A green card, also known as a permanent residence card, is a type of government identification document that allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. Although the requirements for obtaining a green card may vary based on the immigrant category you are applying under, those who wish to get a green card typically must have a sponsor file their petition. 

Some common examples of parties who may be able to sponsor and file a petition for a green card for you include employers, family members who are U.S. citizens (e.g., parents, siblings, spouses, etc.), and religious organizations. There are also some situations in which you may be able to file a petition yourself. 

Additionally, there are certain factors that will be considered when determining whether a person is eligible to apply for a green card as well as important conditions that must be complied with once you are issued a green card. These include expiration requirements and what to do if you no longer work for your sponsoring employer.

Thus, in order to learn more about whether you are eligible to receive a green card and if you need a sponsor or not, you should speak to a local immigration lawyer for further advice.  

Eligibility For Applying For The Green Card

As previously mentioned, the application process will generally entail either a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or the individual themselves to file a petition for immigration or sponsorship. An immigrant may be eligible to apply for a green card if they fall into any of the following categories: 

  • Family-based green card: A person may be eligible to apply for a green card if they are an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen, such as a child, close relative, spouse, parent, fiancé, or widow or widower of a deceased spouse who was a U.S. citizen. 
  • Employment-sponsored green card: An employer may also serve as a sponsor for a green card applicant. Some types of workers that an employer may sponsor include an immigrant investor, a physician who agrees to work at a clinical practice, a worker who has an advanced degree or special skills for a specific profession, has extraordinary abilities (e.g., in science, art, athletics, business, education), or is an unskilled worker.
  • Special immigrants or unique circumstances: These include a number of different categories like religious workers, refugees, asylees, juveniles, international broadcasters, victims (i.e., of crime, domestic violence, and human trafficking), persons who meet the continuous residency requirements, those who qualify under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, have diplomatic status, and several other programs. 

In addition, it should be noted that those who are eligible for a green card under the categories for special individuals or unique circumstances, will typically be allowed to apply for a green card directly themselves. However, keep in mind that the process for applying for a green card under these categories is usually a lot more complicated than when applying with a standard family-based or employment-sponsored application.  

What Can Make You Ineligible to Apply For The Green Card?

There are a number of reasons that may disqualify a person from being able to apply for a green card. This is true even when a person has satisfied all of the eligibility requirements discussed above. While not exhaustive, the following is a list of factors that could hinder or disqualify a person from receiving a green card, including:

  • If a person has been convicted of a criminal offense or has engaged in recent criminal activity; 
  • If a person has worked in the U.S. illegally; 
  • If a person has previously been deported from the U.S.; and/or
  • If a person is living in the country illegally. 

What are the Important Steps in the Application Process for a Green Card?

As discussed above, both the type of immigrant category and the eligible requirements under the specific category selected will determine how a person can apply for a green card. In general, however, there are two important steps to initiate the process of obtaining a green card. 

The first is that the person must have either a sponsor file an immigrant petition, or if applicable, should file it themselves. Remember, the eligibility category will dictate whether it will be necessary to have a petitioner file an immigrant petition on a person’s behalf or not.

Once the petition is submitted to the USCIS (i.e., the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services), the results of that filing will determine the next steps. In most instances, the second important step involves filing an application for a green card (i.e., Green Card Application or Form I-485). 

However, this is only after the USCIS approves the immigrant petition and determines that there is a visa available for the category or reasons that the individual is requesting one. Some categories may also require that a person receive a particular immigrant status before they may file the application (e.g., refugees, asylum seekers, etc.). 

In addition, the green card application must be supported by necessary documents and the individual will need to pay an application fee when they file. The applicant must also schedule a biometrics appointment in order to provide fingerprints, photographs, and their signature. 

From there, they will receive an in-person interview. Then there will be a short waiting period between the interview and when the applicant receives a decision on the green card application. 

What Should I Keep in Mind after Receiving the Green Card?

Most green cards have an expiration date of approximately 10 years after the date it was issued. Although it is possible to receive a green card that does not contain an expiration date, it is important that an individual double check their documents to ensure that their green card does not have one. 

If an individual has been issued a green card that has an expiration date, then they must make sure to renew it before it expires, or else they can lose their permanent residency status.

In other instances, a person may have been granted a conditional permanent residency status, such as if they are the foreign spouse of a U.S. citizen or another green card holder. If this is the case, then the individual must apply to remove the two-year conditional status on their green card and apply for permanent resident status. 

On the other hand, if a nonresident obtained a green card by marrying a U.S. citizen and is now filing for divorce, then they must submit an application to receive a “conditional” green card, so that their green card will remain legally valid for another two years.

Additionally, some other items that green card holders should keep in mind include:

  • Green card holders must have their green card on them at all times;
  • A green card may be revoked, and if so, the green card holder may lose their lawful permanent residency status; 
  • Green card holders should also not leave the country for extended periods of time; and
  • Finally, green card holders should avoid both civil lawsuits and criminal charges at all costs, or else they may have their green card taken away from them and thus will lose their permanent residency status.    

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney To Help With The Application For A Green Card?

Depending on the facts of your situation and the relevant laws, some green card issues are much more complicated than others. Therefore, if you have any questions or need assistance with an issue regarding an application for a green card, you should consider hiring a local immigration lawyer for further legal guidance.  

An experienced immigration lawyer can guide you through the necessary procedures in a smooth and efficient manner. Your lawyer can also keep you informed about any significant changes made to existing immigration laws and can assist with the petitioning process. 

Additionally, if any complex issues or disputes should arise in connection with your status as an immigrant or with a pending green card application, your lawyer will be able to provide representation on the matter as well.