How to Get a Green Card

Green card holders in the United States are legal permanent residents. The green card itself is the photo identification card proving your residency and ability to work in the United States. In addition to obtaining permanent residency, a green card gets you one step closer to becoming a citizen of the U.S., opens more opportunities for employment, and allows you to petition for certain relatives who want to immigrate to the United States.

Below, we provide an overview of who is eligible to apply for a green card, the process of applying, and how to check the status of your green card.


To apply for a green card, you must be sponsored by either a family member, a fiancé(e), or an employer. In special cases, a person may be eligible to apply for permanent residency through obtaining refugee or asylum status, through VAWA (as a battered spouse or child), and other ways that you can read about here on United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

  • Family members may file an I-130 for their non-resident relative.
    • Family members may also file for a family-based green card. Read more about the requirements here.
  • Your fiancé(e) may file an I-129f to sponsor your green card.
  • Employers will file a I-140 (coming soon!) on your behalf.

A petition must be filed on your behalf by your family member, fiancé(e), or employer before you can apply for your green card. After your petition is filed, you may have to wait a little bit to hear back before you can begin your I-485 form (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). While it is possible to file the I-485 form at the same time your petitioner is filing on your behalf, in most cases, this does not happen.


The two main procedures to apply are Adjustment of Status and Consular Processing.

  • Adjustment of Status is for those who are already living within the United States with permission. The applicant does not have to return to their home country to adjust their status.
  • Consular Processing is for those who are living abroad and want to gain permission to permanently live in the United States before moving here. Upon completion, you will be admitted entry into the U.S. as a permanent resident.

You can read more at the following link about some key things that you might want to know about applying and filing for a green card before you begin.


File USCIS Form I-485

Once your sponsor has filed a petition on your behalf and it has been approved, you can file your USCIS Form I-485 . While there are other forms for special categories such as VAWA which can be found on USCIS’s website, in most cases you will file the I-485. Double and triple checking your application before filing will help you avoid major delays and denial. Road to Status’s software can help you check for and avoid these mistakes. If there is an inaccuracy in your application, you must reapply.

Biometrics Appointment

Once you have filed your application, you will get a notice to attend your USCIS biometrics appointment in which you will have your picture taken, prove your signature, and be fingerprinted. This will be used for a background check and can take any amount of time depending on your background and where you get this done.

USCIS Interview

Before being approved for a green card, you may be interviewed by USCIS. Not all cases require an interview. If you are called in for an interview, you will need to bring originals of everything that you and/or your petitioner submitted with your application.


The amount of time that it can take to receive your green card spans between a few months to a few years depending on your category as well as your country of birth. How quickly you receive your approval from USCIS depends on the limit that the federal government puts on the number of visas granted each year and their current case load.

There is an unlimited number of visas for immediate relatives of United States citizens which includes: spouses of U.S. citizens, children (unmarried and under 21 years) of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens 21 years old or older, and widow(er)s of U.S. citizens if the U.S. citizen filed a petition before his or her death or if the widow(er) files within two years of the citizen’s death.

For those who are not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens seeking permanent residency, there is a limited number of visas available each year set by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Therefore, you may need to wait until a visa becomes available for you. In this case, you will receive an immigrant visa number which signifies your place on the green card waiting list. Your wait time will depend on the green card category and your country of birth. To check the status of your green card availability, you will refer to the Visa Bulletin.


Once you have provided all necessary paperwork, conducted the necessary interviews, and passed a background check, your case will be ready to be reviewed by USCIS. You will hear back by mail if they need more information, and whether your application was denied or approved.

If your green card is approved – congratulations! You are now a permanent resident of the United States.

Keep in mind your green card most likely will expire after ten years. When you need to renew your green card, Road to Status will be here to help you renew your green card using USCIS Form I-90. If you received your green card through a new spouse, you may have a two year conditional green card. When it is time to remove the conditions, Road to Status will be here to help you using USCIS Form I-751.


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