Green Card Guide

Become a Permanent Resident

For years, people have come to the U.S. for many reasons. There are different routes to getting a green card and becoming a permanent resident.

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What is a Green Card?

A Green Card is a document authorizing non-U.S. citizens to live and work in the United States permanently. This Permanent Resident Card grants individuals the legal right to live and work in the country. 

Green Card recipients receive many of the same rights and benefits as a U.S. citizen, such as:

  • access to healthcare
  • education
  • the ability to travel freely within and outside the country

How Does a Green Card Look?

A Green Card doesn’t have to be green; it can also be tan. It’s a small plastic card that fits in your wallet. Here are some of the most notable features:

Biographic information

The front of each card shows the holder’s name, photograph, and date of birth. It also contains the fingerprint information. It may also include the card’s expiration date.


The cardholder’s signature is usually on the card’s back.

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Alien registration number (A-number)

Each individual is given an A-number for identification and tracking purposes. This number is prominently displayed on the card.

Barcode and magnetic stripe

A barcode and magnetic stripe on the back will be shown for enhanced security. This can be scanned for verification purposes.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced the new green card design to improve the cards’ security. This new card design will be issued from Jan. 30, 2023. Current issued cards before Jan. 30, 2023 are also valid.

New green card designs include:

  • Cutting-edge technology to maintain national security and provide better service to customers
  • Improved intricate design
  • Advanced tactile printing with improved integration with the artwork
  • Enhanced optical variable ink feature
  • Increased security with holographic images on the front and back of card
  • A layer-revealing function with a partially transparent window in the back photo box
  • Data fields are presented in altered locations compared to previous versions.
how does a green card look

Types of Green Cards

Family-sponsored green cards

For family-sponsored green cards, eligible relatives include immediate family members like spouses, children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizens. Other family members like siblings and children of lawful permanent residents can also apply. Your family member files Form I-130, proving their permanent resident status and relationship with you, using documents like birth or marriage certificates. 

family sponsored green card

If you find a job in the U.S., your employer can help you get this Green Card. They’ll pay for the necessary forms and the application process and sponsor you to live and work. But here’s the thing – you’ll be linked to that employer until your work contract ends


First Preference Immigrant Worker (EB-1)

This category is relatively easier for individuals with extraordinary abilities in various fields, including arts, science, business, education, or athletics. It’s also for outstanding professors, researchers, and multinational executives or managers.

first preference immigrant worker eb1

Second Preference Immigrant Worker (EB-2)

This category can be more challenging, but it’s for those with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in arts, sciences, or business. It also includes those seeking a national interest waiver.

second preference immigrant worker

Third Preference Immigrant Worker (EB-3)

While more challenging, determination can lead to success in this category. It encompasses skilled workers, professionals requiring a U.S. bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and unskilled workers. Immigrant investors who create jobs are also considered.

third preference immigrant worker

Fourth Preference Immigrant Worker (EB-4)

EB-4 visas cater to certain specialized categories, including religious workers, U.S. foreign service post employees, retired international organization workers, and noncitizen minors under U.S. court custody.

fourth preference immigrant worker

Fifth Preference Immigrant Worker (EB-5)

These visas are part of the Immigrant Investor Program and are available to those making significant investments. To qualify, you must invest $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise with at least ten full-time U.S. workers or $900,000 in a new venture in a targeted employment area with the same employment requirement. Labor certification is waived, and investors and their families can apply for green cards.


Special immigrants

Special immigrants, like religious workers, abused or neglected juvenile immigrants, and those who served the U.S. government can apply for a Green Card.

special immigrant

Green card through refugee or asylum status

Refugees can request a Green Card after one year since they arrived, while asylees can do so one year after being approved for asylum.

refugee asylum status

Green card for human trafficking and crime victims

Human trafficking victims or the victims or other crimes involving abuse can apply for a Green Card through T or U nonimmigrant visas.

human trafficking and crime victims

Green card for abuse victims

Abused spouses, unmarried children under 21, or parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents can apply under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Children with Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status can also apply.

abuse victims

Abuse victims from specific countries

Abused spouses or children of Cuban nationals, citizens, or lawful permanent residents can apply under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Those abused by lawful permanent residents with a Green Card through the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) can also seek a Green Card.

abuse victims from specific countries

Marriage green cards

You must provide evidence of your spouse’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. Then, prove that your marriage is legally valid according to the laws of the country in which it occurred. Complete the appropriate forms, such as Form I-130 or Form I-129F, Form I-485 or Form DS-260, Form I-765 if you plan to work during the application process, and Form I-131 if you need to travel outside the U.S. Include your marriage certificate and, if applicable, documents like divorce decrees or previous spouse’s death certificates to confirm the termination of prior marriages. The legitimacy of your relationship is a huge factor in this application process.

marriage green cards

Returning resident green card

If you previously had a Green Card but left for over a year due to circumstances beyond your control, this card is for you. Valid reasons include being held in another country or not being allowed to return to the U.S. This can be due to family or cultural reasons. You’ll need to provide documents proving that you had no choice but to stay away for an extended period.

returning resident

Diversity visa green card

The U.S. has an annual visa lottery for citizens of countries with low immigration rates. If you participate in this lottery and get selected, you’ll receive a diversity visa. 


