Thinking about getting a U.S. green card? Here are the 3 top green cards questions answered.

1. Green Card Eligibility: Who can get a green card?

There are several paths to U.S. permanent residence. Here are the most common.

Green Card through Family

Do you have family that lives in the U.S.? If the answer is yes, then you may be eligible for a green card. Certain relatives of U.S. permanent residents (green card holders) and citizens qualify for permanent residence.

Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents qualify. Spouses, children (married or not), parents, and siblings of U.S. citizens qualify. Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens are also eligible.

Green Card through Employment

You may qualify for a green card through work. There are several employment-based green card categories:

  • People with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers
  • Members of professions holding an advanced degree or persons of exceptional ability (including individuals seeking a National Interest Waiver)
  • Skilled Workers, professionals, and other qualified workers
  • Certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations
  • Employment creation immigrants (investors or entrepreneurs)

USA Green Card Lottery

There is a way to get a green card without a U.S. job offer or a U.S. relative. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (Green Card Lottery) makes up to 50,000 green cards available each year. To enter, you must be from a qualifying country.

For DV-2017, natives of the following countries are NOT eligible to apply because more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the U.S. in previous five years:

Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haití, India, Jamaica, México, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

People born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

Green Card through Refugee or Asylum Status

Refugees and immigrants who were granted asylum in the U.S. also qualify for green cards. You may apply for permanent residence 1 year after being granted refugee or asylee status.

2. Green Card Application Form & Process: How to become a Permanent Resident

The application process to get a green card differs depending on whether you are already in the U.S. or you are applying from overseas. If you are already in the U.S. on a temporary visa, you will apply for a green card through the adjustment of status process. If you’re outside the U.S., you’ll apply through consular processing.

Note that you must be outside the U.S. to apply for the Green Card Lottery. For information on this process, see the “Green Card through Consular Processing” section.

Green Card through Adjustment of Status

This application process is for people who are already living in the United States as nonimmigrants (temporary visa holders). Applicants must meet the basic eligibility requirements and submit the proper paperwork. Paperwork varies depending on your green card category.

If applying for a green card through family, you will need to submit the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens will need to submit the I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)s. Once this is approved, they will be admitted to the U.S. as a conditional green card holder. They will have 90 days to marry and then must remove the conditions on their residence after 2 years. To do so, they must submit the I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence. This will allow them to receive a 10-year green card.

If you are applying for a green card through work, you will generally need to submit the I-140, Petition for Alien Worker and the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Some people may be eligible to self-petition, including entrepreneurs.

If you are applying for a green card as a refugee or asylee, you will need to submit the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Green Card through Consular Processing

This application process is for people who live outside the U.S. and do not currently have U.S. immigration status. Applicants must meet the basic eligibility requirements and submit the proper paperwork which varies depending on your visa category. You will need to work closely with the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. To learn more, visit the USCIS website.

Green Card vs. Citizenship

Citizenship and permanent residence both allow you to live and work in the U.S. permanently. They both allow you to sponsor relatives for U.S. green cards. They are both highly sought after immigration statuses. So, what’s the difference?

  1. Citizens can’t be deported. Permanent residents can.
  2. Citizens can vote. Permanent residents can’t.
  3. Citizenship means the end of immigration paperwork and expensive fees. Permanent residents have to renew their green cards every 10 years and pay fees upwards of $455 each time.
  4. Citizens can sponsor their spouses, children, parents, and siblings for green cards. Permanent residents can only sponsor spouses and unmarried children.
  5. Citizens can travel with a U.S. passport. Permanent residents retain the passport of their birth country.

Click here to learn more about why citizenship is the better option.