How to Apply for a Green Card?

Updated on 03/18/2023

How to apply for a green card depends on the type of immigration status and circumstances that you are in. There are several different categories of green cards in the United States.  Each category has its eligibility requirements and application process. You’d better have a general picture about it then figure out the best solution to get a green card.

1. What is a green card?

A permanent resident card is commonly known as a green card or Form I-551 (see sample below). It allows a foreigner to live and work in the United States and enter the United States freely, even though they are not a United States citizen. Although some green cards are temporary or conditional, generally the term green card means a permanent resident card.

Green Card
Green Card

2. Family-based green card

Foreigners may be able to achieve lawful permanent residency via their relatives who are either green card holders or United States citizens. Such individuals who may receive a family-based green card include the following:

  • Immediate relative (spouse, minor child, parent) of a U.S. citizen
  • Other family member (adult child, sibling) of a U.S. citizen
  • Family member (spouse, unmarried child) of a lawful permanent resident (LPR)
  • Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen
  • Widow or widower of a U.S. citizen
  • VAWA self-petitioner (means the victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by a U.S. citizen spouse(including ex)/parent/child or a LPR spouse (including ex)/parent)

The first step forms in applying for a family-based green card are either the Form I-130, Petition for an Alien Relative; Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant; or Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e).

After the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves a family-based petition for lawful permanent residency, the intending immigrants can apply for green card through two methods. One is to file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to USCIS (means wait for green card inside the U.S.). Another is through National Visa Center’s consular processing (means wait for green card outside the U.S.).  In most cases, immigrants can’t choose which method to obtain a green card. As such, it is recommended to consult an immigration attorney first before you take any application action.

Not sure if you’re eligible to get a green card through your U.S. citizen or LPR relative? You can free check eligibility through without giving any private information. When you are ready, we can help you prepare an application package reviewed by an immigration lawyer to ensure its success.  Learn more, or get started today!

3. Employment-based green card

An employment-based green card may be appropriate for someone who has specific career qualities that would allow them to get lawful permanent resident status. This type of green card may or may not require a labor certification by the foreign national’s employer in the United States.  Categories of employment-based green card include:

  • EB-1(a) (Alien of Extraordinary Ability)
  • EB-1(b) (Outstanding Professors/Researchers)
  • EB-1(c) (Multinational Manager or Executive)
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver)
  • EB-2 Based on PERM (Advanced Degree/Exceptional Ability)
  • EB-3 Based on PERM (Professionals, skilled workers and other workers)
  • EB-4 (Special Immigrant & Religious Workers)
  • EB-5 (Investor Visa)

The appropriate form to apply for an employment-based green card (except EB-5) is the I-140, Petition for Alien Worker. Extra fee can be paid for premium processing so that USCIS will process the I-140 petition within 15 days. The immigrant petition form for EB-5 is I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor.  Premium processing is not available for EB-5 green card application. 

Labor certification to obtain a green card

To apply for EB-2 (based on PERM) and EB-3employment-based green cards, an employer will need to obtain a labor certification (PERM). The employer, rather than the employee, is responsible for obtaining the labor certification.

Labor certification process is generally performed by the United States Department of Labor. The purpose of the labor certification process is to ensure that there are no U.S. workers (U.S. citizens and permanent residents) who are able, willing, qualified, and available to perform the work to be undertaken by the alien employee and that the employment of the alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

Green card that do not need a labor certification

In order to avoid the labor certification requirement, a foreigner could consider petitioning under an EB-1, first preference, classification. To do so; however, they must prove that they are either a multinational manager or executive; alien of extraordinary ability; or outstanding professor or researcher.

Additionally, alien workers who have earned advanced degrees (U.S. master’s degree or higher) in their career field might qualify under second preference, or EB-2 status, without a labor certification. They may qualify for a National Interest Waiver (NIW) if their proposed work in the United States has substantial merit and national importance.

EB-4 and EB-5 categories of employment-based green cards do not need a labor certification, either.

It is much more complicated to get a green card through employment categories. Schedule a consultation with a skilled immigration attorney at an affordable price!

4. Green card based on asylum or refugee status

There is another type of green card that is made available by the USCIS for humanitarian reasons. A foreigner can apply for this type of green card as either a refugee or an asylee.

How can a refugee apply for a green card?

The difference between a refugee and asylee is that a refugee applies for refugee status while living outside the United States while an asylee applies for asylum status inside the United States.

Actually, a foreigner who is an asylee is also a refugee. A refugee is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as person who is outside their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution and are unable to return to their nation because of their trepidation.

In fact, more than 22,000 refugees enter the United States each year to seek protection from persecution. Refugees may only apply for a green card by filing I-485 form after they have been physically present in the United States for at least one year.

How do you get an asylum green card in the USA?

The process for obtaining a green card through asylum generally begins by submitting a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal. After filing, USCIS will conduct an interview with the asylum applicants.  If USCIS approves their applications, they will be granted asylum status. After at least one-year physical presence in the United States, they can apply for a green card by filing Form I-485 based on their asylum status.

Click here to learn more about how to obtain a green card through I-485 based on refugee or asylum status. Or start the application today!

5. Other green card categories

The United States issues many other types of green cards besides the ones discussed above, including:

  • Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also called green card lottery, which allows aliens born in certain countries to receive green card if they are were selected for a diversity visa in the Department of State’s diversity visa lottery.
  • An alien who are human trafficking victims with T nonimmigrant visa
  • An alien who are crime victims with U nonimmigrant visa
  • An alien who meets the eligibility requirements under Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
  • Cuban natives or citizens and their spouse andchild
  • An alien who is the abused spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen
  • Dependent status under the HRIFA
  • An abused (victim of battery or extreme cruelty) spouse or child under HRIFA
  • Lautenberg parolee
  • An alien is a native or citizen of Vietnam, Kampuchea (Cambodia), or Laos who was paroled into the U.S. on or before Oct. 1, 1997 from Vietnam under the Orderly Departure Program, a refugee camp in East Asia, or a displaced person camp administered by UNHCR in Thailand.
  • American Indian born in Canada
  • Person born in the United States to a foreign diplomat
  • Section 13 (diplomat)
  • Green card registry if an alien has resided continuously in the U.S. since before Jan. 1, 1972.

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