Processes and Procedures for Obtaining a Green Card

green card denotes its holder as a U.S. permanent resident, with rights to work and live in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.

As verification of their status, lawful permanent residents will be issued an identification card- which is literally green- by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

They must keep this card on them at all times. Other benefits afforded to those with a green card include:

  • The right of residency;
  • The right to purchase a home or property;
  • The right to travel freely between the United States and your country of origin without a special visa;
  • The right to work without any further work visa or authorization;
  • The right to own and operate your own business or company;
  • The right to study;
  • The right to sponsor family members for U.S. immigrant visas;
  • The right to apply for a Social Security card and a state-issued driver’s license;
  • The right to be protected by U.S. federal laws and those of your state and local jurisdictions;
  • The right to apply for citizenship after 5 years of residency in the United States.

As a green card holder, you will have many of the same rights as American citizens, while maintaining citizenship of your native country. Green card holders may not, however, vote in U.S. elections. They are also not allowed to stay outside the U.S. for an infinite amount of time, otherwise they must surrender their residency and will not be allowed to re-enter the United States. After a trip abroad, you will be able to use your green card to re-enter the United States only if you have been out of the country for less than 1 year. Otherwise, you will be required to secure a re-entry permit. Additionally, green card holders must make USCIS aware of any changes in their status, including address changes and any possible role they may have had in any criminal or terrorist acts.

As a permanent resident, you are afforded certain rights, however, you must also fulfill several responsibilities. Those responsibilities include:

  • Obeying U.S. federal laws and those of your state and locality;
  • Filing income tax returns and reporting your income to the Internal Revenue Service and state tax authorities;
  • Supporting the democratic form of government and not altering it through any illegal means;
  • Registering for Selective Service (for males ages 18-25).

For an individual immigrating to the United States permanently, lawful permanent residence is typically the first mandatory step. Green card processing is also often the first step for those seeking to become a United States citizen. In some cases, individuals may become lawful permanent residents following a petition, or sponsorship, by a spouse, another close family member, or employer. Some individuals are granted refugee status or asylum. While others gain lawful permanent residency by winning the ethnic diversity visa lottery or one of other various ways.

Green card holders must then typically wait a number of years before applying for U.S. citizenship through a process known as “naturalization.” Other methods exist whereby individuals can become U.S. citizens, including birth in the United States, being born overseas to a parent who is a U.S. citizen, and living in the United States as a minor when a parent naturalizes. Essentially, enlisting in the United States military is the only way to gain U.S. citizenship without first holding a form of U.S. immigration status.

Informational Video — Obtaining a Green Card

Who is Eligible to Apply for a Green Card?

Before deciding to apply for a green card, you must first determine if you meet the requirements for permanent residence in the United States. Those requirements are as follows:

1. Meeting eligibility for one of the immigrant categories as outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Those categories are:

– Green card via a relative;
– Green card via employment;
– Green card as a refugee or via asylum status;
– Other means of obtaining a green card.

Individuals wishing to become permanent residents through any of these four main immigrant categories, will typically be ranked within these categories according to a preference system.

2. Having a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (there are some exceptions);

3. Having an immediately available immigrant visa- visas for immediate family members are always available. Those individuals in preference categories will have availability determined by priority date, the individual’s preference category, and the country to which the visa will be charged;

4. Being admissible to the United States- criminal, security-related, health-related reasons and other factors must be considered by USCIS.

Green Card via Family

Many individuals obtain their permanent resident status through family members. Immediate family members top the list in regards to qualifying for green cards and receiving them quickly. There is no annual limit on the number of visas that can be issued in this category. Immediate family members include spouses of U.S. citizens, as well as recent widows and widowers of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens, and unwed children of U.S. citizens who are under the age of 21. Stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens are also considered immediate relatives if the marriage that formed the stepparent/stepchild relationship happened before the child’s 18th birthday. Adopted children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents qualify as immediate relatives if the adoption took place prior to the child’s 16th birthday, however, further conditions must also be met for adopted children. In order to apply for their parents, U.S. citizens are required to be at least 21 years of age.

