What Is A Green Card?

The term ‘green card’ always seems to pop up almost every time there is a conversation about immigration to the United States. But what is a green card? What does it do?

And why does it even exist in the first place? If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, or even more, this article will provide you with all the answers you need to understand what a green card is.

To start with, a green card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a card that allows immigrants to legally live and work in the United States. Green card holders are usually considered legal permanent residents of the U.S.

According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, there are at least 13.9 million green cardholders in the U.S. as of 2019, with up to 9.1 million eligible to become citizens of the country.

Green Card Eligibility Categories And Requirements

To become eligible for a green card, you must meet some specific requirements. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have listed the following eligibility categories for individuals who wish to become green cardholders.

Eligibility Through Family

To be eligible to apply for a green card through family, you must meet a number of requirements:

Firstly, you must be an immediate relative of a US citizen. This applies only if you are a spouse of an American citizen, an unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, or a parent of an American citizen who is at least 21 years old. You may also be eligible for a green card if you are an unmarried son or daughter of an American citizen, and you are at least 21 years old married child of a U.S. citizen or brother or sister of an American who is 21 years or older.

If you are a family member of a green card holder, you may also be eligible for a green card if;

  • You are the spouse of the green card holder
  • You are the child of a green card holder, unmarried, and under 21 years of age
  • You are the unmarried child of a green card holder and under 21 years old

If you are the fiancé of an American citizen, you may also be eligible for a green card if you meet the following requirements:

  • You were admitted to the U.S. as a fiancé of a U.S. citizen
  • You arrived in the U.S. as a child of a fiancé of a U.S. citizen

If you are a widow or widower of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for a green card if:

  • You are the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen, and you were married to the spouse, who was a citizen before they died.

You can also be eligible to live and work in the U.S. through permanent residency if you are a victim of extreme cruelty or battery. To be eligible for this pathway to a green card, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You are an abused spouse of a citizen of the U.S. or a green card holder
  • You are an abused child of an American citizen or green card holder, and you are under 21 years old
  • You are an abused parent of an American citizen

Eligibility Through Employment

To become a green card holder under this category, you must meet a number of requirements. You may apply for a green card through employment if you are an immigrant worker. However, to be approved for a green card as an immigrant worker, you must:

Be a first preference alien worker, which means you either have extraordinary ability in arts, education, businesses, sciences, or athletics. You may also qualify if you are an excellent researcher, professor, multinational manager, or executive.

It is possible to qualify for a green card as a second preference immigrant worker. This simply means you are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, have extraordinary ability in sciences, businesses, arts, or you are seeking a national interest waiver.

If you are a third preference alien worker, you may also qualify for a green card. This category demands that your specific profession must come with at least two years of training or experience, a U.S. bachelor’s degree or you are willing to perform unskilled labor that requires less than two years of training or experience.

If you are a qualified physician who wishes to work full-time in medical practice at a designated underserviced area for a set period, and you also meet other eligibility requirements, you may be eligible for a green card.

Lastly, if you are an alien investor, who has invested at least $1 million or are in the process of investing the said amount in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that will create not less than 10 full-time employment opportunities for qualifying employees, you may be eligible to apply for a green card.

Can I Work While My Green Card Application Is Processing? | Read more

Eligibility Through Special Immigration

You may qualify for a green card as a special immigrant if you meet the following requirements, according to the USCIS.

  • You are a religious worker who is coming to the U.S. to work for a non-profit religious organization
  • You are legally considered a child and in need of protection after being abandoned, abused, or neglected by your parent
  • You are a citizen of Iraq and Afghanistan, and you were a translator or interpreter for the U.S. government. Also, if you are an Iraqi national who was employed by or for the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for a minimum of a year, or you are an Afghanistan national who was employed by the International Security Assistance Force.
  • You are an international broadcaster seeking to work in America as a member or grantee of the media for the United States Agency for Global Media.
  • You work for an eligible international organization or NATO, or you are an eligible family member of an employee who meets this requirement

Eligibility Through Refugee Or Asylee Status In The United States

If you fled your home country because of legitimate fear of being prosecuted, and you were granted asylum in the U.S. at least one year ago, you may be eligible for a green card. Additionally, if you were admitted into the United States as a refugee at least one year ago, you may also be eligible.

