Petitioning for a green card depends on the individual’s eligibility category. To begin, you must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and provide evidence of your relationship with the family member or employer sponsoring you. The requirements for the petition and the evidence needed vary depending on the eligibility category.
Once the USCIS approves your petition, the next steps will depend on whether you are in the U.S. or abroad. If you are outside the U.S., you will need to complete Consular Processing. If you are already in the U.S., you will need to apply for Adjustment of Status by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and attending an interview with USCIS.
Introduction to The Green Card Process
Here are some key things to know about applying to register permanent residence in the U.S.
Qualifying immigrants have different eligibility categories they can explore to obtain a green card. For instance, some immigrants become permanent residents through marriage, also known as the marriage green card process. On the other hand, some get green cards through employment. For this reason, each category has varying requirements immigrants must meet to be eligible to adjust their status in the United States.
Most immigrants must have an approved petition before seeking a green card. Usually, they need a sponsor to file the petition on their behalf. As the name implies, a green card sponsor is an individual who helps an immigrant obtain lawful status in the country.
Some applicants may be eligible to file this petition by themselves under certain circumstances. This process is known as self-petitioning. Examples of individuals who may qualify for self-petitioning include individuals with extraordinary ability (EB-1 visa), certain investors, executives, and victims of violence or abuse.
Once the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services approves the green card petition, the foreign national may apply for a green card. In some cases, however, the immigrant may concurrently file this petition and their green card application. This process is known as concurrent filing.
Filing Form I-485
Form I-485 is commonly known as the green card application form. This form allows intending immigrants living in the U.S. to adjust their nonimmigrant statuses and apply for green cards without returning to their home countries to complete the process. Then, the intending immigrants become permanent residents, obtaining the right to live and work in the United States permanently.
Once the USCIS receives your complete immigration application, they’ll schedule a biometrics appointment to collect your fingerprints and photographs. The USCIS uses this information to conduct background checks and verify your identity.
Green Card Interview
The green card interview is a crucial step in the application process. During this interview, a USCIS officer reviews your application and asks questions to determine your eligibility and the credibility of your application.
Awaiting USCIS Response
After the interview, the USCIS officer will decide whether to approve or deny your green card application. If the application is successful, you’ll receive your green card through the mail. If the application is unsuccessful, the USCIS will mail you a letter explaining their reasons for the denial.
Five years after the getting the green card, you can apply for citizenship. If successful, you will receive a Naturalization (or citizenship) certificate. If married to a U.S. spouse, you can apply for citizenship three years after receiving your green card.
How To File Immigrant Visa Petition for Green Card?
The process for filing a green card petition varies depending on the eligibility category of the intending immigrant. That said, here are some common categories eligible immigrants use to petition for green cards.
1) Petition For Green Card Through Marriage
Marrying a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident is possibly one of the quickest ways of becoming a permanent resident. However, the marriage green card process is not easy to navigate, given that the USCIS scrutinizes these applications to ensure the marriage is bona fide. In other words, the marriage must be genuine and not intended for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card.
That’s where Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives, comes in. This form establishes the family relationship between the U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (the petitioner) and their noncitizen spouse. In this category, the petitioner must file this form on behalf of their noncitizen spouse (the beneficiary). In addition, they can file it along with Form I-485.
Besides being a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), the petitioner must meet other eligibility requirements as highlighted below.
- The Petitioner and beneficiary but be legally married to each other ,
- Meet certain financial requirements, also known as the Federal Poverty Guidelines,
- Be already in the United States,
- Be at least 18 years old ,
- Pledge to support their spouse by filing an affidavit of support.
When filing Form I-130, the petitioner must include supporting documents to prove their identity and relationship with the noncitizen spouse. Although these documents vary depending on an individual’s case, the following are the most common:
- A marriage certificate,
- Copies of birth certificates of the couple’s children,
- A government-issued identification documents such as passports,
- Documents showing joint property ownership, financial resources, or utility bills.
The petitioner’s responsibility doesn’t end with filing the green card petition. Instead, they may accompany the petitioner to the green card interview. The interview allows the USCIS officer to verify the authenticity of the couple’s relationship by inquiring about their background and marriage.
Family-Based Green Card Petition
U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents may be able to file a green card petition for some of their family members. These family members may either belong to immediate relatives or family preferences categories. The immediate eligible relative category includes a spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen who is under the age of 21. On the other hand, the family preference category includes:
- Unmarried sons and daughters (21 or older) of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents,
- Married sons and daughters of US citizens,
- Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the US citizen is 21 or older),
- Spouses of lawful permanent residents,
- Unmarried children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents.
