relief benefits to enable victims of human trafficking and other qualifying crimes to attain legal status. These benefits also encourage the immigrants to work with law enforcement to identify, investigate, and prosecute such crimes.
One of the immigration benefits is the T nonimmigrant status which allows non-citizen victims of severe forms of human trafficking to live in the U.S. for up to four years. However, they must agree to assist law enforcement in their investigations and prosecutions upon request unless they qualify for an exemption.
Eventually, these non-citizen victims may be eligible to apply for a green card.
The other immigration benefit is the U nonimmigrant status. This benefit is for victims of certain crimes who have suffered physical and mental abuse and are willing to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute these crimes.
Examples of such crimes include female genital mutilation, rape, domestic violence, witness tampering, and torture. These victims can stay and work in the U.S. for up to four years and become eligible for a green card after meeting certain requirements.
How to File a Green Card Petition?
If you’re eligible for a green card, you may need a sponsor to file an immigrant petition on your behalf before you can start the green card application process. The green card immigrant petition varies depending on your eligibility category. For this reason, you must choose the correct petition to ensure you file your green card application correctly.
Some of the green card immigrant petitions a sponsor must file on your behalf include:
In other cases, you may be eligible for self-petition when applying for a green card. For example, if you’re applying for an EB-5 immigrant investor green card, you’ll file Form I-525, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, to complete your application.
Some immigrants don’t need a green card petition to be eligible. However, they must meet some preceding qualifications before filing Form I-485 to apply for a green card.
How To Check Visa Availability
You may need to wait for a visa to be available before applying for a green card. This is because the Department of State avails a specific number of green cards for immigrants each year. Therefore, if there’s no visa number available, you can’t complete your green card application process.
However, some immigrants have an unrestricted number of green cards available each year. For example, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens don’t need to wait for a visa number to be available before tendering their application. Therefore, they don’t need to check for their visa number; the immigration visas are unrestricted, so you will not need to check for availability while applying.
Checking visa availability means finding out whether your priority date is current. The priority date is the date when your approved green card petition was filed and determines your place in the line for a visa as availed by the Department of State (DOS).
Here is how to check whether a visa number is available:
- Determine your priority date.
- Determine your preference category. according to your green card category
- Access the Department of State visa bulletin
- Click on the month of the “Current Visa Bulletin”.
- Open the charts for “Final Action Dates” of your visa category.
- Locate your preference category on the charts and the corresponding dates.
- Compare the dates with your priority date.
- If your priority date is before the date on the chart, then your visa is available, and you can apply for a green card.
- If your priority date is after the date on the chart, then your visa isn’t available, and you can’t apply for a green card yet.
How To File Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status
If you’re eligible for a green card, you may file Form I-485 to change your status and become a permanent resident. However, you can only use this form if:
- You’re physically present in the U.S.
- You gained lawful entry to the U.S.
- There’s an immigrant visa immediately available for you
Additionally, you must complete this form correctly and provide all the details and supporting documents the USCIS requires. Then, you can file your application to the USCIS via the correct filing address, depending on your location, green card category, and application process.
What Is a Biometric Appointment?
A biometrics appointment is an important step in the green card application process. During the appointment, the USCIS collects your fingerprints using a biometrics device and also takes your photos. The USCIS uses this information to verify your identity and perform criminal and national security background checks.
What Is an Interview With the Immigrant?
The green card interview is usually the last step before the USCIS gives its final decision regarding your green card application. During the interview, a USCIS officer asks you several questions to verify the information you provided in your application. Although the questions vary, it’s good to practice the common green card application questions to know what to expect during the interview.
What Is the Green Card Process?
The green card process is the steps through which a foreign national can become a permanent resident of the United States. Typically, this process begins when the foreign national’s sponsor files an immigrant petition on their behalf. However, in some cases, the foreign national may be eligible to file the petition without a sponsor.
Other steps in the green card application process include the following:
- Completing and filing the green card application form and supporting documents
- Attending the biometrics appointment
- Attending the green card interview
- Waiting the final decision for the USCIS
- Receiving your green card
How to Self-Petition for a Green Card?
Some green card applicants don’t need sponsors to file an immigrant petition on their behalf. Instead, they may be eligible for self-petitioning after meeting specific requirements.
Where to Send a Green Card Application?
You should send your green card application to the USCIS using the correct mailing address. Usually, this address varies depending on your location and green card category. For this reason, you must confirm whether you have the correct mailing address to avoid causing delays in your green card application.
Approved Green Card: What Next?
Congratulations on your green card approval! The USCIS will send you a welcome notice and, later, your Permanent Residence Card to your mail. However, if you change your address before receiving these notices or your green card, you should inform the USCIS within ten days. You can either call the USCIS Contact Center or change your address online.
You should also contact the USCIS Contact Center if:
- You notice an error in your welcome notice or green card
- You haven’t received a welcome notice within 30 days of becoming a permanent resident
- You haven’t received your green card 30 days after receiving your welcome notice
- You have questions about your permanent residence in the U.S.
Here’s a more comprehensive guide on the steps to take after an approved green card.
Can a DACA Recipient Apply for a Green Card?
Yes, DACA recipients can apply for a green card even though DACA status doesn’t directly lead to a green card. However, the recipients can transition their DACA status to a green card through ways such as marrying a U.S. citizen or obtaining employment sponsorship.
Can I Apply for a Green Card While on OPT?
Yes, it is possible to apply for a green card while on OPT through the adjustment of status process. This includes filing form I-485 with USCIS and meeting other eligibility requirements depending on one’s green card category.
Why Was My Green Card Denied?
There are many reasons why your green card may be denied. Some of these reasons include:
- Failing to meet the income requirements
- Having a criminal record
- National security concerns
- Public charge concerns
- Missing application deadlines
- Health conditions
- Providing insufficient supporting documents.
