What is a Green Card?

A permanent resident card, better known as a Green Card, is proof of authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.   In other words, a Green Card holder is a permanent resident of the country. You can become a permanent resident several different ways.  If you would like to become a permanent resident, our attorneys are available to assist you throughout the process.  This page provides some basic information.  For more info, see the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

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How do I get a Green Card?

What are the eligibility requirements for permanent residence in the U.S.?

Generally, you must:

  • Be eligible for one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available
  • Be admissible to the United States


What are the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act?

  • Family
    • Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen
      • Highest immigration priority under this category
      • Unlimited number of visas available (NO WAIT IN LINE FOR AN AVAILABLE VISA NUMBER!)
      • Eligible Relatives Include:
        • Parents of U.S. citizens if U.S. citizen is older than age of 21
        • Unmarried sons and daughters who are younger than 21 years old
        • Spouse of U.S. citizen
    • Family member of a U.S. citizen fitting into a preference category
      • Limited number of visas available under this category (usually a waiting list)
      • Eligible Relatives Include:
        • First Preference: Unmarried children older than age of 21
        • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and their minor children
        • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizen petitioner who is older than age of 21
    • Family member of a Green Card holder
      • Limited number of relatives may immigrate under these categories each year (generally a waiting period)
      • If your family relationship qualifies you as an eligible relative of a U.S. permanent resident, then you are in what is called a “family preference category”
      • Eligible Relatives Include:
        • Second Preference A: Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried children (younger than the age of 21) of permanent residents
        • Second Preference B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old or older) of permanent residents
      • How do I get a Green Card as a relative of a permanent resident while inside the U.S.?
        • Two Steps:
          • Step One
            • Permanent resident relative must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and it must be approved.
            • Must wait for your priority date (the date when the Form I-130 is properly filed, with correct fee and signature, on your behalf by your U.S. permanent resident relative) in your immigrant visa category to become current.
          • Step Two
            • Once the priority date in your visa category is current, you may file for adjustment of status with Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
            • Adjustment of status is the process you go through to become a permanent resident.
      • How do I get a Green Card as a relative of a permanent resident while outside the U.S.?
        • Through consular processing: Consular processing is when USCIS works with the U.S. Department of State to issue a visa on an approved Form I-130 petition when a visa is available.
        • In this process, the Department of State will issue a visa.
        • If approved, you may then travel on the visa and will officially become a permanent resident when admitted at a U.S. port of entry.
      • What are some things to keep in mind?
        • If you are turning 21 years old and are an unmarried child of a permanent resident:
          • Turning 21 years of age may significantly delay the process of becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa. 
          • You will no longer qualify as an “Unmarried Child of a Lawful Permanent Resident” (F2A) and will convert to the category of an “Unmarried Son or Daughter of a Lawful Permanent Resident (F2B)."
          • The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA)may allow you to retain the classification of “child” even if you have reached age 21.
        • If you are the unmarried son or daughter of a permanent resident, and you get married prior to becoming a permanent resident:
          • You no longer qualify for permanent residence through your permanent resident family member.
          • There is no visa category for a married child of a permanent resident.
          • You must notify USCIS of any change in your marital status after Form I-130 has been filed for you and prior to becoming a permanent resident or obtaining an immigrant visa.
        • If the permanent resident relative that petitioned for you becomes a U.S. Citizen:
          • Your preference category would change and a visa may be available sooner because you would now be getting a green card as a relative of a U.S. citizen.
    • Member of a special family category
      • Limited to individuals who meet particular qualifications and/or apply during certain time frames.
      • Categories Include:
        • Battered Spouse, Child, and Parents (VAWA)
          • Allows certain spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens and certain spouses and children of permanent residents to file a petition for themselves, without the abuser's knowledge.
        • K Nonimmigrant
          • For fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their accompanying minor children (K-1 and K-2 visas).
          • U.S. citizen fiancé(e)s file for their intended spouse Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).
        • Person Born to a Foreign Diplomat in the United States
        • V Nonimmigrant
          • Allows the spouse or child of a permanent resident to live and work in the United States while waiting to obtain immigrant status.
          • To qualify for a V visa:
            • The spouse or child of the permanent resident needs a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, filed on their behalf on or before December 21, 2000 by the permanent resident relative.
            • The spouse or child also must have been waiting for at least 3 years after the form was filed for their immigrant status—either because a visa number was not available or because USCIS had not yet adjudicated the Form I-130 or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