Eligibility As A Victim Of Human Trafficking And Crime

You may become a green card holder if you entered the United States as a victim of human trafficking, and you have a T nonimmigrant visa. Additionally, if you are a victim of a crime and you currently have a U nonimmigrant visa, you may qualify for a green card.

Eligibility As A Victim Of Abuse

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) classifies abuse into different subcategories to determine the eligibility of a potential green card holder. In addition to the eligibility requirements mentioned under Eligibility Through Family, you may become a green card holder in the United States if:

Eligibility Through Registry

This pathway to a green card is open for individuals who entered the United States before Jan 1, 1972. However, to be granted a green card under this category, the applicant must have lived in the United States since the day they entered. Also, the applicant must be of good moral character, and not deportable or ineligible for naturalization.

Other Possible Pathways For Potential Green Card Holders

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers other possible pathways to get a green card. You may apply for a green card if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are a Liberian citizen who has been continuously living in the United States since November 20, 2014, or you are a spouse or child under 21 years old, or unmarried child of a qualifying Liberian national, and you are at least 21 years old.
  • You won a green card lottery under the Diversity Visa Program
  • You are a Cuban national or native, or a spouse or child of a Cuban national or citizen
  • You are an abused child or spouse of a Cuban native or citizen
  • You were paroled into the United States as a Lautenberg parolee
  • You are an American Indian who was born in Canada, maintains at least 50% American Indian blood, and live in the U.S.
  • You were born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomat who was based in the United States at the time of your birth
  • You were based in the United States while serving as a foreign diplomat or high-ranking government official, but you were not able to return to your home country
  • If you classify under the Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000

How To Become A Green Card Holder?

Now that you know the different eligibility categories and requirements that must be met to apply for a green card, it is time to know exactly how to file your green card application. The exact green card process varies depending on several factors such as your eligibility category and current location.

How To Apply For A Green Card In The United States?

If you are already living in the United States, and you have an approved immigrant petition and immigrant visa, you may need to file Form I-485, also known as Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Choose A Category

However, if you do not have an approved immigrant petition, you may still be eligible for a green card under the eligibility categories previously discussed in this article. Once you have identified a category that suits your current situation, you may file the immigration petition together with Form I-485, in what is known as concurrent filing.

Consider The Type Of Petition

In most cases, green card applicants are required to file two forms: an immigrant petition and a green card application. In some cases, however, the green card applicant may only have to submit a green card application. Below are some of the most common types of green card petitions based on the eligibility categories discussed earlier:

Check Visa Availability

If applicable, you may need to check if a visa is available in your category before submitting your petition. The United States Department of State has a Visa Bulletin section on their website to help green card applicants check if a particular type of visa is available before starting the application process.

Filling And Submitting Form I-485

Once you have determined that you are eligible for a green card and that a visa is available for your specific category, you may proceed with the application process. The U.S. government provides instructions for filing Form I-485 on the USCIS website, including a separate page for your specific eligibility category.

On the USCIS website, you will also see a list of filing addresses for Form I-485 where you can send your green card application via mail.

Read more: Form I-485 Processing Timeline

Attend Your Biometrics Appointment

Upon receiving your petition, the USCIS will notify you about your next step, which usually involves a notice of your biometrics appointment at a local Application Support Center. You will be notified about the venue, date, and time of your appointment. During the appointment, your fingerprints, photograph, and signature will be taken to verify your identity and to perform security checks. You will also be required to verify that you have provided the correct information in your petition and sign relevant documents. The USCIS provides further guidelines to help you prepare for your biometrics appointment.

