How to Get a Green Card

For many non-Americans, being able to try and achieve the American dream is the ultimate life goal. After all, who does not want to be a success story to be told for generations to come? There is one key prerequisite for it though – the infamous green card (officially known as the Permanent Resident Card). 

Whether you like it or not, the green card is a must-have for your permanent settlement to the land of opportunity. The green card enables you to live, work, travel, and anything and everything else a regular American citizen can do. But the process of obtaining it is a different story. Keep reading to learn more about how to get a green card in the US.

Methods of obtaining a green card in the USA

The first step in obtaining a green card is finding out if you are eligible for one. Check the table below to see different categories applicants must be eligible under in order to apply for a green card. 

Category Applying as/under
Family Immediate relatives of US citizens; Other relatives of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident; Fiancé(e) or the fiancé(e)’s child (of a US citizen); Widow(er) of a US citizen; VAWA self-petitioner
Employment Immigrant worker; Physician National Interest Waiver; Immigrant investor
Special Immigrant Religious worker; Special Immigrant Juvenile; Afghanistan or Iraq national; International broadcaster; International organization employee or employee’s family member NATO-6 employee or family member
Refugee or Asylee StatusAsylee; Refugee
Human Trafficking and Crime VictimsHuman trafficking victim; Crime victim
Victims of AbuseVAWA self-petitioner; Special Immigrant Juvenile; abused spouse or child under the Cuban Adjustment Act; abused spouse or child under the HRIFA
Other Categories Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness; Diversity Immigrant Visa Program; Cuban Adjustment Act; abused spouse or child under the Cuban Adjustment Act; dependent status under the HRIFA; abused spouse or child under the HRIFA; Lautenberg parolee; Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000; American Indian born in Canada; person born in the United States to a foreign diplomat; Section 13 (diplomat)
Registry If you have resided in the US continuously since before January 1, 1972

How to become a green card holder

Having checked whether you are eligible (and assuming you are), it is time to move on to the next steps. Before filing any forms, you need to check visa availability and priority dates. Some categories have visas available all the time, while others have a limited number.

Additionally, all green card applicants must undergo a medical examination at a designated physician (also known as “civil surgeon”). The examination is performed stateside, and you can get help finding a physician by contacting USCIS

There are usually two forms to be filled out – an Immigrant petition and a Green Card application (form I-485). Keep in mind that usually someone else will have to file your petition in your name (also known as sponsoring or petitioning for you).

Another thing depending on your eligibility, but also on your location, is the process to use when applying for a green card. These processes are either the adjustment of status (if you are in the US) or consular processing (for people outside the US). 

Process of getting a green card – consular processing 

You will need to locate your nearest US Department of State consulate, and follow the next steps.

  1. Determine your basis to immigrate
  2. File the Immigrant petition and wait for decision
  3. Wait for the National Visa Center to notify you of the decision
  4. Go to your appointment to supply fingerprints, photos, and signature
  5. Notify the NVC of any changes (if applicable)

Important note: your visa application is filed after step 3 – i.e., after having received word that your petition has been approved. After your appointment (step 4), you will be required to attend an interview.

After the authorities grant your visa, a Visa Packet will be sent to you. After that, you will have to pay a USCIS Immigrant fee (for processing and producing your green card). Present your Visa Packet at customs upon arrival to the US and enter the States as a lawful permanent resident. Your green card will be delivered to your address.

Frequently asked questions

What is the easiest way to get a green card?

There is no easier or harder way – every applicant must follow the instructions and procedure when it comes to obtaining a green card.

Where can I get a green card photo taken?

You can get a green card photo taken at photography studios, passport photo services in retail stores, or through our professional online passport photo tool. With our tool, you can be confident that your photo meets all requirements without any hassle. Try it out yourself and see how convenient obtaining your passport photo is!

How do you qualify for a green card?

There are several different categories for green card applications. It is up to the applicant to examine and determine under which category they will be applying. 

How long does it take to get a green card?

This one also depends on the category under which you are applying – some have readily available visas, while others have a significant backlog. This information can be checked on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Is a sponsor necessary for filing an immigrant petition?

In most cases you do require a sponsor, though this information should be checked according to the category under which you are applying.

What are the steps for obtaining a green card?

The application process varies depending on the category under which you are applying as well as your geolocation at the moment of applying. It is best to gather all this information form the USCIS website (linked above).

How much do I have to pay for a green card?

Fees vary depending on the category, and you can calculate your fee using USCIS’ fee calculator.