Obtaining a Green Card

Background

An immigrant is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of living and working permanently in the United States. You must go through a multi-step process to become an immigrant. In most cases, USCIS must first approve an immigrant petition for you, usually filed by an employer or relative. Then, an immigrant visa number must be available to you, even if you are already in the United States. After that, if you are already in the United States, you may apply to adjust to permanent resident status (If you are outside the United States, you will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa.)

For an excellent overview of immigration, please see the chapter and tables on immigrants in the Immigration Statistical Yearbook. For more information on immigrant status based on employment, please see How Do I Apply for Immigrant Status Based on Employment?. In addition, please see our index of Infolinks that will provide information on bringing relatives to live in the United States.

Where Can I Find the Law?

The Immigration and Nationality Act is a law that governs immigration in the United States. For the part of the law concerning most types of permanent resident status, please see INA § 245. The specific eligibility requirements and procedures for adjusting to permanent residence status are included in the Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] at 8 CFR § 245.

Who is Eligible?

To find out who may apply for permanent residence in the United States, please see eligibility information.

(Please note, your permanent residence status will be conditional if it is based on a marriage that was less than two years old on the day you were given permanent residence.

How Do I Apply?

To find out how you can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, please click here to see Application Procedures, which will help you identify what you need to do. After you submit your application materials, you will be asked to go to a USCIS office to answer questions about your applications.

Will I Get a Work Permit?

Applicants for adjustment to permanent resident status are eligible to apply for a work permit while their cases are pending. You should use USCIS Form I-765 to apply for a work permit. You do not need to apply for a work permit once you adjust to permanent resident status. As a lawful permanent resident, you should receive a permanent resident card that will prove that you have a right to live and work in the United States permanently.

Can I Travel Outside the United States?

If you are applying for adjustment to permanent resident status, you must receive advance permission to return to the United States if you are traveling outside the United States. This advance permission is called Advance Parole. If you do not obtain Advance Parole beforeyou leave the country, you will abandon your application with USCIS and you may not be permitted to return to the United States.

How Can I Check the Status of My Application?

Please contact the USCIS office that received your application. You should be prepared to provide USCIS staff with specific information about your application. Please click here for complete instructions on checking the status of your application.

How Can I Appeal?

The only applications for permanent residency (Form I-485) which can be appealed to USCIS are those based on a marriage which took place while the alien's application was in process or those based on Section 586 of Public Law 106-429, adjustment of status for certain nationals of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These appeals must be made to the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU).

Generally, you may appeal within 33 days after the immigration judge decides to remove you from the country. After your appeal form and a required fee are processed, the appeal will be referred to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Can Anyone Help Me?

Yes

Marriage & Family

United States citizens may sponsor spouses, parents, adult children and siblings (brothers or sisters) for permanent residence. Green Card holders can sponsor only spouses or unmarried children. The U.S. grants highest priority to the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens. Lowest priority is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. Also, due to high demand in the family category by some countries, the wait for nationals of certain countries such as the Philippines and Mexico can be much longer than for nationals of other, non-backlogged countries.   Spouses and fiance/ees of U.S. citizens may apply for K visa and V visa categories which are temporary, nonimmigrant visas.

K - Visa for Fiancee or Spouse of US Citizen

This visa is available to those planning to marry a U.S. citizen, but are currently outside of the U.S. Persons granted the K-1 visa have 90 days from the date of entry to marry; no extensions are allowed. After the marriage, a K-1 visa holder must convert the K-1 to a Green Card. A provision passed by Congress in 2000 also makes spouses and minor, unmarried children of U.S. citizens eligible for the K visa.

V Visa for Spouses/Minor Children of Green Card Holders

Created in 2000, the V visa is available to the spouse and minor children (unmarried, under 21) of green card holders whose petitions (Form I-130) were filed on or before December 21, 2000, and who have been waiting in the backlog for three years or more. Spouses and minor children typically wait three to six years for green cards. Note that that spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents who file after December 21, 2000, are not eligible for the V visa. Note that V holders are eligible for work authorization.

Overview and Process

A lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States. If you want to become a lawful permanent resident based on the fact that you have a relative who is a citizen of the United States, or a relative who is a lawful permanent resident, you must go through a multi-step process.
  1. The USCIS must approve an immigrant visa petition, I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, for you. This petition is filed by your relative (sponsor) and must be accompanied by proof of your relationship to the requesting relative.
  2. The Department of State must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to you, the foreign national, even if you are already in the United States. When an immigrant visa number is available, it means you can apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to you. You can check the status of a visa number in the Department of State's Visa Bulletin.
  3. If you are already in the United States, you may apply to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available to you. This is one way you can apply to secure an immigrant visa number. If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available, you must then go to the U.S. consulate servicing the area in which you reside to complete your processing. This is the other way to secure an immigrant visa number.

Eligibility

In order for a relative to sponsor you to immigrate to the United States, they must meet the following criteria:
  • They must be a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and be able to provide documentation providing that status.
  • They must prove that they can support you at 125% above the mandated poverty line, by filling out an Affidavit of Support.
  • The relatives which may be sponsored as an immigrant vary depending on whether the sponsor is a U.S. Citizen or a lawful permanent resident.
  • If the sponsor is a U.S. Citizen, they may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the U.S:
  • Husband or wife
  • Unmarried child under 21 years of age
  • Unmarried son or daughter over 21
  • Married son or daughter of any age
  • Brother or sister, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old, or
  • Parent, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old.

If the sponsor is a lawful permanent resident, they may petition for the following foreign national relatives to immigrate to the U.S.:

  • Husband or wife, or
  • Unmarried son or daughter of any age.

In any case, the sponsor must be able to provide proof of the relationship.

Preference Categories

If you wish to immigrate as a relative of a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must obtain an immigrant visa number based on the preference category in which you fall.

People who want to become immigrants are classified into categories based on a preference system. The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which includes parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the visa petition filed for them is approved by USCIS. An immigrant visa number will become immediately available. The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.
  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens.
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Citizens.

Once USCIS receives your visa petition (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative), it will be approved or denied. USCIS notifies the person who filed the visa petition of the petition was approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify the foreign national when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. You do not need to contact the National Visa Center, unless you change your address or there is a change in your personal situation, or that of your sponsor, that may affect eligibility for an immigrant visa, such as reaching age 21, marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse.

Feel free to visit attorney Kamal Nawash for a consultation.