How to Become a Green Card Holder in the US: A Guide

The Green Card Guide

The journey to a green card in the United States might look hard. But, if you know the rules and steps, it gets easier. We will look at different paths to being a permanent resident. This includes ways for families, jobs, and more.

A green card holder is someone allowed to live and work in the US permanently.1 Marrying a US citizen or a green card holder is a common way to get a green card.1 Knowing if you qualify and whether you are in the US or not is key. This affects the steps you will take.

Key Takeaways

  • The main pathways to obtaining a green card include family-based preferences, employment-based preferences, refugee/asylee status, and special immigrant categories.
  • 2 21.2% of Green Card holders obtained their status through family-based preferences, while214.6% obtained their status through employment-based preferences.
  • 2 5.8% of Green Card holders obtained their status through special immigrant categories, and28.3% obtained their status through refugee or asylee status.
  • 2 3.5% of Green Card holders obtained their status as victims of abuse.
  • The application process and required documentation will depend on your specific eligibility category and whether you are applying from within the United States or from abroad.

Understanding Green Card Eligibility

Getting a green card in the U.S. can seem hard, but it starts with knowing who can apply.3 There are different ways people can get a green card based on their situation. Each method has its own rules and steps.

Family-based Green Card

Getting a green card through family is common. If you have a close family member who is a U.S. citizen, like a spouse or child, you might qualify.2 This also includes parents in some cases. Kids of U.S. citizens can get a green card if they're under 21.

Employment-based Green Card

If you excel in your field, you might be able to get a green card for your work. This is for people with special skills, advanced degrees, or those who invest in the U.S. economy.2 Investing at least $1,050,000 is needed for this type. Doctors must also work in areas where there's a big need for their skills.

Refugee or Asylee Status

If the U.S. has given you safety as a refugee or asylee for over a year, you could apply for a green card.2 This rule applies to people who came to the U.S. seeking refuge or were already granted asylum.

Special Immigrant Categories

There are also special programs that might fit your situation. These include places for religious workers, children who suffered abuse or neglect, and some people from Afghanistan or Iraq.2 Each of these special routes has specific requirements.

To find the best path to a green card, it's important to know these different options. By matching your situation with the right category, you can make your green card journey smoother. Understanding these details is key to a successful application in the U.S.

Sponsorship and Petitioning Process

Sponsorship or petitioning for immigration often requires someone else to file it for you. This could be a family member or an employer.4 Yet, in some cases, like for special immigrants or those who invest, you can do it yourself. The forms you need, like Form I-130 or Form I-140, depend on your situation.

Family Member Sponsorship

U.S. citizens or green card holders can help you get a green card.4 Immediate relatives can do this quickly and without limits. But, relatives in preference categories may have to wait. How much money they need depends on their household size.4

Employer Sponsorship

5 The University of Michigan sponsors green cards up to certain levels. They help in EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 categories. But, they won't pay if it's not filed through FSIS or a lawyer FSIS suggests.5 Jobs they support getting a green card must be full-time and ongoing. They don't have to be for a tenured position.5 There's no set list of positions, although some departments may have sponsorship limits.

Self-Petitioning Options

5 For some, like special immigrants or investors, you can apply for a green card by yourself. You won't need a job or family sponsor. For example, the EB-2 National Interest Waiver or EB-1a Extraordinary Ability are self-petition options.5 In these cases, you take on all the costs, not the University.

Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing

Getting a green card means following different ways depending on your location.6 If currently in the U.S. with a lawful status, use Form I-485 to apply for adjustment of status.6 But, outside, you go through consular processing. This means filing a visa application with the State Department.

Applying from Within the United States

If you're already in the U.S., you can apply to change your status to a permanent resident without leaving.6 Remember, not everyone can choose this way. Only some can, like close family of U.S. citizens.

Changing your status here often takes longer than applying through consular processing. Also, before you leave the U.S., you must get a special document to come back without issues.6 The paperwork and costs for this method are usually more than for consular processing.6 For adults, fees range from $2,115 to $3,005, more than the consular route.

Applying from Outside the United States

If you're not in the U.S., you have to go through consular processing to get a green card.7 This means waiting for an immigrant visa number to become available.7 The National Visa Center keeps you and the petitioner updated on your case status.

