Learn about the green card process in the U.S.

A green card (officially called a permanent resident card) allows you to live and work in the USA permanently. On this page you can learn if you are eligible for a green card, the steps to apply for a green card, processing times, green cards for refugees and asylees, avoiding immigration scams, and other helpful information about your green card.


specimen green card

NOTICE: Starting October 1, 2021, green card applicants must show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as part of the medical exam process.  Learn more about this new requirement.

Am I eligible to apply for a green card?

Here are the categories of people who may be eligible to apply for a green card. Every case is different so it is important to work with an accredited representative or immigration attorney to help you learn all requirements.

  • Family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. You may be eligible to apply for a green card if you are the spouse, child, parent, fiance or adult sibling of a U.S. citizen or you are the spouse or unmarried child of a permanent resident. The processing timelines are different depending on what type of family member and country of origin. Learn more about the family reunification process.
  • Refugees or asylees who have been in the U.S. for at least one year as a refugee, or had their asylum granted at least one year ago.
  • Immigrant workers. Employment based green cards may be available for first, second and third preference immigrant workers.
  • Victims of human trafficking, crime and abuse. You may be eligible to apply for a green card if you are a human trafficking victims (T visa), a victim of certain serious crime (U visa), a victim of abuse under the Violence Against Womens Act (VAWA), or a special immigrant juvenile.
  • Special immigrants. Certain special immigrant categories, including individuals from Afghanistan and Iraq with special immigrant visas (SIVs), religious workers and others may be eligible for a green card.
  • Other. You could be eligible through the Diversity Visa Program (visa lottery), the Cuban Adjustment Act, or the Registry Program if you have lived continuously in the U.S. since before Jan. 1, 1972, among other eligible categories.

Learn more about the green card eligibility categories on the USCIS website.

The steps in applying for a green card

Here are the most common steps you can expect when applying for a green card. Remember, applying for a green card varies by each individual situation. 

1. Make sure you are eligible. Applying for a green card is a complicated process and your status in the USA may be at risk if your petition is denied.

It is important to speak to a lawyer or DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) accredited representative before you apply. There are lawyers and non-profit organizations around the country who will help you.

IMPORTANT: Even if you are otherwise eligible, there are certain circumstances, including being involved with criminal activities, that can put your application at risk. A legal representative can help you decide the best options for you. 

2. Petition for a visa (if needed). In most cases, the person who is sponsoring you (such as a family member or employer) completes an application for a visa for you; this is called petitioning. 

If you are a refugee or asylee, or you already have a visa, you may skip this step and file a green card application directly with USCIS for yourself. See more about this process below

3. Apply. After USCIS approves the petition and a visa becomes available in your category, you will either file for an adjustment of status application with USCIS or a consular process application with the U.S. Department of State. 

You must pay a filing fee when you submit your application or submit a fee waiver request. If your application is denied, you will not receive this fee back so it is important to only apply if you are eligible. (Note – the fee is waived for refugees).

4. Respond to requests for evidence (if you receive any). After you submit your application you may be asked to provide additional documentation or explanation. Not all petitions will receive a request for evidence.

5. Biometrics. You will receive an appointment to provide your fingerprints, photos, and signature. 

6. Interview. Finally, in many cases, you will have an interview with an immigration officer or consular official before a final decision is made about your case. 

Processing times

You can check the status of your case at any time through the USCIS website by signing into your account

The processing times for green card and visa applications vary by type of application, country of origin, and age of the beneficiary. Some may take less than a year, while others – especially for extended family members – can take many years. 

You can learn more about processing times on the USCIS website.

Green cards for refugees and asylees

Refugees & Asylees

One year after arrival or approved asylum application, refugees and asylees can self-file for a green card using form I-485. 

In addition to the application, you must also complete a medical examination and have a doctor complete Form I-693. There are no application fees to file Form I-485 if you arrived in the USA with refugee status. 

In order to apply for a green card, you must meet the following conditions: 

  • You have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after being admitted as a refugee or granted asylum. 
  • You have maintained your refugee or asylee status in the United States.
  • Be currently admissible to the United States. There are many reasons why someone may not be admissible to the United States. In some cases a waiver may be available. If you have been involved in any type of crime since arriving in the USA, it is very important to have legal help with your application. 

You can learn more about applying for a green card for refugees or asylees on the USCIS website. You can also learn about and download Form I-693.

Who can help me?

Legal paperwork can be very difficult to complete without the help of someone who understands the process and the law. This can be an immigration attorney or a legal representative who is accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

If you do not have a resettlement agency or immigration professional to help you, please find legal help before you apply.

NOTE: Not all attorneys are immigration attorneys. It is important to work with someone who is certified in immigration and nationality law. 

USAHello provides basic background information to help you understand the process of applying for permanent residence. We are not legal professionals and we can not help you complete your application.

Watch this video about how to apply for a green card using Form I-485

Avoid immigration scams

Unfortunately, some people try to take money or personal information from people who are trying to apply for an immigration benefit in the USA. It is very important that you do your research and ask for legal help if you need it. 

Here are some recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to avoid immigration scams:

  • Do not use a notario or unqualified person for legal or immigration help. You should get help from an accredited representative or immigration attorney.
  • Do not sign blank forms or documents with false information about yourself. If you do not understand the form, be sure to ask a trusted person to help translate for you. 
  • Do not pay to get an immigration form – the forms themselves are free to everyone.
  • Remember that application fees are paid directly to USCIS. 
  • If you are participating in the Diversity Visa Lottery, the only way to check the status of your entry is by visiting: dvlottery.state.gov.

Helpful information about your green card

When do I renew or replace my green card?

You must renew your green card if:

  • You were issued a card valid for 10 years that has either expired or will expire within 6 months.
  • Your card has been lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • The information on your card is wrong or has changed.

See other reasons to replace your green card.

How do I renew or replace my green card?

To get a green card renewal or to replace your green card, you will need to file Form I-90, (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card).

Can I travel while your green card application is pending?

It is important to receive permission from USCIS before traveling. 

If you leave the country while your green card application is pending and you have not been given permission to do so, your application can be considered abandoned. Visit the USCIS page on Form I-131, the Application for Travel Document, to learn more. 

What if I change my address while my process is pending?

If you move, you should notify USCIS within 10 days so you can receive notifications of what is happening with your case.

A change of address with the U.S. Postal Service does not update your address information with USCIS. You can change your address with USCIS using your online account or using their change of address page.

The information on this page comes from USCIS and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.