The Green Card Process

"Green card" is a colloquial term for the identification card that is issued to an alien in the U.S. when they become a Lawful Permanent Resident. The card that's issued, which the immigrant can use as proof of their resident status, is informally called the "green card" (even though it's not green).

LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

A lawful permanent resident is a person who is not a U.S. citizen, but is authorized to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely. A lawful permanent resident has many of the same rights as a U.S. citizen. For example, they can apply for most jobs in the private sector, they can enlist in the military, and they are required to pay state and federal taxes. However, they are unable to vote, ineligible to serve on juries, cannot hold public office, and are not eligible for any government job for which U.S. citizenship is a requirement.

However, becoming a lawful permanent resident can be a major step towards becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. So, it's not surprising that lawful permanent residence is a coveted position for people who are in the U.S. on temporary visas, and wish to make the U.S. their home.  Read more


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How to Become a Lawful Permanent Resident

The process of becoming a lawful permanent resident is usually expensive and time-consuming, sometimes taking years and costing thousands of dollars.

You can become eligible for a green card through family, employment, or by falling into a few narrow, special categories. Immediate relatives (children, spouses, etc.) of U.S. citizens are usually given the highest priority when applying for a green card.  You can also apply for a green card if you are employed in the U.S., or have a job offer from a U.S. employer, and if your employer is willing and able to sponsor you for a green card.

If you are in the United States as a refugee or asylum seeker, and you have been granted refugee status, you are able (and, in most cases, required) to apply for a green card (permanent resident status) one year after being admitted to the United States.

If you meet any of these criteria for eligibility, the next step is to file an immigrant petition, officially known as Form I-140. You then must wait for a visa to become available. For immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, a visa is always available. If you fall into any other category (more distant relation to a U.S. citizen, employment, etc.) of availability, the availability of a visa will depend on a few factors, such as your priority date, and your country of citizenship.  Your priority date is based on the date you filed your immigrant position, and will hold your place in line for an immigrant visa.

When a visa becomes available for you, you must file form I-485, an application to register permanent residence or adjust status. Once this is in order, your application and all accompanying documents will be forwarded to the Department of State, and you will be issued a visa.

If, based on what you've read, you believe that you may be eligible for a green card, you should not rely solely on the information here. It is intended to serve only as an introduction. You should, however, speak with a qualified immigration attorney. Usually, an immigration attorney will be able to assess your eligibility for a green card fairly quickly. If you are ineligible, your lawyer can advise you on when and how you can become eligible. If you are already eligible, they can guide you through the process, ensuring that it goes as smoothly as possible.


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