Get Your Green Card

Become a Permanent Resident

How to Apply for a Green Card

The specific requirements for a Green Card application can vary depending on the category you’re applying under. Below are the basic criteria that you must meet:

  • Eligibility category: You must fall into one of the eligible categories we have previously listed for Green Card issuance. Each category has its unique requirements.
how to apply for a green card

Green Card Type


Family-Sponsored Green Cards

Employment-sponsored Green Cards

Marriage Green Card CR1 Visa

Marriage Green Card IRI Visa

Returning Resident Green card

Special Immigrant Green Card

Diversity Visa Green Card

Refugee or Asylee Status

Investor Green Card (EB-5)

Victims of Crime/Abuse

Additional Requirements for the I-485 Application - Adjustment of Status

The primary form for applying for a Green Card is the I-485. This is known as the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

You must complete this form and submit it along with the required documents listed below:

  • Passport-sized photos.
  • A copy of your passport and any previous passports with U.S. entry stamps.
  • Birth certificate (with a certified translation in English, if applicable).
  • Marriage certificate (if applicable, with a certified translation if not in English).
  • Divorce decree or death certificate of a prior spouse (if applicable).
  • Proof of legal name change (if applicable).
  • Police certificates from your home country and any other countries you’ve lived in.
  • Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record.
  • Medical examination results.
  • Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) from your sponsor (if required).
  • Employment authorization document (if applying for an employment-based Green Card).

Background checks: You’ll undergo a thorough background and security check, including fingerprint collection and an FBI “name check.” The fingerprint collection is used to verify your identity and check for any criminal records associated with your identity. Simultaneously, the FBI “name check” searches its extensive database to identify any criminal activities or security concerns linked to your name or identity. 

Medical examination: You must undergo a medical checkup by an approved USCIS doctor. This shows you do not have any contagious diseases that would make you inadmissible to the U.S. The medical examination is a review of your medical history, a physical examination, a chest X-ray, and blood tests specifically for syphilis. During the physical examination, various body parts and systems are thoroughly assessed, including the eyes, ears, nose, throat, extremities, heart, lungs, abdomen, lymph nodes, and skin. 

Criminal history and inadmissibility: Applicants must provide a comprehensive history of their criminal background. Certain criminal convictions may render you inadmissible.

Family-sponsored Green Card Requirements Form I-130 Family-Based Green Card

For family-sponsored Green Cards, sponsors must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The documents required may vary based on the family relationship and preference category.

These individuals must provide documents like the following:

  • Proof of Sponsor’s U.S. Status: You must demonstrate your U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) status. This could include your U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, or Green Card. You must provide vital records like birth certificates for the sponsor and the intending immigrant. If you’re sponsoring your spouse, you must submit your marriage certificate. If it’s a parent-child relationship, birth certificates will suffice.
  • Financial Support Documents: To ensure you can financially support the intending immigrant, you must complete an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). Along with this form, you should submit financial documents such as tax records (Form 1040) for the most recent tax year, W-2 forms, and pay stubs. If you sponsor more than one family member, separate Affidavits of Support should be prepared for each.
when should you apply for a green card

When Should You Apply for a Green Card?

You should apply for a Green Card when you meet the eligibility criteria for one of the categories. Applying as soon as possible is essential to avoid delays in the process.

Additionally, staying updated on immigration policies and processes is a smart thing to do. These may change over time, impacting the application process and waiting times.

how long does the process take

How Long Does the Green Card Process Take?

Typically, it takes two years for a green card to become available, and the entire process usually takes about three years. However, it’s worth noting that it can take longer for people from Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines.

Applying for a Green Card from Within the United States


Waiting times vary for those applying from within the United States. For spouses and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, it’s around 12.5–20.5 months. But, for spouses of U.S. green card holders, other relatives of U.S. citizens, and employment-based green card applicants, it takes more than two years.

Applying for a Green Card from Outside the United States

applying outside US

Waiting times also differ when applying through consular processing from your home country. Spouses and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens face a wait of about 14 to 15 months. The waiting times for other green card categories vary due to country-specific caps and policies. The wait for spouses of U.S. green card holders also varies depending on specific factors and policies.

As of 2023, the following are more specific times:

  • The process usually takes about 11.9 months if a U.S. citizen sponsors you.
  • If a green card holder sponsors you, the process will take around 25 months.
how long to get the green card approved

How Long Does It Take to Get Your Green Card Once Approved?

