A U.S. green card, also known as a permanent resident card, serves as proof as of an individual's lawful, permanent residence in the US and. Green cards are issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and give the holders the right to live and work in the US, and leave the country for business or vacation. A green card is not the same as U.S. citizenship, but it is a critical step on the path to citizenship (after having yours for four years and nine months you can apply to be a naturalized citizen of the US). There are several ways to apply for a green card, so it's important to understand all of your options before you apply.
Requirements to Get a Green Card
Most people will qualify for green card eligibility on the basis of employment, family relationships, or meeting the criteria for the green card lottery system. Check your eligibility for one all of these categories at the USCIS Web site.
Obtaining employer sponsorship for your green card application is one of the more complex green card application processes. First, you'll need to obtain a job offer from a U.S. company who is willing to sponsor your green application. While most of the paperwork will fall to you to complete, there are points during the process where you'll need the employer's signatures and cooperation in providing additional documentation relating to your employment.
There are three steps that comprise employer sponsorship of your green card: the Labor Certification Application, the Immigrant Petition and the Adjustment of Status. The estimate timeframe to complete all three steps in this green card sponsorship process is approximately two years. However, these applications are processed by region so timeframes may be much longer in areas like California or Texas where the immigrant population is high. The Adjustment of Status typically takes the longest of the three applications, but you can begin working after you complete the Labor Certification Application and Immigrant Petition.
If your Labor Certification Application is denied, the green application process ends and you'll need to prove your eligibility for another green card category and begin again. If it's approved, the Immigration Petition is then completed and filed with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. Once the Immigration Petition is approved, you can apply for immediate authorization for work and travel. Finally, you'll submit your application for Adjustment of Status along with the two previous approvals to secure your status as a permanent U.S. resident. In other words, you'll get your green card.
Family, Fiance and Spouse Sponsorship
Family, fiance and spouse sponsorships for green card applications often take less time to process than employer sponsorships, but they aren't without their own difficulties. You are most commonly eligible to apply for your green card in this way if you are:
- The spouse or fiance of a U.S. citizen
- Widow or widower of a U.S. citizen who has died in the last two years, but you must have been married to your spouse for two or more years and not have remarried since their death.
- A child of a U.S. citizen who is under the age of 21 and unmarried
- The parent of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older
The process for these green card sponsorships begins with your sponsor filing a Petition for Alien Relative that proves your eligibility for a green card. While other family member categories are technically able to sponsor green card applications, they are subject to more strict criteria as well as limits on the total number of green cards approved each year for their category and issued each year to immigrants from a single country.
Once your sponsor has filed the Petition for Alien Relative, you'll wait for INS to review your case and make their determination about the validity of your relationship to your sponsor. If the INS approves your case, the final step in obtaining your green card is filing an Application for Status as a Permanent Resident along with your approved Petition for Alien Relative.
Green Card Lottery
If you don't have either an employer or family member who can sponsor your green card application, you can participate in the green card lottery, the official name of which is the Diversity Immigration Visa Program. The green card lottery provides up to 55,000 people annually with the opportunity to obtain a green card by way of a random drawing. Qualified applicants do not have to be living in the US already to apply; if you qualify, you can submit your application while still living in your native country.
In order to qualify for this the green card lottery you must meet two basic criteria: You must be immigrating from a qualifying country; qualifying countries have low rates of immigration to the US and you must have your country's equivalent of a high school diploma or two years of work experience in an approved occupation.
Current, detailed information about eligible countries and approved occupations can be found at the U.S. Program of DV Lottery.
If you're eligible for the green card lottery, you'll complete your application online and then you'll wait. If you're one of the winners drawn, you'll receive your green card quickly. If you're not, you can sign up to have your application reentered into the drawing automatically for a nominal fee. Visit the U.S. Program of DV Lottery to take an eligibility test and/or register for the next lottery.