Consular processing is usually easier than getting a status change within the U.S.6 But, visiting the U.S. during this process might be tricky.6 If your status adjustment request is denied, you can appeal. Yet, consular processing decisions are often not overturnable.

Once you have your visa to the U.S., there's a fee to pay for your Green Card processing.7 At the U.S. border, officials decide if you can enter as a permanent resident.7 Within 90 days, you'll get your Green Card. But, it won't come if you haven't paid the processing fee.

how to become a green card holder in the US

To become a green card holder in the United States, you must go through several key steps. The overall process includes: someone filing an immigrant petition for you, or you might do it yourself under some circumstances. Once this petition gets the green light and you have a visa available, you can then file either a green card application with USCIS or a visa application with the State Department.

After this, you'll need to go for a biometrics appointment and attend an interview. Finally, you wait for a decision on your application.

How exactly you get a green card and the application process vary a lot. It all depends on your reason for applying - like if you have family in the U.S., have a job here, are a refugee, or fall into a special immigrant category.

In the last fiscal year, the U.S. gave out 4,007 visas for people with family ties. For those with special skills or in certain work positions, like professors or managers, 686 visas were granted. Plus, immigrant investors saw 58 new visas available to them last year.2

The process of getting a green card is intricate. Knowing your situation and what's needed is crucial. By being clear on the steps and supplying the right documents, you could make your journey smoother. This could help you join the many who obtain U.S. permanent residency each year.

in the background are various symbols representing he United States, such as the American flag and the Statue of Liberty.

Required Documentation and Forms

Getting through the green card application forms and all the needed docs is vital for the residency process. The forms and papers you need vary by the type of green card you're applying for.3

Immigrant Petition Forms

The start often means filing an immigrant petition. You might use Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) or Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker).3

Green Card Application Forms

When the immigrant petition is OK'd, you usually file your green card application. This part often uses Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).3

Supporting Documents

With the needed forms, you must also send in different green card supporting documents. These could be things like birth or marriage certificates, work history, and more.8

For instance, those applying based on family need to include photos, ID, and birth certificates with Form I-485.8 Workers might have to give job details and evidence of legal stays.8 There's a list of what each special group must include, like kids coming in alone.8

It's key to have all your green card forms and supporting documents in order. Checking your right to apply and what docs you need saves you time and worry.

Biometrics Appointment and Interview

To get a green card, applicants must visit for a green card biometrics appointment. They submit their fingerprints, photos, and sign some papers.9 All this data is vital for security checks.10 At the appointment, a LiveScan machine takes their info. This step usually takes 15 to 30 minutes.10

Next, after the green card biometrics appointment, they’ll have a face-to-face green card interview. A USCIS officer will talk to the applicant. They will check the info on the application and its documents.11

It's best to go to the ASC as stated in the appointment. But you can change it if needed, like when sick or if you can't get there.10 To change, let them know 12 hours before through the USCIS online platform.9 Not changing ahead of time could lead to problems. Your application might be declined.

If you can’t go because you're very ill, you can ask for a home visit. Follow the 'Notice for People with Disabilities' section on your appointment notice for how to do this.9 They also help if you move or if you're sick on the day of your appointment.9

The notice for your biometrics appointment will tell you what type of check you need. It might mention Codes like Code 1, Code 2, and Code 3.10 Once you've been, the stamped paper you get proves you went. Depending on your green card application type, there might be more steps to take, like another interview.

Being worried about past brushes with the law or issues with your immigration status? It's smart to talk to an immigration lawyer before you go to the biometrics appointment.10 If your fingerprints are unclear or the time for the data processing runs out, you might need to go for a second biometrics appointment.11

has brought along necessary documents and identification. The room is well-lit with fluorescent lighting and there are other individuals in the background waiting for their tu

Biometrics Appointment Key HighlightsAdditional Details
Age requirement for signatureIndividuals 14 years and older must provide a signature on an application, while children under 14 are not required to do so.9
Language assistanceInstructions are provided in multiple languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Creole, French, Korean, Polish, and Portuguese, for those who need language assistance during the ASC appointments.9
Rescheduling biometrics appointmentsRequests to reschedule biometric services appointments must be made at least 12 hours in advance through the USCIS online account.9 Good causes for rescheduling include illness, previous travel arrangements, significant life events, transportation issues, employment constraints, and late or undelivered appointment notifications.10
Homebound biometrics appointmentsIn case of serious ongoing medical conditions preventing attendance, a request for a mobile biometrics/homebound appointment can be made following the instructions in the Notice for People with Disabilities section of the appointment notice.9
Changing addresses and rescheduling due to illnessProvisions are in place for changing addresses and rescheduling appointments due to illness.9

Green Card Application Processing Times

Getting through the green card application is hard and knowing how long it takes is key. The third source suggests applicants make a USCIS Case Status Online account. This way, they get updates on their application’s status, including tracking for when the card ships.