After your green card application is approved, you must wait for it to arrive. The time this takes varies depending on specific circumstances:

  • If you entered the U.S. using your immigrant visa, you will likely receive your permanent resident card 90 days after entering. This card officially confirms your status as a lawful permanent resident.
  • If you paid the immigrant visa fee after you entered the U.S., you can expect a similar timeline. It might take up to 90 days from your payment date for your permanent resident card to arrive.

These timelines are only approximate. The actual arrival of your green card can vary based on different factors and circumstances.


How Much Does A Green Card Cost?

The Main Fees for a Green Card Based on the Type of Visa

The overall fee for a Green Card is around $1,800 if you’re in the United States and $1,200 if you’re outside the country. However, these amounts don’t cover the cost of the required medical exam and other fees.

Remember, all these fees are subject to modification. While the exact changes aren’t in effect yet, staying informed is essential, so check the official sources before you apply for a green card.

Visa Type & Purpose

Petitioner Forms

Fees For Petitioner

Applicant Forms

Applicant Fees

K-1 visas

Form I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)


Form DS-160


K-3, F-1, F-2A, F-2B, F-3, F-4, IR-1, IR-2, IR-5 visas

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative


Form DS-260 (excluding EB-4)


EB-1, EB-2 visas

Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker


Form DS-261 (EB-4)


EB-4 visas

Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian Widow(er) or Special Immigrant


Form DS-117 (SB-1 visa)


EB-5 visa

Form I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur 

Family-$3,675Green Cards

Affidavit of Support 


If you meet the above criteria, you can renew your green card. To do so, go through the following steps:


Fill Out Form I-90: Begin by completing a paper Form I-90. This form is designed for Green Card replacement. It can be obtained from the USCIS website or by requesting a copy through the mail. Ensure that you accurately provide all the requested information.


Gather Required Documents: Collect the necessary evidence to support your application. This typically includes a photocopy of your expired or soon-to-expire Green Card.


Review and Sign Your Application: Carefully review your completed Form I-90 for accuracy. Verify that all information is up-to-date and matches your current circumstances. Once satisfied, sign the application as required.


Payment of Government Fees: Check if government fees apply to your situation. If fees are required, pay as outlined in the USCIS instructions. Ensure that you follow the correct payment method and include the necessary amount.


Submit Your Completed Application: Package your completed Form I-90, supporting documents, and payment. You can then send it to USCIS. Use the address provided in the Form I-90 instructions. Double-check that you have included all the necessary components.


Wait for Your New Green Card: Once USCIS receives your application, they will start processing. These processing times can vary. However, you may receive notifications or requests for additional information during this period. Keep track of the progress of your application and see if your card gets approved.

how to renew

How to Renew Your Green Card

First, check to see if you can renew a green card. Ensure you have done the following:

  • Legal status: You must be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States.
  • Validity: Your green card should either be expired or nearing its expiration date.
  • Physical presence: You must be physically present in the United States when submitting Form I-90.
  • Continuous residence: You must remain in the U.S. without extended periods spent outside the country.

Bona Fide Relationship Evidence

You must demonstrate the authenticity of your relationship with the intending immigrant to prove that it's not a marriage of convenience or a fraudulent family connection.


Show your relationship over time, such as family gatherings, trips, and everyday life.


Submit letters, emails, or cards exchanged between you and the intending immigrant, showing communication over an extended period.

Legal Documents

Include joint leases, property deeds, or insurance policies to establish shared responsibilities and financial commitments.

Call Logs

For couples in long-distance relationships, call logs or records of phone conversations can demonstrate ongoing communication.

Proof of relationship

You must provide documentation proving the qualifying relationship with your sponsor.

Form I-130 Petition

Birth Certificates

Marriage Certificate
(if applicable)

Divorce Decrees
(if applicable)

Adoption Papers
(if applicable)

Proof of U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Residence

Affidavit of Support
(Form I-864)

Financial Documentation

Passport Photos

Medical Examination Report (Form I-693)

Fees Payment Receipts

Translation and Notarization (if needed)

Get Your Green Card

Become a Permanent Resident


How Long After Obtaining a Green Card Should You Wait Before Applying for U.S. Citizenship?

You can apply for U.S. citizenship after holding a green card for five years. However, if you possess a marriage green card, you may apply for citizenship after just three years.

the cost to renew your green card last

The Cost to Renew Your Green Card

The fee for renewing your Green Card is currently $540. This includes a $455 filing fee and an $85 biometrics fee for fingerprinting, photos, and signatures. But, if you’re eligible for a fee waiver, you won’t need to pay either of these fees.

Do You Have a Green Light to Get The Green Card?

At ImmigrationDirect, we provide our clients with all the resources they need to get a green card, no matter their path. The road to permanent residency can be long and costly. However, the benefits of becoming a permanent resident in the United States are well worth the battle!

We can help you not only become a permanent resident but also guide you through the steps to becoming a United States citizen.

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