Applying for a green card isn’t as complicated as it may at first appear. Our guide, How to Get a Green Card, will walk you through the steps to take if you wish to become a permanent resident of the United States.
- If you hope to obtain lawful permanent residence status in the United States, otherwise known as a green card, you’ll need to carefully follow procedures set out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Keep reading our guide to learn the specifics of applying for a green card in the U.S. depending on your particular circumstances.
Applying for a Green Card as an Employee
- If you have permanent employment in the U.S., whether you are currently living in the U.S. or not, you are likely eligible to apply for permanent residence.
- There are four categories of workers who are eligible to apply for green cards:
- EB-1 Priority Workers: are highly skilled professionals in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; are highly respected professors or researchers; are managers or executives who are being transfered to the U.S. from an international company
- EB-2 Professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability: are foreign nationals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; are advanced degree professionals; are doctors who will practice in an underserved area in the U.S.
- EB-3 Professional Workers: are foreign national professionals with bachelor’s degrees; are skilled workers with a minimum of two years training and/or experience; are unskilled workers
- EB-4 Special Immigrants: are religious workers; are employees or former employees of the U.S. government working abroad
- Your employer, if he or she is sponsoring your visa application, will need to complete a petition called Form I-140 and submit the appropriate fee.
- EB-4 Special Immigrants will need to complete Form I-360 instead.
Applying for a Green Card as a Family Member
- Highly romanticized in films like Green Card, family members do have good reason to obtain permanent residency in the U.S., even if they’re not Gerard Depardieu.
- To be eligible for a green card through a relative, your relative must be a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. with documentation to prove as such.
- Your relative must also prove that he or she can support you at 125% above poverty level. He or she will prove this by completing an Affidavit of Support.
- Your relative’s status (citizen or permanent resident) will determine if you are eligible for permanent resident status. He or she will also need to show proof of the relationship.
- A citizen of the U.S. is allowed to petition for these family members to join him or her in the U.S.:
- Husband or wife
- Unmarried child
- Married child of any age
- Brother or sister if the sponsor is at least 21 years old
- Parent(s) if the sponsor is at least 21 years old
- A permanent resident of the U.S. is allowed to petition for these family members to join him or her in the U.S.:
- Husband or wife
- Unmarried child of any age
- In addition to these eligibility requirements, the government issues “preferences” for whom it is more likely to grant permanent residence. Immediate family members of citizens (spouses, children under 21 and parents) will not wait for a visa number to be issued, but the following people will, in this order:
- First preference: unmarried sons or daughters over 21 years old
- Second preference: spouses of permanent residents, their unmarried children, and the unmarried children of permanent residents
- Third preference: married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens
- Fourth preference: brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who are over 21
- Your relative will need to complete the petition on your behalf, known as the Petition for Alien Relative, or Form I-130.
- Note that some spouses and children may qualify for K-3 or K-4 visas, which will allow them to come to the U.S. while awaiting their application results for permanent residence.
Applying for a Green Card Through the Lottery
- Each year, 50,000 green cards are issued through what is called the Diversity Lottery, which helps people living in countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. obtain permanent residence status.
- You will make your application for the green card lottery through the State Department, not Immigration Services.
- You are eligible to participate in the lottery if you come from an eligible country (for 2009, ineligible countries included Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, El Salvador, Peru, Poland, among others. See the specific instructions issued by the State Department PDF file to determine if your country is eligible).
- You must also prove that you have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent orthat you have worked for two of the past five years in a position that required at least two years of training.
- Access instructions on how to apply to the green card lottery on the State Department’s official green card lottery page.
- The lottery is free for all applicants; Immigration Services warns against any websites claiming to charge a fee to apply to the lottery and notes there have been several instances of fraudulent websites posing as official sites.
- According to official instructions, there is a two month registration period between October and December; applicants are advised not to wait until the last week to apply. Also note that applications are strictly online only; no paper applications will be accepted.
- If you do not fall into the above categories, or you need more information on how to file a petition on your own behalf, see the following steps.
- In general, even if someone else is petitioning for a green card on your behalf, you will need to submit a copy of the petition, as well.
- You will need two color photographs as part of your application.
- Read carefully the Application Procedures for Becoming a Permanent Resident While in the United States if you are already living here and submitting your application.
- If you have been living in the United States since 1972, even if you entered illegally, you may qualify for permanent residence under the “Registry” provision of immigration law.
- Read the requirements for becoming a resident if you have lived here since 1972 (continuously) to see if you qualify.
- You may also qualify for permanent resident status if you are investing in a commercial interest. Potential investors should read carefully Immigration Services’ page, Immigration Through Investment, which details the requirements for the 10,000 investor visas issued annually.
- Note that there is a backlog of visa applications; you can see Wikipedia’s chart detailing current backlogs for various applications.
- No matter how you choose to apply for your green card, it is an arguably lengthy process. As you go through it, be sure to reference Immigration Services’ “How Do I?” fact sheet which can help answer many of your questions throughout the application process. Soon enough, you will enjoy the benefits of being a card-carrying permanent resident.