The Green Card Interview

After reviewing your application, USCIS will decide if an interview is necessary. If scheduled, you will be notified and provided with the location, time, and date. If applicable, you may also attend the interview with the petitioner (sponsor) who is filing for you. For reference purposes, you will be required to bring all original copies of the documents you submitted along with the Form I-485 application. These may include official travel documents, passports, and Form I-94, among others.

Read more: Questions To Expect In A Green Card Application

Read more: Green Card Joint Sponsor Requirements

Tracking Your Case

USCIS allows you to track your green card application by using the Case Tracker tool on their website. All you need is the receipt number, which is usually found in the notice you receive after sending the application. Alternatively, you can track your case status by calling the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283. The USCIS also provides additional contact options for people with hearing or speech disabilities.

Receive The Decision

You will be notified once the USCIS has made a decision regarding your application. If approved, you will receive an approval notice first, followed by your green card later. If your application has been denied, you will also be notified with reasons, including the option to appeal the decision if applicable. If for some reason you cannot appeal the decision, you may file a petition to reopen and reconsider your application by filling out a Form I-290B, also known as Notice of Appeal or Motion.

Applying For A Green Card Outside The United States

You can apply for a green card outside the United States in a process called consular processing. The USCIS website provides specific steps for consular processing. Here is a summary of the consular processing steps:

  • Determining your eligibility category
  • Filing the immigrant petition
  • Waiting for a decision on your petition
  • Waiting for a notification from the National Visa Center (NVC)
  • Attending an interview at the consular office in your country
  • Receiving the green card after passing the interview

To check out further information about each step, you may visit the Consular Processing Page of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

Read More: Green Card Number Explained

What Next After Getting A Green Card?

Assuming that your permanent residence in the United States has been approved, and a green card issued, you may be wondering what to do next. Here are some useful tips to guide you.

The first thing you should do is apply for a new social security card. With the new social security card, you can live and work in the U.S. without restrictions. You will not get a new social security number; however, the Social Security Administration will update your immigration status to show that you are now a permanent resident of the United States.

To prevent your green card from being revoked, you need to maintain your permanent residence in the United States. If you leave the United States for a prolonged period, usually a year or more, your green card may be revoked on the grounds of abandonment of status. If you plan to stay outside of the U.S. for more than six months or more, you can apply for a re-entry permit before your departure. This permit proves that you intend to preserve your permanent residence even during your absence from the U.S.

If your permanent resident card is conditional, it will be valid for two years after which it will expire and is not renewable. Instead, the USCIS lets you remove the conditions for the green card by applying for the removal at least 90 days before the card expires. Therefore, it is important to keep track of such dates and begin preparations in advance.

For example, if your conditional green card is based on marriage to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, you will still have to remove the conditions of the green card after two years even if your marriage ends. If you do not remove the conditions of the green card before the aforementioned deadline, you will lose your permanent residency status, and also risk being detained by the U.S. government.

Luckily enough, you can track when to begin the removal process after getting a conditional green card. The USCIS website has a Filing Date calculator tool that you can use to find out when to begin filing. However, if you file too early, your application will be rejected.

Another easy way to find out when to file is by checking the expiry date of your permanent residency card. You can then subtract 90 days from the expiry date. For example, if your card expires on July 4, 2021, the earliest filing date should be April 5, 2021.

If you are married to an American, you can apply for naturalization (citizenship) three years after becoming a lawful permanent resident, or five years for other categories. Most green cards, except those that are conditional, are usually valid for 10 years. The USCIS provides guidelines on renewing 10-year green cards before they expire, especially for those who have not yet filed for citizenship or do not intend to.

Also, one of the most important things to remember after getting your green card is to avoid breaking the law. This may not only lead to the revocation of your green card but also negatively impact your chances of getting U.S. citizenship through naturalization.


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