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Other family members of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who qualify for green cards but may have a waiting period, fall into one of four preference categories. First preference will be given to unwed adults 21 of age and older, who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. Second preference is divided into two subcategories; F2A and F2B. F2A includes spouses and unwed children of green card holders, if the child is less than 21 years of age. F2B includes unwed children age 21 years and older of green card holders. Married people of any age who have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen will be given third preference. And finally, fourth preference is afforded to siblings of U.S. citizens if the citizen is 21 years of age or older.

Waiting times are dependent on many factors, including which category of visa you are applying for, your country of origin, the number of other people from your country requesting the same type of visa, and the workload of the immigration agencies. Only 480,000 of these individuals will receive green cards in any given year, and they are granted on a first come-first served basis. Therefore, it is advantageous for the U.S. citizen or permanent resident to submit a visa petition sooner, rather than later. Only then will the immigrant be able to apply for a green card.

Green Card via Employment

There are several ways to immigrate founded on employment or the offer of employment. If you are offered permanent employment in the U.S., you could be eligible to apply for a Green Card. Your potential employer will need to acquire a labor certification prior to filing a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf.

In all, 140,000 green cards are available annually to individuals whose job skills are sought after in the U.S. market. Before hiring an immigrant, the potential employer must show that it has actively recruited for the position in question and has been unable to find any U.S. worker who is qualified for the position and willing to accept it. This is considered a “preference category” due to the yearly limits, with applicants commonly waiting years for a green card to be made available.

Employment first preference is offered to those individuals deemed to have extraordinary ability in the arts, the sciences, business, education, or athletics. This subcategory includes researchers, professors, and executives and managers of multinational companies. Employment second preference is afforded to professionals possessing advanced degrees or demonstrating exceptional ability. Other professionals and skilled or unskilled workers fall under the employment third preference subcategory. Employment fourth preference is given to religious workers, miscellaneous categories of workers, and other “special immigrants.” You also may be able to obtain a green card through investment. This method is the employment fifth preference and allows investors and entrepreneurs who are helping to fund a business venture that creates new jobs in the U.S. apply for permanent residence. Investors must contribute $1 million toward a U.S. business, or $500,000 if the business is located in an economically depressed area.

Through some special immigrant categories, you may be eligible to file for yourself, or “self-petition.” “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” and specific individuals awarded a National Interest Waiver may fall into this category. Additionally, minors under the supervision of a juvenile court may qualify as “special immigrants.” More information about this category can be found under EB-4 Visa for Special Immigrants.

Special categories of jobs also offer the opportunity to apply for a Green Card. Based on current or past employment, there are a myriad of specialized jobs that might qualify you. These jobs include, but are not limited to:

  • Afghan/Iraqi Translator;
  • Iraqi Who Gave Assistance to U.S. Government;
  • International Broadcaster;
  • Employment with an International Organization;
  • NATO-6 Nonimmigrant;
  • Panama Canal Employee;
  • Physician National Interest Waiver.

The conditions of these jobs are fully outlined in Section 101(a)(27) of the immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Green Card via Refugee or Asylee Status

The United States government provides refuge to individuals who fear, or have endured persecution in their home country. Individuals outside the U.S. would apply to be a refugee; individuals inside the U.S. or at the border would make an application for asylum. As a refugee or asylee, you are eligible to apply for a green card. Individuals who are allowed into the United States as either a refugee or as an eligible family member of an asylee may apply for permanent residence one year from the date of their entry into the U.S. Those individuals who have been granted asylum in the United States may apply for permanent residence one year following the date they were granted asylum.

Refugees are mandated by law to apply for permanent resident status one year after being allowed in the United States. Although it could be in their best interest to do so, asylees are not required to apply for permanent resident status following one year of asylum in the U.S.

Other Means of Obtaining a Green Card

Although, the most common way an immigrant comes to live in the United States permanently is by way of a family member’s sponsorship, employment, or potential employment, other ways exist to gain legal permanent residence. One such method includes the green card lottery or the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. At present, there are 50,000 of these green cards offered to people from countries who have sent the fewest number of immigrants to the United States in recent years.

A remedy called “cancellation of removal” allows certain individuals who have lived in the United States unlawfully for longer than ten years to request permanent residence as a defense in immigration court proceedings. To qualify, your spouse, parent, or children must be U.S. citizens and you must be able to show that they would face “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” without your presence. If you feel that you qualify, consult an attorney. Contacting the USCIS could result in your immediate deportation.

