There are a number of ways to become a permanent resident or green card holder. Designation as a permanent resident permits you to live and work permanently in the U.S.

What Do I Need to Know about Getting a Green Card?

Today, most people can apply for a green card only after a visa petition filed by a family member, fiancé, or employer has been approved. In the United States this process is called sponsoring and is the most common way that individuals are granted a green card. However, there are exceptions. For example, refugees and asylees are an exception to the rule. Additionally, if you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you do not need to wait for visa numbers and can apply for a green card at the same time that one submits their visa petition.

Who Can Apply for a Green Card?

There are only certain categories of applicants that are permitted to file for a green card. Typically, this is limited to those who entered the U.S. legally and did not stay beyond the date on your Arrival-Departure Record, or form I-94, as issued by Homeland Security. It should be noted that those who have stayed beyond the date on their I-94 form are subject to deportation if they file for a green card in the U.S.

Those excepted from this rule are immigrants whose immediate relatives are U.S. citizens. Examples of immediate relative would be a husband or wife, mother, and father. Despite the fact that these immigrants may have stayed past the date on the I-94 form, they are still permitted to apply for a green card.

The 10 Ways to Obtain a Green Card

The following are the different ways to obtain a green card:

1. Family Based Immigration: As a relative of a U.S. citizen. If you are one of the following, you may qualify to receive a Green Card:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child or stepchild under the age of 21
  • Adopted child under the age of 18
  • Parent or stepparent
  • Unmarried son or daughter (over the age of 21)
  • Married son or daughter (any age)
  • Brother or sister

You can also get a green card if you are a relative of a green card holder. The following relatives qualify:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child (under the age of 21)
  • Unmarried stepchild (under the age of 21)
  • Adopted child (under the age of 18) or
  • Unmarried son or daughter (over the age of 21)

2. Employment Based Immigration:

  • Employment first preference: Persons with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, managers and executives in multinational companies
  • Employment second preference: Professionals with advanced degrees, persons with exceptional ability, exceptional professors and researchers
  • Employment third preference: Professionals with U.S. bachelor’s or foreign equivalent degree, skilled workers, unskilled workers

3. Green Card Lottery: Winners of the green card lottery conducted by U.S. Department of State

4. Investors:

  • Foreign entrepreneurs who invest $500,000 n a commercial enterprise in a targeted employment area that will benefit the U.S. economy and create at least 5 full-time jobs
  • Foreign entrepreneurs who invest $1,000,000 in a commercial enterprise that will create 10 full-time jobs

5. Adoption: Children under the age of 16 who are adopted by U.S. green citizens or green card holder

6. Registry: Foreign nationals that Congress has recognized as having compelling humanitarian factors to stay permanently in the U.S. and for whom the UCIS cannot grant permanent resident status

7. Diplomats: High-level diplomats

8. Asylum: Political asylum can be sought by people who are located in the U.S. and fear persecution if they return to their home country.

9. Refugee: A political refugee is any person who is unable to stay in their country due to political persecution.

10. Special Immigrants: Special immigrant visas encompass a number of specific situations, including religious workers seeking to obtain a green card.

Applying for a Green Card While in the United States

If you are in the U.S. and have not stayed past the departure date on your I-94 form, your next step is to apply for an adjustment of your status. The form needed to adjust your status may be found online at and is called the form I-485. When filling out this form, you must read the form instructions carefully and submit all required documentation and evidence for the adjustment.

After your application is filed, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will ask you to appear at an Application Support Center. This process typically involves having your picture, signature and fingerprints taken. A background check will be run to ensure your eligibility for green card status.

You will then be notified of an interview at a USCIS office to answer questions under oath or affirmation regarding your application. Attendance is mandatory at all interviews.

After the process is complete, the USCIS will contact you to notify you of their decision regarding your permanent status.

Applying for a Green Card While Outside the United States

If you are outside of the U.S. but wish to apply for a green card, you should visit the National Visa Center or NVC. The NVC will begin discussions with you once your visa application has been approved. The NVC will then transfer your case to the U.S. embassy in your country. The embassy will then schedule an interview and give you instructions on getting a medical exam and having photos taken prior to the interview. Various documents must also be provided during the interview, including your passport, your birth certificate, marriage certificate, and possibly more if necessary.

What If I Already Am a Green Card Holder?

If you currently hold a green card, it’s important to make sure your green card status is current. If you are a permanent resident with a form I-551 valid, your green card status is valid for 10 years. At that time, the card is either expired or will expire within the next 6 months. It should be noted that this requirement only applies if you are a permanent resident. If you are a conditional resident, other rules apply.

If you have applied for a green card, you can check the status of your application at

There are situations where you may need to replace your green card. These instances may arise if:

  • Your card is lost, stolen, mutilated or destroyed
  • Your card was issued to you before you were 14 and you have reached your 14th birthday
  • You have been a commuter between countries and are now a permanent resident of the U.S
  • Your status has been converted to permanent resident
  • You have the previous version of the alien registration card
  • Your card contains incorrect information
  • Your name or other information has been legally changed; or
  • You never received your previous green card

If any of these situations apply to you, you will need to complete and mail a form I-90. Upon approval, you will be mailed a replacement green card with a 10-year expiration date from the date of issuance.

What If My Green Card Application Is Denied?

If your application for renewing your green card is denied, you will receive a letter notifying you the reason why your application was denied. There is no appeal process for a denial of a green card application. You may, however, submit a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider the denial. The USCIS will then reexamine or reconsider its decision.

If you file a motion to reopen your case, you must provide new facts that the USCIS should consider regarding your application. A motion to reconsider must establish that the denial of your application was based on incorrect application of the law. It must further establish that the decision was incorrect based on the evidence used by the USCIS at the time your application was denied.

What Are My Rights and Responsibilities as a Green Card Holder?

Your Rights: As a green card holder, or permanent resident, you have the right to do the following:

  • Live permanently in the U.S. as long as no acts are committed that would make you removable under immigration law.
  • Work in the U.S. at any legal work of your qualification and choosing.
  • Be protected by all laws of the U.S., your state of residence and local jurisdictions.

Your Responsibilities: As a permanent resident, you are responsible for the following:

  • Required to obey all laws of the U.S. the states, and localities
  • File your income tax returns and report income to the IRS
  • Support the democratic government of the U.S.
  • Required, if you are male aged 18 to 25, to register with the Selected Service

Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?

If you have been denied a green card application or need guidance on whether you are eligible for a green card, an immigration attorney is a valuable resource!