According to U.S. immigration laws, a green card status refers to someone who has been granted permanent residency status and is authorized to live and work in the United States. As proof of that status, the person will be issued a green card. A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, is the actual legal document that certifies that a person holds lawful permanent resident status. 

Green cards are typically issued to those whose immigration status has been adjusted from a temporary to a permanent resident. For example, if you are an immigrant who has traveled to the United States on a K-1 visa to visit your fiancé and while visiting you marry your fiancé who is a U.S. citizen, then you may be eligible to have your immigration status adjusted from a temporary to a permanent resident status by applying for a green card. 

Aside from marriage, some other ways that non-U.S. resident may be able to obtain a green card include:

  • Through employment by a public or private employer based in the United States;
  • Through a family member (e.g., a parent, child, sibling, close relative, etc.);
  • Through a certified asylee or refugee status;
  • As a victim of abuse, human trafficking, or other serious crimes;
  • As a special immigrant (e.g., religious worker, juvenile international broadcaster, etc.);
  • Through registry if the person has continuously lived in the United States since before January 1, 1972; and/or
  • Fall under one of the other categories, such as a dependent under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act, a Lautenberg parolee, an American Indian born in Canada, or are a foreign diplomat who is stationed in the United States and cannot return to their home country.

While the above list contains many of the categories for eligibility, it is not exhaustive of all the ways in which an individual may be able to qualify for a green card. To learn more about your green card status and how to lawfully obtain a green card, you should consider speaking to a local immigration lawyer for further legal guidance on the matter.

What Are Some Privileges Associated with Green Card Holders?

Green card holders, or those with permanent resident status, will be granted a number of various rights and privileges, such as the following:

  • The ability to legally and permanently live in the United States; 
  • The ability to legally work for most employers in the United States (e.g., both private and public employers) and to apply for certain government jobs;
  • The right to legally own property in the United States;
  • The right to obtain a state driver license or state identification card in the United States;
  • The ability to sponsor foreign spouses or close family members, so that they can legally migrate to the United States; 
  • The right to join certain branches of the U.S. military; and 
  • The right to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship (if one so desires).

In addition, a green card holder has some other rights that are similar to those of U.S. citizens. These include the right to own and possess a firearm, the right to travel outside of the country for short periods of time, the right to vote in state and local elections (though not federal elections), the right to receive some health and work benefits, and the right to attend and enroll-in different educational institutions (e.g., masters programs, college, etc.). 

In exchange for the above rights and privileges, however, green card holders must comply with certain regulations, such as they must file, report, and pay income taxes to the applicable authorities (e.g., the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and other state tax agencies). They also must obey all federal, state, and local laws, as well as refrain from committing and being charged or convicted of criminal activities. 

Green card holders also are not allowed to vote in federal elections, cannot run for federal office, and must not leave the country for extended periods of time.  

What Is Adjustment of Status?

As previously mentioned, a status adjustment refers to the process of changing a person’s status from a temporary resident to a permanent resident. This term is most often associated with green cards obtained through marriage like in the example provided above in the first section. It should be noted, however, that a person cannot simply request to have their status adjusted. Instead, they must be eligible for an adjustment of status. 

To qualify, an individual must already be eligible to receive a green card based on one of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) immigrant categories. These requirements will vary widely depending on which category a person is applying under (e.g., family-sponsored, employment-based, special circumstances, etc.). 

Persons seeking adjustment of status must also be physically present in the United States, must have entered the country lawfully, and must not have entered without a visa or as a U.S. foreign national crewman. However, there are some specific exceptions to these requirements, which can be found by visiting the website for the USCIS or by asking a local immigration lawyer for advice. 

For example, a person may still be eligible for an adjustment of status even if they are in the country illegally when they have a connection to someone in the United States, such as a close family member, or to a U.S. citizen like a spouse or special employer.

Those who are eligible for an adjustment of status can continue the process by filing Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This also can be found on the USCIS website. 

Along with Form I-485, the person seeking the status adjustment should provide all other mandatory forms and any supporting documents, and then must submit them to their local USCIS center. They will also need to pay a fee to process the application. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Green Card Status Requirements?

The procedures to obtain a green card or to adjust the status of a green card holder can be very complicated and tend to involve a lot of paperwork. Depending on the facts of your situation and the laws that apply to it, some green card issues can be much more confusing than others. 

Therefore, if you need assistance with an issue regarding green card status requirements or have questions about green cards in general, then it may be in your best interest to speak to a local immigration lawyer as soon as possible. 

A lawyer who has experience in handling green card matters will be able to walk you through the process and can assist you in navigating the U.S. immigration system. Your lawyer can also help you apply for a green card, can explain why you may not be eligible to receive one, and can suggest other documents that you can apply for to live or work in the United States instead. 

Additionally, your lawyer will be able to provide legal advice and can answer any questions you may have regarding your green card status or about the process to obtain a green card. If you have been a green card holder for a number of years, your lawyer can also determine whether you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. 

Finally, if you are being asked to attend an immigration law hearing, your lawyer will be able to provide any necessary legal services and can represent you before the immigration law court.