As each green card category involves its own specific steps and procedures in its application, the process involved in obtaining a green card varies with the needs and circumstances of each individual applicant. Generally speaking, the process depends on whether the applicant is applying for a green card while already in the United States– known as adjustment of status– or while outside the United States– known as consular processing.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides information on processes surrounding each category of immigrant. For all categories of immigrant, the first step in establishing permanent residency in the United States is determining green card eligibility. Immigrants who meet requirements can begin the application process when visa slots become available for their category.
The United States uses a preference system in categorizing immigrants who want to become permanent residents in the country. The category in which green card applicants are placed is determined by associations with qualified family members, job offers or employment or a special category. Each year, Congress establishes the number of visas government officials can issue for each immigrant category. Immigrants with immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens rank highest in immigration priority.
Green card eligibility includes:
- Classification under one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act
- Having a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved, though a few exceptions to this criterion exists
- Having an immigrant visa available immediately
- Meeting admissibility requirements into the United States
Immigrants filing for a family-based green card don’t have to wait for a visa to become available in cases involving immediate relatives as Congress currently has set no limit to the number of visas available in this category. Immediate relatives include:
- Parents of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
- Spouses of U.S. citizens
- Unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are under the age of 21
USCIS offers more details on green card eligibility through a family member on its “Green Card Through Family” page.
Green card applicants based on employment or a job offer can apply for permanent residence or an immigrant visa abroad. These green cards are based on these employment-based preferences:
- First Preference are priority Workers and includes aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers
- Second Preference are professionals who hold an advanced degree or persons of exceptional ability, which includes individuals seeking a National Interest Waiver
- Third Preference are skilled Workers, professionals and other qualified workers
- Fourth Preference are certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations
- Fifth Preference are employment-creation immigrants who are investors or entrepreneurs
USCIS offers more information on green card eligibility through employment or a job offer on its Green Card Through a Job page.
Immigrants admitted to the United States as a refugee or the qualifying spouse or child of a refugee are required to apply for permanent residence– a green card– one year after entry into the United States in this status. Immigrants granted asylum in the United States or who are a qualifying spouse or child of an asylee can apply for permanent residence one year after the grant of asylum status.
Refugees are required by law to apply for a green card one year after being admitted to the United States in refugee status.
Although it might be in their interest to do so, asylees and asylee derivative spouses or children aren’t required to apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum or one year after being admitted to the United States in asylum status.
Refugees and asylee green card information can be found on the USCIS Green Card Through Refugee or Asylum Status page.
Regardless of whether an immigrant is already in the United States and is filing for an adjustment of status in their green card applications, or if the application is routed through consular processing for those who are outside the United States, some of the same processes exist in the green card applications of both.