The United States’ immigration process can be confusing, especially understanding different legal statuses. One of the most common statuses people want is to be a Lawful Permanent Resident ("LPR"). To become a ("LPR"), you have to obtain a Permanent Resident Card or more popularly known as a Green Card! The more you know about what’s applicable to you, the better the chances are of being able to find cheap legal services or a cheap lawyer to help you with formalities. Below, we’ll discuss the process by which you may obtain a Permanent Resident Card.
First Step: Green Card Eligibility Categories
The first step is to determine what category you are eligible for. You can find more specific information on eligibility to apply for a category and the requirements here on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Once you determine what category applies to you, take a look at Form I-485 - the Green Card Application.
You may have heard about family members “petitioning” or “sponsoring” each other for “papers.” This and other variations all boil down to a person filing a petition for someone else to obtain their green card. Most of the time, you will need a petition. Two common forms are the I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Immigrant Worker). Checking your eligibility category will let you know if you need a petition.
There are 5 ways you may be eligible to apply for a green card through family:
- The immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. This typically refers to a spouse, unmarried child that is under 21 years old, or parent of a citizen who is at least 21 years of age.
- “Other” relative of a U.S. citizen or relative of a lawful permanent resident under the family-based preference categories.
- The fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen (K-1 nonimmigrant visa) or the fiancé(e)’s child (K-2 nonimmigrant visa).
- A widow(er) of a U.S.citizen if that widow was married to a U.S. citizen at the time of their spouse's death.
- A VAWA self-petitioner -- the victim of battery or extreme cruelty may be eligible. This applies to an abused spouse of a U.S. citizen of ("LPR") holder, an abused child (unmarried and under 21) of a U.S. citizen or ("LPR") holder, and an abused parent of a U.S. citizen.
There are 3 common ways you may be eligible to apply for a green card as an immigrant worker. These are the employment-based (EB) “preference immigrant” categories. The preferences are known as (EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3):
- EB-1 workers are priority workers. They’re “aliens” with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. These apply to people who have major one-time achievements. Think along the lines of winning a Nobel Prize, Olympic Medal, Emmy Award, and the likes. This classification also applies to outstanding professors and researchers or certain multinational managers and executives.
- EB-2 workers are those who work in professions with an advanced degree or have exceptional ability. Examples are doctors, lawyers, those with P.H.Ds, and so on.
- EB-3 workers are skilled workers, professionals, or other workers. More specifics on the evidence you must provide to meet the eligibility criteria can be found here but all three require labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer.
Employers can use this guide by the USCIS to see how to sponsor an employee for U.S. permanent residence status.
Many people worry about what happens if they change employment while still waiting for their green card application to be approved. The simple answer is although it is a big risk, it is doable. The key is to carefully follow the “portability rules.” You can learn more details about this here on USCIS. This article from SGM Law Group also does a great job of explaining changing jobs after green card approval.
Second Step: Where are you physically located?
Your physical location is important because the process to follow if you are in or outside the United States is different.
If you are inside the United States, you have to file for an “Adjustment of Status.” If you have an approved immigrant petition and an immigrant visa is available, you can go ahead and file the I-485 form. Some eligibility categories may allow you to concurrently file such as filing an immigrant petition and Form I-485 at the same time.
For those outside the United States, you would go through consular processing with the Department of State (DOS) instead of USCIS. You would apply for an immigrant visa through the Department of State to be able to come to the United States and be admitted as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). After entering the United States with an approved visa, your green card would come in the mail about 45 days of your arrival.
Third Step: Biometrics Appointment
Once you have an approved petition and have filed your green card application, USCIS will schedule you a biometrics appointment. Biometrics is just a fancy word for being able to digitally identify a person. You will receive notice by Form I-797C. That notice will have the date, time, and location for your appointment. Essentially, you would be providing your fingerprints, photos, and a signature there. You can check out how to prepare for your biometrics services appointment here.
Fourth Step: Interview
The most anticipated step is having your interview! The interview is serious because it’s USCIS’s way of verifying who you say you are and that what you put in your application is true. It is critical to be as open and honest during this interview as possible. Some people tend to try to withhold information, scared that it may hurt their chances of being approved. If you are nervous about your interview or want more insight, you can read this article from ImmigrationHelp.
Fifth Step: Waiting for a Decision
After navigating this tedious process, you wait for a decision! Unpredictable life events happen so sometimes that’s easier said than done. USCIS has a helpful information page “While Your Green Card Application is Pending with USCIS.” One thing to always remember is to update your address within 10 days of moving to a new place If you do not update your address with USCIS, you may miss important information or notices that are crucial to your application being approved. You can also track any updates to your case status online using your I-485 receipt number. Lastly, if you need to travel while your green card application is pending, there is information for you to follow otherwise, your application can be considered abandoned.
A useful resource to reference is The Visa Bulletin. USCIS and DOS are revising the procedures for visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored preference adjustment of status. This is where you can see current and upcoming visa bulletins with important information. The May 2021 bulletin can be complex but this Boundless blog post summarizes key developments and they also have a “how to read the visa bulletin” post.
Need to hire a lawyer to help you get through this process? We’ve got you covered! Go to www.trusli.com and let us put you in touch with an immigration attorney with experience applying for Green Cards.