A green card is an immigration document which permits an individual to reside within the United States. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees green cards. A green card provides physical proof that the individual is a lawful permanent resident who is permitted to reside and work in the United States.

A permanent resident, or an individual with a green card, is an individual who has been granted the right to remain in the United States permanently. Lawful permanent residence status allows an individual to live and work in the United States, as noted above. It is important to note, however, that a permanent resident is not a United States citizen and, therefore, does not enjoy the same privileges as a United States citizen, including the right to vote in elections.

An individual can qualify for a green card in one of several categories. Each category, however, has a limit, or quota, on the number of green cards that are issued for individuals who fall into that category. Green card categories include:

  • An immediate family member visa;
  • A marriage visa;
  • A work visa; and
  • A long term illegal resident.

Where Can I Get a Green Card Application?

A green card application can be obtained online at the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigraiton Services. It is free to download this application.

How Much Does it Cost to Apply for a Green Card?

Although obtaining a green card application is free, there are filing fees which are associated with each type of green card petition. It is important to note that an application is not considered unless and until all filing fees are paid. These filing fees are subject to change at any time.

The main green card application form is Form I-485. This form is called the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. 

The filing fee for the Form I-485 is $985. If any biometric data is required, there is an additional $85 fee, which brings the total fee for this form to $1,070.

Other filing fees for green card petitions include:

  • Form I-698, the Petition to Change Status from Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident has a $1,020 filing fee;
  • Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative, has a $420 filing fee;
  • Form I-129F, the Petition for Alien Fiancé, has a $340 filing fee; and
  • Form I-90, the Petition to Replace Green Card, has a $365 filing fee.

Fee waivers may be available in certain cases. Form I-912, the Request for Fee Waiver, is available in certain situations for an individual’s green card application.

What are Some Things to Keep in Mind When Applying for a Green Card?

There are specific instructions which are provided for the green card application process by the USCIS. The application process may be complicated. Discussed in the following section are a handful of items to keep in mind during an individual’s green card application process.

There are also other considerations to be mindful of when filling out an application for a green card. An individual that is applying for a green card is required to meet three basic requirements, which include:

  • Having a U.S. citizen petition the individual, which may be an employer or relative;
  • Filing a green card application at a United States consular office or embassy; and
  • Meeting all the requirements for admissibility.

After these three basic requirements are met, the individual will likely have several subsequent steps to their application process. These steps may include interviews or submitting additional information. 

Many green card applicants are required to provide additional supplemental documentation to their applications, which may include:

  • A valid passport;
  • Photographs;
  • A birth certificate;
  • Marriage documents;
  • Divorce documents, if applicable; 
  • Proof of income; or
  • Medical exam reports.

It is important to note that if an individual does not fall into a preferred category, there are likely a limited number of green cards which are available in a given year. Due to this issue, obtaining a green card can, in some cases, be an extremely long process. In some cases, it may take up to ten years or more for an individual who does not fall into the highest preference categories to obtain a green card.

The number of visas which can be obtained is also limited per each country. Therefore, even if a green card applicant does qualify, they may be required to wait until the following year to apply if their country has reached the maximum number of visa applicants for that year.

What Should You Do When Applying for a Green Card?

There are several important things to keep in mind when an individual is applying for a green card which will help the process go more smoothly for the applicant. These include:

  • Follow the instructions on the USCIS forms exactly and completely. Failure to fill out all of the information requested on the forms may result in a denial of the application or costly delays in processing;
  • Submit any and all additional documents that are required along with the application. In general, USCIS will not process applications if documents are not provided;
  • Ask for an interpreter if one is necessary. The majority of immigration offices provide interpreters, but, just in case, an individual may bring one if one will be needed;
  • Follow any and all instructions regarding photograph requirements. Applications may be delayed if these specifications are not met; 
  • Ask any and all questions;
  • Hire an attorney. This is essential for an applicant who:
    • Has a prior criminal record;
    • Has previously been deported;
    • Has previously been denied entry into the U.S.;
    • Overstayed a visa; or
    • Entered the country illegally;
  • Disclose to the lawyer any and all information related to:
    • Any and all misrepresentations that were made on a previous green card application. Failure to do so may result in an accusation of green card fraud; and
    • Any other misrepresentations that were provided such as details regarding housing or employment.

What Should I Not Do When Applying for a Green Card?

There are several issues to remember that an individual should not do when applying for a green card. These include:

  • Breaking the law, because this is the easiest and most likely way to have an individual’s application denied. In addition, certain crimes are grounds for deportation;
  • Leaving the United States. It is essential to limit travel outside the U.S. to periods of less than one year;
  • Falsifying information on any immigration forms or during any communications with immigration officers;
  • Leaving forms blank. The best practice is to write “N/A,” or not applicable, if necessary, and supply all information as completely and accurately as possible’; and
  • Charging an individual for legal advice or engaging in other activity that requires a license. It is illegal to practice certain professions, which includes law, without a valid license. 

How has COVID-19 Affected the Green Card Application Process?

It is important to note that COVID-19 has had an effect on the immigration process and the green card application process. USCIS offices may be operating at a reduced staff and application processing times may be delayed. 

There are travelers from many countries that are prohibited from entering the United States. If an individual already has a green card, they will be permitted to enter. If they are still in the application phase, however, they may not be.

In addition, the green card application requires an in-person interview phase. This phase will be slowly reintroduced as the country returns to normal operations. It is important to contact the office and determine what their current operations are. 

If an individual is overseas and is applying for a green card, it is important to check with the consulate in that area prior to attempting to visit because many have been either cancelling visa appointments or limiting appointments to urgent or emergency situations. Similar to the local USCIS office, it is important to contact the consulate prior to going.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

Yes, it is essential to hire an immigration lawyer when you are applying for a green card. Your lawyer can assist you if you are just starting your first application or review any previous applications you have submitted and help you complete your current application. Your lawyer