Checking Case Status

Checking in on the application’s status helps people stay up-to-date. This is crucial because the time it takes can vary a lot based on different situations and categories.1213

Addressing Delays and Issues

If there's a hold-up or a problem with the application, it's important to act fast. Contact the USCIS and your local post office right away. Doing so can clear any obstacles and help get your green card on time.

Knowing the time it takes to process a green card and being active in managing the process can really help. By keeping up to date and taking steps to move things along, those seeking permanent residency can make it through the system smoother. This increases their chances of getting a green card in the U.S.1213

Rights and Responsibilities of Green Card Holders

If you hold a U.S. green card, you can live and work in the U.S. forever.14 This is a big deal, but it does come with duties too. Green card holders must meet these obligations.

Permanent Residency Benefits

With a green card, you can live and work in the U.S. as freely as citizens can.14 This includes traveling outside the U.S., getting some benefits, and even becoming a U.S. citizen after some time.14

Maintaining Green Card Status

Your green card is not forever.15 It usually lasts 10 years and needs to be renewed.15 Remember, you must tell USCIS if you move within 10 days using Form AR-11.15

Stay in the U.S. a lot and keep up with your taxes. This way, you won’t lose your green card.15 Getting a re-entry permit before long trips helps.15 Also, young male green card holders need to join the Selective Service System.1514

Knowing and doing what's required keeps your green card safe. This ensures you can keep enjoying its benefits.


This guide looked at how to get a green card in the US. We covered ways like through family, jobs, or special cases. The process includes adjusting status or getting a green card from a US embassy. You may need to file several applications at once.16 It’s also important when you can get a visa and the dates for it. You will need to have a health check and get someone to say they will help support you.16

There are different types of green cards. They include family, job, a chance through a lottery, or for those needing safety. Jobs for very skilled people, regular jobs, and investing are all ways to get one.17Knowing how the green card process works helps you meet its challenges. This way, you can make the most of the chance to become a US resident.

To sum up, we covered how to get a green card from start to finish. This includes figuring out if you qualify, applying, and getting approved. Whether it's through family, work, or special cases, this guide has given you the information you need for your journey to live in the US permanently.18


What are the different categories to apply for a Green Card?

You can apply for a Green Card in several ways. These include family-based and employment-based options. Also, there are special immigrant and refugee/asylee categories.

What is a Green Card holder?

A Green Card holder is a permanent resident of the United States. They have permission to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.

What should I do before starting the Green Card application process?

Before you start, find out if you're eligible and where you are. Your location affects the rules you must follow.

How do I apply for a Green Card based on family sponsorship?

If you're a close family member of a U.S. citizen, you might qualify for a Green Card. This includes spouses, unmarried children under 21, or parents.

How do I apply for a Green Card based on employment?

To apply through a job, you'll need special skills or an advanced degree. Immigrant investors can also apply this way.

How do I apply for a Green Card based on refugee or asylee status?

If you've had asylum for a year, you can apply for a Green Card under refugee or asylee status.

What are the special immigrant categories for a Green Card?

Special immigrant categories cover religious workers and some Afghan or Iraqi nationals. Also, special immigrant juveniles qualify.

Who can file an immigrant petition for me?

Usually, family members or employers file the petition for you. But in some cases, like for special immigrants, you can do it yourself.

What are the different forms required for the Green Card application process?

The forms you need, like Form I-130 or I-140, depend on how you're eligible.

What is the difference between adjustment of status and consular processing?

If you're in the U.S., you can adjust your status. If not, you must go through consular processing outside the U.S.

What are the steps in the Green Card application process?

The steps include filing a petition and then your application, having biometrics taken, attending an interview, and finally getting a decision.

What are the rights and responsibilities of a Green Card holder?

Green Card holders can live and work in the U.S. They can travel freely and access some benefits. But, they must not stay outside the U.S. for too long and renew their card every 10 years.

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