Green Cards Basics

The Green Card Process & Immigration Law

A Green Card is a document issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that recognizes the bearer's status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. LPR status permits you, as a non-citizen, to live and work in the country without special restrictions. As a lawful permanent resident, you may also be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The actual process of obtaining a Green Card is quite complex and may seem overwhelming at first. In this article, we will review some of the basic principles and terminology associated with the Green Card application process. Please note this is not a substitute for seeking legal advice or representation from a qualified immigration attorney.

Do You Qualify for a Green Card?

Normally, a person applying for a green card requires two forms. The first is the Green Card application itself, known as Form I-485, which you must file with USCIS. The second form is an immigrant petition, which in many cases is actually not filed by you, but rather by a person who is sponsoring you for LPR status.

Your sponsor basically certifies that you fall within one or more of the eligibility categories to apply for a Green Card. Some of the more commonly used categories include:

  • Family – You can apply for a Green Card if you are the spouse, minor unmarried child, or parent of a U.S. citizen; you may also be eligible if you are another family member of a U.S. citizen or a person lawfully admitted to the U.S. as the fiancé(e) of child of a fiancé(e) of a citizen.
  • Employment – You can apply for a Green Card if you are considered a “preference immigrant worker,” such as someone who has “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics,” work in a “profession that requires an advanced degree,” or is a skilled worker who holds a job that requires at least 2 years of training or experience.
  • Refugee or Asylum Seeker – You can apply for a Green Card if you were previously granted asylum or admitted as a refugee at least one year prior to your application.
  • Special Immigrant – You can apply for a Green Card if you are a member of a religious organization who has come to the U.S. to work for a religious nonprofit organization, you previously served as an Afghan or Iraqi translator for the U.S. government, work as a member of the media, or are a retired officer or employee (or family member thereof) of NATO or other international organizations.
  • Victims of Abuse, Crime, and Human Trafficking – You can apply for a Green Card if you are an “abused spouse” of a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder, or hold a nonimmigrant visa as either a victim of crime or human trafficking.
  • Miscellaneous – There are a number of additional and special categories of people who can apply for Green Cards, including natives and citizens of Cuba, American Indians born in Canada, and persons born in the United States to foreign diplomats stationed to the country.


If you do fall within an eligible category–and please note, the list above is not complete–then your next step is to determine which application process you need to use for actually seeking a Green Card. There are essentially two different procedures, one for people who are currently in the U.S., and one for those who are not. If you are in the U.S., you need to go through a process known as “adjustment of status” with the USCIS. If you are outside the country, then you go through what is known as “consular processing” with the U.S. Department of State.

How Does the Application Process Work?

USCIS must first approve your immigrant petition after it is filed by the appropriate sponsor. If approved, you can then file your Form I-485 with USCIS if you are seeking an adjustment of status, or apply for a visa with the State Department under the consular process. Keep in mind, there may be limits on the type of visa you need to enter the country.

Once USCIS receives your application, it will schedule you for a “biometric services appointment” at a local support center. At this appointment, USCIS will need to collect your fingerprints, photographs, and a digital signature. Note that in providing your signature, you are effectively attesting that all of the information in your Green Card application is true and correct to the best of your knowledge. If you lie or provide false information, you could be prosecuted for perjury.

Following the biometric services appointment, USCIS will normally schedule an in-person interview. In some cases, USCIS may waive the interview requirement. But generally speaking, you will need to speak with a USCIS officer and answer questions about your application. You may need to clarify certain answers if they were unclear. And if any of the information on your application has changed–for example, you moved to a new address–you should tell the officer during the interview.

After all this, USCIS will issue a decision on your application. USCIS does provide a website that allows you to check the status of your application online. If granted, you will receive a Green Card that typically lasts for 10 years. There are some “conditional” Green Cards that only last two years; these are commonly issued to “conditional permanent residents” who are entering the country for marriage to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity. These Green Cards cannot be renewed, and if you receive one, you will need to file a petition to remove the “conditional” status within 90 days of expiration.

Finally, if your Green Card application is denied, you do have the option to appeal that decision. Normally you need to file what is known as a Form I-290B with the officer who actually denied your application. Your case may then be reviewed by a special appeals office at USCIS or the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Get Advice from an Experienced Immigration Lawyer

Once again, this is only a brief overview of the Green Card application process. Immigration laws remain in a constant state of change, so there may be additional restrictions or procedures in place by the time you are ready to apply for your own Green Card. That is why it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before filing a petition or application.



Footer Add 6