Becoming a Permanent U.S. Resident
Earning permanent resident status in the United States requires you to go through an application process. Once approved, you will receive your green card, which is your proof of residency. Not everyone qualifies, and not all applications are approved. Understanding the eligibility requirements and the application process can help you get an approval when you apply.
What Is a Green Card?
A green card shows that you've been granted permanent resident status. The official name for the document is "Permanent Resident Card," but it's often called a green card. You're not a citizen, but you do have authorization to live and work in the U.S.
Green card holders can go to school, own property, get a driver's license, join the armed forces and receive benefits like Social Security and Medicare. You can eventually apply to become a citizen once you meet the residency requirements.
What Are the Green Card Qualifications?
Green card eligibility falls under several different categories, one of which you need to successfully earn your green card. The following methods are possible ways to qualify:
- Special immigrant status
- Refugee or asylee status
- Human trafficking and crime victim
- Victim of abuse
You can get a green card if you are an immediate family member of someone who is a U.S. citizen. You are considered an immediate relative if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen; you are both an unmarried and under-21 child of a U.S. citizen; or, you're the parent of someone at least 21 who is a U.S. citizen.
You may also qualify if you are engaged to a U.S. citizen or if one of your parents is engaged to a U.S. citizen. A U.S. citizen can petition for a K-1 non-immigrant visa on behalf of a foreign national fiance. If you get married within 90 days of entering the U.S. on the visa, you can apply for a green card. Your green card status may be conditional if you've been married to a U.S. citizen for fewer than two years when your green card application gets approved.
You can also get a green card through employment. Immigrant workers have first, second and third preference, depending on skills and career types. The Physician National Interest Waiver can help physicians earn green cards. Immigrants who invest at least $1 million into qualifying new U.S. enterprises may also earn a work-related green card.
A green card based on refugee or asylee status requires a one-year waiting period after you're granted asylum or admitted as a refugee. Victims of abuse qualify if the abuser is your spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen. You may also qualify if you're an abused child of a U.S. citizen, you're unmarried, and you're under 21. Some other special categories may apply to your situation.
How Do You Apply for a Green Card?
If you meet one of the eligibility requirements, you can submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You'll likely need to include other documents with your application. The specifics can vary depending on the category you choose.
Some potential documents you may need to send include:
- Two passport-style photos
- Government-issued identity document including a photo
- Birth certificate
- Evidence of inspection and admission or inspection and parole with an immigration officer
- Document supporting your immigrant category
- Marriage certificate
- Proof that you've maintained a lawful status while in the U.S.
- Affidavit of support
- Proof of financial support
- Medical exam and vaccination record
- Certified records for any criminal charges, arrests or convictions
- Waiver of inadmissibility
You also need to pay the filing fee. If you are admitted into the U.S. as a refugee, you don't have to pay the fee. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may ask for more information or request an interview while reviewing your application.
How Long Is the Green Card Valid?
A green card lasts for 10 years. You have the option to renew your card at the end of the 10-year period using Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, either online or by mail. You can complete the form if your green card will expire in the next six months or if it has already expired.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Renew a Green Card
- USA.gov: Green Cards and Permanent Residence in the U.S.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Green Card Eligibility Categories
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Green Card Processes & Procedures
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Get a Green Card
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Green Card for Fiance(e) of U.S. Citizen
Shelley Frost relies on her experience as a mom and working professional to cover topics on sites such as Working Mother and Intuit. She runs her own business and has previous experience working in educational management, insurance and software testing. She routinely covers parenting, education and business topics in her freelance career.