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How to get a Green Card

A Green Card, also known as a permanent resident card, allows you to live and work in the USA permanently. Find information on the ways to get a Green Card. Learn about the steps to apply and how to prepare for your interview.

Updated June 19, 2024

What is a Green Card?

A Green Card allows people who are not U.S. citizens to live and work in the USA. It is an identity document with your name and photo. A Green Card is proof of your immigration status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR).

Most Green Cards are valid for 10 years. If you are a conditional resident, it is valid for 2 years.

A Green Card is also called a permanent resident card.

test Green Card

Benefits of having a Green Card

If you have permanent resident status you can:

  • live and work in the USA permanently without fear of detention or deportation
  • travel outside the USA for up to 12 months 
  • receive federal benefits, such as help paying for education and housing
  • apply to bring your family members to the USA
  • apply for U.S. citizenship after 5 years 

Who can apply?

There are different ways you can become a lawful permanent resident. You can apply if you are in an eligible category:

Family members of U.S. citizens or Green Card holders

  • U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents, spouse, fiance, unmarried children, and adult brothers or sisters. Someone who is a widow(er) of a U.S. citizen can also apply.
  • Green Card holders can sponsor their spouse and unmarried children for permanent residency. 
  • U.S. citizens and Green Card holders cannot sponsor extended family members such as cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Later this summer, certain non-citizen spouses and children of U.S. who have lived in the USA for 10 or more years can apply for “parole in place.” This process will allow you to apply for a green card without leaving the USA. Individuals who are granted parole under this program will be able to stay and work in the USA for up to 3 years while their application is being processed. Undocumented individuals may qualify for parole under this program.

Certain workers

A Green Card for employment-based immigrants is available to certain workers, physicians, and investors.

Special immigrants

Religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, Afghan or Iraqi translators or interpreters who worked for the U.S. government, members of the media, and members of international organizations can apply.

Refugee and asylees

Refugees and asylees can apply for a Green Card after one year of receiving their status.

Victim of abuse, crime, and human trafficking

Certain victims of abuse can apply under VAWA, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Cuban Adjustment Act, and Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act. Victims of human trafficking and other crime victims can also apply.

Long-term residents 

If you have lived in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, you can apply. This is called a Green Card through registry. This is an option even if you are undocumented or have been in the U.S. illegally.

Other nonimmigrants

Certain people can apply for a Green Card under other programs including:

  • Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
  • Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (Green Card lottery)
  • Cuban Adjustment Act
  • Dependent status under the HRIFA
  • Lautenberg parolee
  • Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000
  • American Indian born in Canada
  • Diplomat or person born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomat

Requirements

Each Green Card eligibility category has specific requirements you must meet.

If you are in the USA
An immigration officer must have inspected and admitted you upon entering the United States. Applying inside the United States is officially called adjustment of status. 

If you are abroad
You must apply for an immigrant visa with your local consulate to come to the United States. This process is officially called consular processing. 

The public charge rule does not allow people who will depend on certain government assistance to get a Green Card. Asylees, refugees, humanitarian parolees, and victims of human trafficking and crime are exempt from this rule. 

How to apply

Now that you have reviewed the different categories, here are your next steps to apply: 

Step 1: Check if you are eligible to apply

  • Each Green Card category has specific requirements. 

Step 2: Get legal help if you can

Step 3: Find out if you need to petition for a visa

Step 4: File your application

  • If you are abroad, you must apply for an immigrant visa with your local embassy to come to the United States.  
  • If you are in the United States, you must file Form I-485 with USCIS.
  • You must also get a medical examination and include Form I-693 with your Green Card application.
  • Follow tips for filing your Green Card application. 
  • Pay your filing fees. They vary by age. Use the USCIS fee calculator.
  • Note: you can also apply for a social security number at the same time. 

Step 5: Your biometrics appointment

Step 6: Your Green Card interview   

  • Most people will be required to interview at a local USCIS office. An immigration officer will review the answers to your application. They may also ask other questions to decide whether you are eligible for a Green Card.

Step 7: Get a decision 

  • An immigration officer or consular official will make a decision in your case at the end of your interview. In some cases, the officer may ask for more evidence before they can issue a decision.
  • If your application is approved, you will receive another letter with your Green Card.
  • If your application is denied, you will get information about whether you can appeal it.

Step 8: Obtaining your Green Card 

You can check the status of your application online or by calling the USCIS Contact Center.

Green Card interview

There are a few things you can do to prepare for the interview.

  • Review your application before your interview. Prepare with an attorney, resettlement agency, family, or friend. 
  • Bring a copy of your application
  • Bring originals of all supporting documents including your passport, travel document, and Form I-94.
  • Be prepared to answer all questions truthfully.
  • You must bring your own interpreter if you need one and complete Form G-1256. Your interpreter must be at least 18, speak your language and English fluently, and not be involved in your case.

Information for Green Card holders

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The information on this page comes from USCIS and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.

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