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Getting a Green Card for Lawful Permanent Residency

What Is a Green Card? How Do You Get One?

Qualifying for a Permanent VisaYou’ve come to the United States lawfully, but you’re on a limited visa. You’d like to stay here permanently. To do so, you must get a green card. A green card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, allows a person from another country to live and work permanently in the United States. The card is similar in size and shape to a credit card. It includes all relevant information about you, including a picture, your name, date of birth, fingerprint, country of birth, and the date you became a permanent resident.

Who Is Eligible for a Green Card?

There are a number of ways to qualify for a green card:

  • You can be sponsored for lawful permanent residency by certain family members.
  • An employer can sponsor you.
  • You may qualify through refugee or asylum status.
  • You may qualify through the Diversity Visa (DV) Program.

An applicant may be ineligible for a green card due to any of the following:

  • Certain medical conditions
  • Criminal convictions
  • Previous deportations from the U.S.
  • Past U.S. immigration violations
  • A record of immigration fraud

An attorney who practices immigration law can explain any waivers and exceptions to these ineligibility criteria.

What Are the Family-Based Eligibility Requirements for a Green Card?

To qualify for a green card through sponsorship by a family member, you must be in one of the following categories:

  • Relatives of a U.S. citizen:
    • Spouse
    • Children (married or unmarried)
    • Parents, if the citizen is 21 years of age
    • Siblings, if the citizen is 21 years of age
  • Certain relatives of a green card holder:
    • Spouses
    • Unmarried children

To initiate the process of obtaining a green card for a family member, you must file Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative. This document must be submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You must also typically file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, indicating your intent to financially provide for your family member when he or she first comes to the United States.

If the spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen is a victim of domestic violence, they can petition for a green card without sponsorship by the abuser. Such petitions require the filing of Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

What Are the Employment-Based Requirements for Obtaining a Green Card?

A person may qualify for a work-based green card as a worker or an investor in a U.S. business:

  • As an immigrant worker—An employer may file documentation supporting the issuance of a green card to certain employees. Immigrant workers potentially eligible for lawful permanent residency are categorized by preference:
    • First preference workers—This category includes those with:
      • Superior skills in teaching or research;
      • Extraordinary skill or abilities in education, science, business, the arts or athletics; or
      • Multinational management or executive experience.
    • Second preference workers—This category includes those with:
      • Exceptional abilities in the arts, business or science; or
      • Experience working in a profession that requires an advanced degree.
    • Third preference workers—This category includes the following:
      • Skilled workers with at least two years of experience, education, or training in work for which qualified workers are not available in the United States;
      • Workers with a professional degree who work in a profession for which qualified workers are not available in the United States; or
      • Workers who perform unskilled labor (requiring less than two years training or experience) for which qualified workers are not available in the United States.

    The employment-based immigration process can be complex, requiring a test to see if there are qualified American workers available in the local labor market. Once this is done, the employer must submit a labor-certification application with the U.S. Department of Labor.

  • As an immigrant investor—You may be eligible for an employment-based green card if you invest money in a commercial entity or enterprise in the United States that will create or preserve at least 10 new full-time jobs.

When Is a Person Eligible for a Green Card Based on Refugee or Asylum Status?

An individual who has been admitted to the United States as a refugee under section 207 of the Immigraiton and Nationality Act (INA), or who has been granted asylum, may apply for a green card after they have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year. Immigrants are eligible for asylum or refugee status if they have suffered persecution in their native country or if they fear that they will suffer persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs.

What Is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV Program), is a free lottery-based program administered by the United States government that gives foreign nationals the opportunity to obtain lawful permanent residency. Applicants do not need to base their applications on family relationship, asylum status, or employment. Most winners of the DV Program lottery reside outside the United States, but a small number of winners each year are already residing in the U.S.

Created in 1990, the DV program randomly selects 50,000 applicants every year for potential lawful permanent residency status. Applicants must have been born in a country with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, or must be either:

  • Married to a person born in an eligible country, or
  • The legal child of a person born in an eligible country.

Applicants must also have completed a high school education and have worked at least two of the last five years.

Because the DV Program is intended to increase diversity in the U.S., it is not open to persons born in countries with high rates of immigration to the U.S. For example, for 2023, natives of Mexico, Canada, mainland China, Guatemala, India, and several other countries are not eligible for the DV Program.

The Application Process

A green card may be issued to legal residents already in the U.S. or those living in other countries at the time of their application.

  • Legal Residents in the United States

    If you are already a legal resident of the United States when you apply for a green card, the process is called an “adjustment of status.” First, you must submit a completed Form I-485 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An appointment will then be scheduled, where you will be interviewed and have your picture and fingerprints taken. If approved, you will receive your green card in the mail.

  • Applicants in Other Countries

    If you are living in a foreign country at the time you apply for a green card, you must go through consular processing. Consular processing involves the USCIS, the National Visa Center, and the embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of citizenship. The process begins with payment of the immigrant visa fee bill sent by the National Visa Center, which collects the required fees as well as any Affidavit of Support required to establish a sponsor’s ability to financially sponsor the applicant.

    Upon receiving the fees, the Center will send an instruction packet containing information regarding the forms and documents to be submitted. Application content varies depending on the individual applicant, but typical documents required are birth certificates, marriage certificates, and copies of passports.

    An interview is then scheduled in the country’s U.S. Consulate. If the immigrant visa is approved at the interview, the person receives a stamp in their passport that serves as proof of permanent-resident status until their green card arrives in the mail. From the time the visa is issued, the person has six months to enter the U.S.

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