            • In most cases, V nonimmigrants will eventually adjust status as the spouse or child of a permanent resident when a visa number becomes available and the Form I-130 and Form I-485 have been adjudicated. 
        • Widow(er) of a U.S. Citizen
          • Widows or widowers who were married to U.S. citizens at the time of the citizen’s death may apply for a green card.
          • Must prove that you were legally married to the citizen, and that you entered the marriage in good faith, and not solely to obtain an immigration benefit. 
  • Employment
    • First Preference:
      • Priority Workers, including aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers
        • Extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics with achievements that must be recognized in your field through extensive documentation
          • Must meet 3 of 10 criteria or provide evidence of a one-time achievement such as a Pulitzer, Oscar, or Olympic medal
          • May petition for yourself by filing a Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker
          • No offer of employment is required
        • Outstanding professors and researchers
          • For those with outstanding achievements and at least three years teaching or research in a particular academic field
          • Must provide at least two examples of documentary evidence
          • Employer must file Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker
        • Multinational manager or executive
          • Must have been employed outside the United States in the 3 years preceding the petition for at least 1 year by a firm or corporation, AND must be seeking to enter the United States to continue service to that firm or organization.
          • Employment must have been outside the United States in a managerial or executive capacity and with the same employer, an affiliate, or a subsidiary of the employer.
          • Petitioning employer must be a U.S. employer who has been doing business for at least 1 year as an affiliate, a subsidiary, or as the same corporation or other legal entity that employed you abroad.
          • Employer must file Form 1-140, Petition for Alien Worker.
    • Second Preference:
      • Employer must file Form I-140
      • Members of professions holding an advanced degree or persons of exceptional ability (including individuals seeking a National Interest Waiver)
        • Members of professions holding an advanced degree
          • The job you apply for must require an advanced degree and you must possess such a degree or its equivalent (a baccalaureate degree plus 5 years progressive work experience in the field).
          • For evidence, provide documentation such as:
            • An official academic record showing that you have a U.S. advanced degree or a foreign equivalent degree, OR
            • An official academic record showing that you have a U.S. baccalaureate degree or a foreign equivalent degree and letters from current or former employers showing that you have at least 5 years of progressive post-baccalaureate work experience in the specialty.
        • Persons of exceptional ability
          • Must be able to show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business.
          • Exceptional ability “means a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.”
          • Must meet at least 3 criteria
        • Individuals seeking a natural interest waiver
          • Jobs that qualify for a national interest waiver are not defined by statute but usually granted to those who have exceptional ability and whose employment in the United States would greatly benefit the nation.
          • Those seeking a national interest waiver may self-petition (they do not need an employer to sponsor them) and may file their labor certification directly with USCIS along with their Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker.
          • Must meet same criteria as persons of exceptional ability and demonstrate it is in the national interest to work permanently in the U.S.
    • Third Preference:
      • Employer (petitioner) must file a Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker.
      • As part of the application process, employer must be able to demonstrate an ability to pay the offered wage as of your visa priority date
        • Employer may use an annual report, federal income tax return, or audited financial statement to demonstrate an ability to pay your wage
      • Skilled workers, professionals and other qualified workers
        • Skilled workers
          • Must be able to demonstrate at least 2 years of job experience or training (not temporary or seasonal)
          • Must be performing work for which qualified workers are not available in the United States
          • Requires labor certification AND a permanent, full-time job offer
        • Professionals
          • Must be able to demonstrate that you possess a U.S. baccalaureate degree or foreign degree equivalent, and that a baccalaureate degree is the normal requirement for entry into the occupation
            • Education and experience may not be substituted for a baccalaureate degree
          • Must be performing work for which qualified workers are not available in the United States
          • Requires labor certification AND a permanent, full-time job offer
        • Unskilled/Other qualified workers
          • Must be able, at the time the petition is filed on your behalf, to perform unskilled labor (requiring less than 2 years training or experience) that isn't of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which qualified workers are not available in the United States.
          • Requires labor certification AND a permanent, full-time job offer
    • Fourth Preference: Certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations
      • Special Immigrants include:
        • Religious Workers
        • Broadcasters
        • Iraqi/Afghan Translators
        • Iraqis Who Have Assisted the United States
        • International Organization Employees
        • Physicians
        • Armed Forces Members
        • Panama Canal Zone Employees
        • Retired NATO-6 employees
        • Spouses and Children of Deceased NATO-6 employees
      • Employer must file a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
      • Certain situations where the employee may self-petition.
    • Fifth Preference: Employment creation immigrants (investors or entrepreneurs)
      • Entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if:
        • (1) Investment in a new commercial enterprise in the United States; AND 
          • What are the investment requirements?
            • Minimum qualifying investment of:
              • $1 million generally, or
              • $500,000 within a Targeted Employment Area:
                • An area that, at the time of investment, is a rural area or an area experiencing unemployment of at least 150 percent of the national average rate.
            • Capital means cash, equipment, inventory, other tangible property, cash equivalents and indebtedness secured by assets owned by the alien entrepreneur, provided that the alien entrepreneur is personally and primarily liable and that the assets of the new commercial enterprise upon which the petition is based are not used to secure any of the indebtedness.
            • All capital shall be valued at fair-market value in United States dollars.
            • Assets acquired, directly or indirectly, by unlawful means (such as criminal activities) shall not be considered capital for the purposes of section 203(b)(5) of the Act.
            • Investment capital cannot be borrowed.
          • What is a new commercial enterprise?
            • A commercial enterprise is any for-profit activity formed for the ongoing conduct of lawful business that was:
              • Established after Nov. 29, 1990, OR
              • Established on or before Nov. 29, 1990, that is:
                • 1. Purchased and the existing business is restructured or reorganized in such a way that a new commercial enterprise results, or
                • 2. Expanded through the investment so that a 40-percent increase in the net worth or number of employees occurs
        • (2) Plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
          • Must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within two years (or under certain circumstances, within a reasonable time after the two-year period) of the immigrant investor’s admission to the United States as a Conditional Permanent Resident.
            • Create or preserve either direct or indirect jobs:
              • Direct jobs are actual identifiable jobs for qualified employees located within the commercial enterprise into which the EB-5 investor has directly invested his or her capital.
              • Indirect jobs are those jobs shown to have been created collaterally or as a result of capital invested in a commercial enterprise affiliated with a regional center by an EB-5 investor.
                • A foreign investor may only use the indirect job calculation if affiliated with a regional center.
              • Investors may only be credited with preserving jobs in a troubled business.
                • A troubled business is an enterprise that has been in existence for at least two years and has incurred a net loss during the 12- or 24-month period prior to the priority date on the immigrant investor’s Form I-526.
                  • The loss for this period must be at least 20 percent of the troubled business’ net worth prior to the loss.
                  • For purposes of determining whether the troubled business has been in existence for two years, successors in interest to the troubled business will be deemed to have been in existence for the same period of time as the business they succeeded.
          • Who is considered a qualified employee?
            • A qualified employee is a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or other immigrant authorized to work in the United States.
            • The individual may be a conditional resident, an asylee, a refugee, or a person residing in the United States under suspension of deportation.
            • Does not include the immigrant investor; his or her spouse, sons, or daughters; or any foreign national in any nonimmigrant status (such as an H-1B visa holder) or who is not authorized to work in the United States.
          • How is full-time employment defined?
            • Full-time employment means employment of a qualifying employee by the new commercial enterprise in a position that requires a minimum of 35 working hours per week.
            • In the case of the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, "full-time employment" also means employment of a qualifying employee in a position that has been created indirectly from investments associated with the Pilot Program.
            • A job-sharing arrangement whereby two or more qualifying employees share a full-time position will count as full-time employment provided the hourly requirement per week is met.
              • Does not include combinations of part-time positions or full-time equivalents even if, when combined, the positions meet the hourly requirement per week.
              • The position must be permanent, full-time and constant.
              • The two qualified employees sharing the job must be permanent and share the associated benefits normally related to any permanent, full-time position, including payment of both workman’s compensation and unemployment premiums for the position by the employer.
  • Refugee or Asylee Status
    • If you were admitted to the United States as a refugee or the qualifying spouse or child of a refugee, you MUST apply for permanent residence (a green card) 1 year after your entry into the United States in this status.
    • If you were granted asylum in the United States or are a qualifying spouse or child of an asylee, you MAY apply for permanent residence 1 year after the grant of your asylum status.
  • Other Ways
    • A number of special immigrant programs are limited to individuals meeting particular qualifications and/or applying during certain time frames.


What do I have to do to keep my Green Card?

  • If you are 18 or older, you are required to have your Green Card in your possession at all times.
  • Don't commit any actions that would make you removable; obey all laws.
  • File your tax returns and report all income.
  • If you are male between 18 and 25, you must register with the selective service.
  • Don't remain outside the U.S. for an extended period of time (typically one year or longer) without obtaining a re-entry permit before leaving or a returning resident visa while abroad
  • If you are a conditional resident, file a petition to remove conditions (Form I-751, or I-829 for EB-5) 90 days before your Green Card expires.