If you’re like many people, you want to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. To do so, you need to apply for residency – and if the U.S. government approves your petition, you’ll receive a green card. Your green card will allow you to live and work anywhere in the U.S., and it’s a stepping stone to U.S. citizenship. This guide explains how to get a green card, what it takes to apply, how long you’ll have to wait and more.
The Ultimate Green Card Guide for U.S. Immigration
The first step in getting a green card is typically to apply for a United States visa. You must be eligible to apply or the U.S. government will deny your petition. If you haven’t yet applied for a visa but your ultimate goal is to get a green card, you’ll need to choose the right type to meet your needs. Though some U.S. visas can lead to a green card, not all of them do.
If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible to apply for a green card, you may want to talk to a San Antonio immigration attorney about your options.
Green Card Eligibility
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines categories of people who are eligible for green cards. You may be eligible to apply for a green card if:
- You have family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
- You have a job in the U.S. with a visa that permits you to apply for a green card
- You’re a special immigrant
- You’re a refugee or asylee in the United States
- You have been a human trafficking or crime victim
- You’re a victim of abuse
- You’ve lived in the U.S. for several years
- You fall into one of a handful of other categories
Here’s a closer look at each category.
Green Cards Through Family Ties
If you’re the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, or a parent whose U.S. citizen child is at least 21 years old), you may be eligible to apply for a green card. Additionally, you may be eligible if you are:
- An unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and you’re over the age of 21
- A married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen
- Sibling of a U.S. citizen, provided the citizen is over the age of 21
- Spouse of a lawful permanent resident
- Unmarried child under the age of 21 of a lawful permanent resident
- Unmarried son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident who is 21 or older
- Fiancé of a U.S. citizen (or the child of the fiancé of a U.S. citizen)
- Widow or widower of a U.S. citizen
- Abused spouse or child (under the age of 21) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or the abused parent of a U.S. citizen
Immediate family members of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for a green card to become available to them. However, most others do have to wait. Others must apply for a family preference visa. There are caps on the numbers of family preference visas available in each category every year. Your San Antonio immigration attorney can give you guidance based on your specific situation and help you apply, regardless of your familial connections to the United States.
Related: Green cards through marriage
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Green Cards Through Employment
Some people are eligible to apply for and receive green cards based on employment in the United States. Generally, immigrant workers, physicians with national interest waivers and immigrant investors qualify. The type of work visa you have determines whether you’re eligible to apply.
The following table outlines which immigrant workers are eligible to apply for green cards.
First Preference Immigrant Workers
You must have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or you must be an outstanding professor or researcher. Alternatively, you may be a multinational manager or executive in some situations.
Second Preference Immigrant Workers
You must be a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, or you must have exceptional ability in the arts, science or business. Alternatively, you must be seeking a national interest waiver.
Third Preference Immigrant Workers
You must be a skilled worker, a professional, or an unskilled worker.
Physicians with national interest waivers
You must be a physician who agrees to work full-time in an underserved area for a certain amount of time.
You must have invested or be actively involved in investing money in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that creates full-time positions for at least 10 full-time employees.
Green Cards for Special Immigrants
Some people qualify as special immigrants who are eligible for green cards, including:
- Religious workers
- Afghanistan or Iraq nationals who helped the U.S. government in certain capacities
- Juveniles who need protection from a juvenile court
- International broadcasters
- Employees of certain international organizations or NATO, or their family members
Asylees and Refugees Who Qualify for Green Cards
If you were granted asylum or refugee status in the United States, you can apply for a green card.
Green Cards for Human Trafficking or Crime Victims, or for Victims of Abuse
Victims of human trafficking, certain crimes, or abuse who are in the U.S. under T nonimmigrant visas, U nonimmigrant visas or who are VAWA self-petitioners can apply for a green card. Additionally, abuse victims who are children or who fall under the Cuban Adjustment Act or the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act can apply.
Green Cards Through Registry
If you have resided continuously in the United States since before January 1, 1972, you are eligible to apply for a green card through registry.
Special Categories for Green Cards
There are several other categories that make you eligible for a green card. You should contact a San Antonio immigration attorney about your situation if you believe you’re eligible. Your lawyer can explain your options and help you apply.
How to Apply for a Green Card
If you’re eligible, you can apply for a green card using a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-485. Often, someone else has to file your petition for you; this person is your sponsor. It may be your U.S. citizen family member, a lawful permanent resident family member, or your employer.
Applying Inside and Outside the United States
Your application process will depend on whether you’re currently in or outside of the U.S. If you’re in the United States, you’ll most likely apply for an adjustment of status to your current U.S. visa. If you’re outside the U.S., you’ll likely use consular processing through the U.S. Department of State to apply.
The Application Process
After filing your green card petition, you’ll most likely have to go to a biometrics appointment where USCIS will collect your fingerprints, photos and signature. You may also be required to participate in an immigration interview where a USCIS official reviews your petition and gathers information. The green card application process can take several months, but your immigration attorney will be there to walk you through it and answer your questions along the way.
Do You Need to Talk to a San Antonio Immigration Attorney About Getting a Green Card?
If you need to speak with an immigration attorney about applying for a green card, whether you’re adjusting your current immigration status or you’re starting from scratch, we may be able to help you. Call our office to schedule your free immigration consultation today – our team will be happy to answer your questions and get you on the right path to a green card.