A green card is a key to becoming a United States citizen. The formal term for a green card is legal permanent residency. Having a green card allows you to legally live and work in the United States. There are essentially three major ways to get a green card. You can get one through family members, and employer or a few other special reasons. This process is a lengthy one but we’ll go over what you need to know.

Category 1: Green Card Through Family

Category 2: Green Card Through Employer

Category 3: Green Card as a Refugee or Asylee

Determine your Eligibility Category

There are three main categories to get a green card. Through family, employers or as a refugee or asylee.

Category 1: Green Card Through Family

Obtaining a green card through a family member is the most popular way to get a green card. If you’re a close relative to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder you can petition for a green card. This is also one of the easiest ways to obtain legal permanent residency.

  • If you are a close relative of a U.S. citizen, that is the fastest way to get a green card. U.S. citizens are allowed to petition spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age and parents over 21 years old. To do so the U.S. citizen must legally establish the relationship using USCIS Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative. That application is followed by Form I-485 Adjustment of Status. In certain cases, both applications can be completed together. Close relatives who are not in the United States have to go through consular processing which means their applications are approved by the U.S. Department of State. Once the Department of State issues them a visa they will get a green card when they’re admitted into the United States. U.S. citizens can also petition siblings and married children over 21 but that process takes much longer because these relatives are not considered immediate relatives.
  • If your immediate relative is a green card holder the process is somewhat the same but it will definitely take longer.
  • If you get married or turn 21 years old things change and immigration law states you will have to wait longer in order to get a green card through a U.S. citizen relative.
  • There are also a few special circumstances where you can get a green card but they are not very common. These include being a battered spouse or child, a widow or widower of a U.S. citizen, or a child of a foreign diplomat born in the U.S. If you are in this category you will file USCIS Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

The process of getting a green card through an employer is different than obtaining a green card through family.

Category 2: Green Card Through a Job

This green card category is somewhat broad because it doesn’t just deal with your employer. It also includes opportunities to get a green card through investments or having a specialized job.

  • Your employer can be part of your petition for a green card if you’ve received a job offer for permanent employment in the United States. The first step if for your employer to get a labor certification with the U.S. Department of State and fill out USCIS Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker.
  • Investors can get green cards if they put enough money into U.S. businesses. Entrepreneurs who invest at least $1,000,000 into a new business or $500,000 into a business in a targeted employment area can then apply for a green card. The business must create at least 10 permanent jobs within the United States. The form to fill out would be Form I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur.
  • You can also get a green card if you have extraordinary abilities. This is an extremely rare way to get a green. These applicants typically are considered the best in their field and typically include people like Nobel Prize winners and Olympic athletes.
  • You can also get a green card if you fall into a special job category. Afghan or Iraqi translators, those who worked for the U.S. government in Iraq, or a member of the armed forces.

Refugees and asylees can also apply for a green card after being in the United States for a year.

Category 3: Being a Refugee or Asylee

Immigrants who entered the United States as a refugee or asylee can apply for a green card one year after entering the country. This also applies to immediate family members of asylees.

  • Refugees are required to apply for a green card after being in the country for a year.
  • Asylees are not required to apply for green cards.
  • Refugees or Asylees typically do not need to file an immigrant petition such as an I-130 or I-140 with the USCIS if they meet the requirements to apply for a green card.

Filling out your immigration petitions can be done online.

Filing the Petition

Once you’ve determined which category you fit into you have to file the correct petition prior to applying for a green card. As noted above:

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders must complete Form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative.
  • If you’re applying through your employer, they must file Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker.
  • If you’re investing your way to a green card you must file Form I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur.
  • If you’re in the special immigrant category that includes a widow(er) you would complete Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, widow(er), or special immigrant.
  • Refugees and asylees typically do not need to file an immigrant petition if they meet the requirements to adjust status and get a green card.

Obtaining a U.S. Visa is how you enter the United States legally. Some immigrants wait much longer than others to obtain a visa.

Checking Visa Availability

Once the correct petition has been filed you can move along in the process. One of the next steps is to ensure there are visas available for you. A visa allows you to legally enter the United States and is necessary if you are applying for a green card.

The number of visas available varies by each immigrant category and by what country you are coming from.

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens do not have to wait long for a visa because there is an unlimited number of visas for this category.
  • When it comes to relatives not considered immediate or for those applying through employment, there are a limited number of visas. You will be sent a “priority date” and be put on a waiting list until your visa is available,
  • Immigrants who are on this wait list can check your place in line using the “Visa Bulletin” that you’ll receive.

Filing your petition and Form I-485 can be a lengthy process.

Filing Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status

Once your visa becomes available you’ll be allowed to complete USCIS Form I-485 Application to Adjust Status. It’s important to complete this application correctly without any mistakes because a slight error can lead to costly delays or rejections by the USCIS. FileRight can make the paperwork process easier by walking you through the application step by step.

  • If you’re applying for a green card through an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen you can usually complete Form I-485 at the same time you complete Form I-130.
  • The filing fee as of June 2018 is $1140, most applicants will also be charged a biometric fee of $85 that’s paid at the same time. The total for both is $1225.

The biometrics appointment is a critical part of the green card process. The information is used for a background check.

Biometrics Appointment

After correctly completing your application for a green card you’ll be sent a receipt notice letting you know the USCIS received your paperwork. After that, you’ll receive a notice telling you when and where you will have to go for a biometrics appointment. You will have to provide immigration officers with your fingerprints, a photograph, and an electronic signature. This information is used to conduct a background check.

The USCIS may require an interview where they will ask you about your I-485 application.

Immigrant Interview

After your biometrics appointment is complete the USCIS may send you a notice informing you of an interview with an immigration officer. President Donald Trump has made immigration enforcement a priority so more immigrants seeking green cards are being required to complete an interview with an immigration officer. You will likely have to answer questions about your application. The notice you receive will include the date, time, and location of your interview. Don’t miss it.

  • In some cases, the relative or employer who petitioned you for the green card may be called for the interview as well.
  • It’s important that you bring any relevant documents including travel documents and passports.

The journey to obtain a green card can be lengthy but well worth it.

The Final Decision

Once you’ve completed all those steps you should receive a final decision. The time it takes from the beginning to the end of this process can vary tremendously. The USCIS will review your entire case from your application, to your background and your interview (if you had one).

Once a final decision is made you will receive a notice in the mail.

  • If your application is approved, you will receive next steps on completing the process and obtaining your green card.
  • If your application is denied, you may still be able to appeal the USCIS decision but you will not be receiving a green card at the time of denial.

FileRight Green Card Package

FileRight as a Solution

If you’re having trouble determining if you are eligible to complete the paperwork required for a green card you can always use FileRight to get it done quickly. FileRight’s eligibility quizzes can make it easy to determine if you can complete Form I-130 and/or Form I-485.

Once you’ve determined your eligibility, you can complete your application online using FileRight. The service guides you through the application one question at a time and checks your application for common errors along the way.

FileRight even offers you access to an immigration attorney who can provide a more thorough review of your application to ensure you’ve completed it correctly.

Get started today!