The USCIS gives you a notice explaining their reasons for denying your application. In some cases, you may be able to appeal the decision or reapply for a green card. However, it’s important to understand why you were denied a green card in the first place to know the next steps you should take.
Ways to Get a Green Card in the U.S.?
There are several ways you can obtain a green card and become a permanent resident of the United States. Some of the most common pathways to U.S. green card include the following:
- Marrying a U.S. citizen or green card holder
- Winning the U.S. green card lottery
- Applying for a green card through employment
- Applying for a green card through your refugee status
However, you must meet all other eligibility requirements of these green card categories and also be admissible to the U.S.
How to Petition for a Green Card?
In most cases, you’ll need a sponsor to file an immigrant petition on your behalf before you can apply for a green card. However, you may be eligible to self-petition for a green card under certain green card categories.
Is Getting a US Green Card Difficult for an Applicant?
The green card application process is usually straightforward in most cases. However, some situations may be complicated for one reason or another. In that case, you may need the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer or a green card filing service.
What Is Green Card Consular Processing?
Consular processing is the green card application process foreign nationals living abroad use to apply for a U.S. green card at a U.S. Department of State consulate or embassy abroad. On the other hand, foreign nationals in the U.S. apply for a green card through the adjustment of status process through the USCIS.
How to Get a Refugee Green Card?
To get a refugee green card, you must apply for the green card one year after arriving in the United States and being granted refugee status. This process involves filling out Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. Bear in mind that when applying for a refugee green card as a refugee, you will not be required to pay any application fee.
What Are the U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency Requirements?
Once you have been granted a U.S. green card, you are expected to maintain it until you lose or abandon your status or apply for and complete the U.S. citizenship process. You may lose your green card if:
- The USCIS determines that you were not initially eligible for a green card
- You abandoned your green card status
- You voluntarily surrendered our green card to the USCIS
- You committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits, including the green card
- You committed marriage fraud for the purpose of obtaining permanent residence
- You were convicted of a serious crime that made you ineligible for a green card
How to Change Status From Tourist Visa to Green Card?
You must meet certain eligibility requirements to change status from a tourist visa to a green card. First, you must be living in the United States for at least 90 days at the time of your application. Secondly, you must have entered the U.S. legally. Once you have met these eligibility requirements, you can change status by marrying a U.S. citizen or green card holder. In some rare cases, visitors with extraordinary abilities can change status through the EB-1 eligibility category.
Can I Stay in the U.S. While Waiting for a Green Card?
It depends. Some applicants can stay in the U.S. while waiting for a green card, while others are required to leave the country and wait for a green card to become available. For instance, you may be allowed to stay in the U.S. if:
- You are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
- You are applying based on your status as an approved refugee.
- You are applying through a U.S. employer in an employment category where there are fewer applicants each year than the number of visas available.
On the other hand, you may be required to leave the country if you are a ‘preference green card beneficiary’ whose Priority Date has not yet been determined.
How to Get a Green Card for Asylum?
To be granted an asylum green card, the USCIS must first review and approve your asylum application. Once you have been granted asylum, you will need to apply for a green card one year after the approval of your asylum petition. Keep in mind that a pending asylum application does not guarantee that you will be granted permanent residence.
How Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Green Card?
If you are an undocumented immigrant, you may be able to obtain a green card if:
- You are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, but only as their parent, child under 21, or spouse, and you entered the country legally.
- You qualify for an I-601A provisional waiver.
- You qualify through your asylum status.
- You are a victim of certain crimes (U-Visa).
How Can Mexicans Get a Green Card?
Mexicans can apply for a green card through other eligibility categories, as with other immigrants. In addition, some eligible Mexican immigrants can obtain permanent residence through the Immigration and Nationality Act, commonly known as the INA.
How Do International Students Get a Green Card?
International students can get a U.S. green card through four main pathways:
- By self-petitioning as individuals with extraordinary abilities
- Applying as an eligible investor in the United States
- Marrying a U.S. citizen
- Adjusting their statuses to dual intent visas
What Documents Do I Need for a Green Card If I am Eligible to Apply?
Typically, most applicants are required to provide their birth certificates from their country of birth, copies of their passports and visas, divorce decrees, marriage certificates, medical examination reports, proof of lawful entry into the U.S., etc. However, the exact documents you need to apply for permanent residency will depend on your eligibility category. For example, if you are applying for a green card through marriage, the required documents are different from those of individuals applying through their refugee status.
How Many Years to Become a U.S. Citizen After Getting a Green Card?
You may become a U.S. citizen at least five years after obtaining your green card in most cases. However, if you applied for a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for citizenship three years after obtaining the green card.
How to Get a Green Card if You Have TPS?
You can get a green card if you have TPS through marriage to a U.S. citizen. The same would also apply if you got married to a green card holder.
How to Get a Reentry Permit (Travel Document) for Green Card Holders?
You will need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, with the USCIS to obtain a reentry permit. Keep in mind that you should apply for this permit before leaving the U.S. If you stay outside of the United States for a year or more and do not apply for the reentry permit, the USCIS will assume you have abandoned your status.
How Do U Visa Owners Get a Green Card?
U Visa owners are usually available to apply for a green card after three years of continuous residence in the U.S. However, they must still meet other eligibility requirements.
Drug Test for Green Card: What to Know?
During the drug test for a green card, the doctor will want to find out if you take any prescription drugs.
The civil surgeon will also examine your past and current history of drug and alcohol use.
During the medical exam for a green card, if the doctor determines that you have a history of substance abuse, you will likely not qualify for a green card. However, you may still be eligible if you prove that you have recovered from substance abuse.