Green Card Processes and Procedures

There are several green card categories- each with its own respective procedures and specific steps to follow. You may apply for your green card while you are living in the country or out of the United States. A green card application made while an immigrant is living in the United States are referred to as an “adjustment of status.” An application made while the immigrant is living outside of the United States is referred to as “consular processing.”

Adjustment of Status

An individual is permitted to change their immigration status from a temporary status of nonimmigrant or parolee to a permanent status of immigrant while they are living in the United States. If the applicant can satisfy all the necessary requirements for a green card (permanent residence) and if the individual was reviewed and granted admittance, or paroled, into the U.S. the immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows for this status change. This change in status is commonly referred to as “adjustment of status.”

To initiate the adjustment of status process, you must first determine if you belong to one of the specific immigrant categories. The remaining steps for an adjustment of status include:

  • Filing the immigration petition;
  • Checking visa availability;
  • Filing Form I-485, Application to register Permanent Residency or Adjust Status;
  • Attending your Application Support Center appointment;
  • Attending your interview (if applicable);
  • Receiving your final decision in the mail.

In the event your application for adjustment of status is denied, your decision notice will inform you about your rights to appeal. If your decision can be appealed- not every decision can be- you must file the appeal within 30 days of service of the decision.

Consular Processing

This term refers to the process by which an individual wishing to immigrate to the United States visits a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country to complete the application for a green card. This is essentially “step two” in the process of applying for a green card. “Step one” most likely was either the immigrant’s family member obtaining an approved visa petition from USCIS on the immigrant’s behalf, a prospective employer obtaining labor certification along with an approved visa petition on the immigrant’s behalf, or selection in the immigration diversity lottery. The basic steps involved in consular processing include:

  • Determining your basis to immigrate;
  • Filing the immigration petition- or most likely having it filed on your behalf;
  • Waiting for the decision on your petition;
  • Waiting for notification from the National Visa Center;
  • Attending your appointment;
  • Notifying the National Visa Center of any changes in your personal situation;
  • Receiving your “Visa Packet”;
  • Receiving your green card.

Once you are authorized to live and work in the United States, you will be issued a Permanent Resident Card, or your green card. All permanent residents 18 years of age and older must have their green card on their person at all times.

How Much Does a Green Card Cost?

The exact fees will vary depending on the type of green card you are applying for (i.e. family-based, job-based, etc.), and on whether you are using the adjustment of status process or the consular process. Incidental costs for medical exams, photocopying, and the like should also be anticipated.

Renewing or Replacing Your Green Card

If you hold a permanent resident card that is valid for 10 years, and it has expired or will expire within the next 6 months, you need to renew your green card. You can initiate the renewal process online by filing the Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. You may also complete the paper version of the Form I-90 and return it by mail.

If your green card expires or will expire within 6 months and you are abroad, you are obligated to renew your card immediately upon returning to the U.S., provided your arrival date is within one year of your departing the U.S. Notify the nearest USCIS office, U.S. Consulate, or U.S. port of entry prior to filing Form I-90 for renewal of your green card. If your green card has been misplaced, stolen, or destroyed, you should file Form I-90.

If you are a permanent resident in possession of a Form I-551 that is valid for 10 years, you must renew your green card if it has expired or will expire in the next 6 months. The exception to this is for conditional residents in possession of a two-year green card whose status is expiring. Conditional residents must complete Form I-751, Petitions to Remove the Conditions on Residence within 90 days of the expiration of the card or lose their permanent resident status. Those conditions can be family-based or investor/entrepreneur-based. A conditional card cannot be renewed.

If you are in possession of any previous version of the alien registration card including, USCIS Form AR-3, Form AR-103 or Form I-151, you must have it replaced with a current green card.
Although the price may vary for different reasons, typically the cost to have your green card renewed or replaced is $450, broken down into a $365 application fee and an $85 biometric fee.

If USCIS denies your application for renewing your green card, you will be notified by letter stating the reason for denial. You cannot appeal a negative decision, however, it is within your rights to file a motion with the same office that made the negative decision to reopen or reconsider. If you do so, you are obligated to provide new facts and include supporting documentary evidence.

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