A U.S. permanent resident card, or green card, is an identity document that shows proof of permanent U.S. immigration status. Permanent residence allows you to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.

Here are three frequently asked questions about U.S. permanent resident cards.

What Are the Green Card Eligibility Requirements

How Do I Apply for a Green Card?

Green Card vs. Citizenship — What’s the Difference?

What Are the Green Card Eligibility Requirements?

There are several paths to U.S. permanent residence including through family, employment and refugee status. Each path has its own requirements which are often extensive and complex. Here are the basic eligibility requirements for the most popular paths to permanent residence.

Green Card through Family

Find out quickly if you’re eligible for a family-based green card by taking a free quiz on FileRight.com.

To acquire a green card through family, you must be related to a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident. Parents, spouses, siblings, and children of U.S. citizens qualify. Spouses of permanent residents and unmarried children of U.S. permanent residents qualify.

There are unlimited green cards available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens including parents, spouses and unmarried children under age 21. Other relatives are issued green cards on a priority basis:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult (21 years of age or older) sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Second Preference A: Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried children (under the age of 21) of permanent residents
  • Second Preference B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of permanent residents
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and their minor children
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses, and their minor children

Learn more about green card through family.

Green Card through Employment

You may be eligible for a green card based on employment or a job offer. Employment-based green cards are offered in the following categories; preference refers to a number of visas available:

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

Learn more about a green card through employment.

Green Card through Refugee or Asylum Status

Refugees and immigrants who were granted asylum in the U.S. (and their qualifying spouses and children) may apply for permanent residence 1 year after being granted refugee or asylee status.

Learn more about a green card through refugee or asylum status.

How Do You Apply for a Green Card?

The application process is generally two-part.

Step 1: The Immigrant Petition

In most cases, you will need an immigrant petition to apply for a green card.

If applying for a green card through family, the petition is Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Typically, this petition is filed by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative.

If applying for a green card through employment, the petition is Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker. Typically, this petition is filed by your U.S. employer.

Petitions establish your basis to immigrate and determine your immigrant category. In some cases, you may be eligible to self-petition. Most people immigrating based on humanitarian programs are exempt from the petition requirement.

Step 2: Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing

The second step in the process depends on whether you are already living in the U.S. or you are living abroad.

If you are already living in the U.S. with temporary immigration status, you will apply through the adjustment of status process. For this process, you will file Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status to Permanent Residence. Generally, the I-130 or I-140 petition must already be approved before you can file Form I-485.

If you are living outside the U.S., you will apply through consular processing. This process requires you to work with a U.S. consulate or embassy to obtain a permanent resident visa. This visa will allow you to travel to the U.S. where you will receive your green card.

Green Card vs. Citizenship — What’s the difference?

There are many similarities between permanent resident status and citizenship. Both statuses are permanent. Both allow you to live and work in the U.S. Both allow you to bring family to America. But there are also major differences including long-term cost, family benefits, and safety.

Citizenship Is Less Expensive

It’s a requirement to renew your green card every 10 years and each time it costs $540. If you lose or damage your green card in between, that’s another $540 each time.

The cost of citizenship is a one-time fee of $725. After that, no more immigration fees for the rest of your life.

Citizenship Has More Family Benefits

Citizens can bring more relatives to the U.S.—faster. There are an unlimited number of green cards for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. That means their wait for a U.S. green card is significantly less than the relatives of a permanent resident. Citizens can also bring more relatives to the U.S. including parents and siblings.

Citizens Can’t Be Deported

The U.S. government can and does deport permanent residents. Certain crimes may make you eligible for deportation. Avoid the risk and become a citizen.

Learn more about the benefits of U.S. citizenship.