A petitioner must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relatives, with the USCIS and submit all the supporting documents to prove their relationship with the family member. Examples of such documents may include the marriage certificates (for marriage green cards) or birth certificates of the couple’s children. You can file the Form I-130 online here.
- Note that a Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary, might be needed if the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident filing for their spouse as the beneficiary. The I-130A is used to gather biographic information about the spouse beneficiary, including their address, employment history, and information about previous marriages, among other details. The purpose of the form is to help the USCIS determine the eligibility of the beneficiary spouse for the requested immigration benefit.
Most applicants have to wait for the USCIS’s decision on the petition before applying for a green card. The processing time varies depending on various factors, such as USCIS backlogs and whether the applicant provided all the required documents to process the petition. However, the applicant’s family category also determines these waiting timelines.
For context, Lawful Permanent Residents’ family members wait longer than those of U.S. citizens. Family members living outside the United States may have to wait longer because their green card application process is more complex. The process is called Consular Processing and usually involves the U.S. Department of State.
If the family member is outside of the United States, the process is called Consular Processing. The approved petition goes to the National Visa Center (NVC) and remains pending until an immigrant visa number becomes available. The NVC notifies the immigrant and the petitioner about the visa filing fee and supporting documents they must submit to process the immigrant’s visa. The NVC schedules an interview at the consular office to determine the immigrant’s eligibility for an immigrant visa. If successful, the immigrant receives their visa and becomes a lawful permanent resident upon admission to the U.S.
One the other hand, eligible immigrants living in the U.S. apply for permanent residence through the Adjustment of Status process. After the USCIS approves their petition and a visa number is available, they can file form I-485 and submit the required supporting documents. Next, the USCIS reviews their application and sets a biometrics appointment and a green card interview. Finally, if the application is successful, the immigrant receives their green card through the mail.
Petition For Green Card Through Employment
Some U.S.-based employers can sponsor a foreign-born employee for a green card. In this case, the employer must file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with the USCIS to petition on the employee’s behalf. However, the employer must meet certain requirements to be an eligible petitioner. These include:
- Obtaining an approved labor certification from the United States Department of Labor,
- Proving that no U.S. worker qualifies for the job offered to the foreign-born worker,
- Being financially capable of sponsoring the employee through the green application process.
On the other hand, the foreign-born worker must also meet certain eligibility requirements depending on their employment-based category. The categories include:
- EB-1 for priority workers
- EB-2 for professionals with advanced degrees and exceptional skills
- EB-3 for skilled workers
- EB-4 for special immigrants
- EB-5 for investors
Once the USCIS approves the petition and a visa number is available, the foreign worker may apply for a green card through the adjustment of status process if they are already in the US. However, if they abroad, they must use the consular processing method to apply for their green card and immigrate to the United States.
Can a Permanent Resident Petition for a Step Child?
A green card holder can petition for their stepchild through the same process they would use while petitioning for their biological child. However, the green card holder must have adopted the child before they became a permanent resident. In this case, the USCIS will consider the child as an immediate relative of the green card holder and may be eligible for a family-based green card.
Can a Grandmother Petition a Green Card for a Grandchild With the USCIS?
Ideally, the U.S. immigration laws don’t allow a grandparent to petition for a green card for their grandchild. However, there may be a few circumstances when that may be possible. For instance, if the grandparent is the legal guardian of the grandchild, they may petition for a green card on their behalf. In that case, the grandparent must provide sufficient evidence proving their legal guardianship.
How Can I Check My Form I-130 Case Status?
You can check the status of your green card petition online on the USCIS website. You’ll need your receipt number, a unique 13-character code assigned to your case when you file your petition, to search for the details of your application. Alternatively, you may call the USCIS Contact Center at 1 (800) 375-5283 to inquire about your application. You can also create a USCIS online account to track your case.
What if I Am Missing Some of the Documents for My I-130 Petition?
If you file your green card petition without sufficient supporting documents, the USCIS can’t make an informed decision. The USCIS may sometimes request additional information before they can continue processing your application. Unfortunately, this may cause unnecessary delays in your application. To avoid this, ensure you obtain all the documents you need to complete your green card application before submitting it. If you cannot obtain critical documentation, you may contact an experienced immigration attorney to help you navigate the process.