A United States Permanent Residence Card, also known as a Green Card, signifies permanent legal residence in the country. There are several paths to obtaining a Green Card, and knowing how to proceed is important to making the process successful.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security, has a helpful web page for figuring out Green Card application methods. Once you know the right path for you, you can move forward with the proper type of application.
Parents, spouses, and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens have a relatively clear path to legal residence, and there are other categories of eligible relatives as well. It’s a two-step process. First, the citizen-relative–also known as your sponsor–must file Form I-130, the official name of which is “Petition for Alien Relative.” Once that is filed, the next step is for you to file Form I-485, the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.” Then, you’ll need to go to an Application Support Center, where you’ll be photographed, fingerprinted, and required to provide a signature. You may have to go to an interview as well. Sometime after that, you’ll get a decision notification in the mail.
Job- or Employment-Based Application
Getting a job offer in the country could be another path to obtaining a Green Card. You’ll need your employer to do two things: get a labor certification, and file a Form I-140. Aside from potential employees, people who plan to invest money in the United States might be eligible for a Green Card as well. Additionally, there is a provision for “Aliens with Extraordinary Ability,” along with a path for immigrants with specialized job expertise. (Those with specialized job experience–the categories of which are listed here–must apply with Form I-360, which carries a $405 fee with it.) Form I-485 is also required for these paths.
Refugee- or Aslyee-Based Application
One year after you enter the United States as a refugee, or one year after the country grants you asylum status, you can apply for a Green Card. In fact, it’s a legal requirement for refugees. In either situation, you must file Form I-485 and provide supporting documentation, which varies depending on whether you’re an asylee or a refugee.
Other Ways to Apply
There are other paths to a Green Card that don’t fit neatly into one of the other categories. These include people who’ve assisted the United States in war, people eligible to enter the colloquial “Green Card Lottery,” and people with unique backgrounds, such as American Indians born in Canada. All of these require special documentation and different processes; you can find more information on available programs here.
Renewing or Replacing a Green Card
If your Green Card–which has a life of 10 years–is going to expire within six months, you need to file Form I-90, either electronically or through the mail. You use the same form for replacing a destroyed, stolen, or lost Green Card. As with all Green Card applications, there might be fees involved depending on the situation.
These are just outlines of the Green Card process; everyone’s situation is unique. Be sure to research your particular situation in order to make your application successful. Some helpful resources include the USCIS website, their Customer Service line (1-800-375-5283), and community organizations.
This article was written by Dee Bronwinn. She knows that the immigration process can be hard and confusing and recommends you consult with an Immigration attorney before beginning the immigration process.