When immigrating to the United States, obtaining a green card is an essential step on the path to citizenship. Once you receive permanent residence status, you will be granted many rights and protections not available to those in the country on a temporary basis.
People come to the U.S. for a variety of reasons, and there are several paths that can be taken to get a green card and become a permanent resident. It is essential to learn the ins and outs of whatever road you choose to take toward remaining in the United States on a permanent basis.
Different Ways to Get a Green Card
There are many paths you can take to get a green card. The circumstances under which you come to the country will dictate what permanent residency path to take.
Green Card Through Family
One of the most common paths to obtaining a green card is through a family member. You can apply for a green card as:
- An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (Spouse/Unmarried child under the age of 21/Parent)
- Another type of relative of a U.S. citizen (Unmarried child age 21 or older/Married child/Sibling)
- A family member of a lawful permanent resident (Spouse/Unmarried child under age 21/Unmarried child age 21 or older)
- A fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen
- A child of a fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen
- A widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
Green Card Through Marriage
When obtaining a green card through marriage, it is critical that the marriage is legitimate and not carried out solely for the purpose of immigration. If you married shortly before applying for a green card, you can expect immigration to thoroughly investigate your marriage to ensure that the relationship is real.
Green Card Through Employment
Another common way for people to get a green card is through employment. The ability to immigrate to the United States and obtain a green card varies depending on your skill level, educational background, and the field in which you work.
First Preference Immigrant Worker
Workers who fall into this category will have the easiest time getting an employment-based green card. To be considered a first preference immigrant worker, one of the following must apply:
- You possess extraordinary ability in the fields of art, science, business, education, or athletics.
- You are an outstanding professor or researcher.
- You are a multinational executive or manager who meets other specific criteria.
Second Preference Immigrant Worker
Obtaining an employment-based green card as a second preference immigrant worker can prove more challenging. However, you will still have a strong chance of approval. Workers in this category meet one of the following conditions:
- You work in a profession that requires an advanced degree.
- You have exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business.
- You are seeking a national interest waiver.
Third Preference Immigrant Worker
Securing an employment-based green card as a third preference immigrant worker can be very difficult. However, with determination, you can still get a green card in this manner. Workers in this category meet one of the following conditions:
- You are a skilled worker (working a job that requires at least two years of training or experience).
- You are a professional (working a job that requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent in the field).
- You are an unskilled worker (working a job requiring little or no experience).
You can also get an employment-based green card as an immigrant investor, spending money to create jobs in the country.
Green Card as a Special Immigrant
There are several other categories of U.S. immigrants who can apply for a green card. You can get permanent residency if you are a special immigrant, such as a(n):
- A religious worker coming to the U.S. to work for a nonprofit religious organization
- Special immigrant juvenile who has been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent
- Afghanistan or Iraq national who worked as a translator or in another position for the U.S. government
- The international broadcaster who is a member of the media for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) or a USAGM grantee
- An employee of an eligible international organization or NATO or a family member of an employee
Green Card Through Refugee or Asylee Status
Another path toward getting a green card is through refugee or asylee status. As a refugee, you will be eligible to apply for a green card one year after you arrive in the country a refugee. As an asylee, eligibility begins a year after you are granted asylum.
Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
If you were a victim of human trafficking, you can apply for a green card after receiving a T nonimmigrant visa as a victim of human trafficking. Victims of other crimes involving mental or physical abuse can apply for a green card after receiving a U nonimmigrant visa.
Green Card for Victims of Abuse
Abuse victims may also get a green card in certain situations. An abused spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can apply for a green card. Additionally, an abused parent of a U.S. citizen may apply as well. These applicants apply under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as self-petitioner.
A child may apply for permanent residency if they have been abused, abandoned, or neglected and have Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status.
Immigrant victims of abuse from certain countries can obtain a green card as well. An abused spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen can apply under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Additionally, an abused spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident who received a green card through the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) can apply for a green card.
Green Card Through Registry
The registry is a special immigration law that allows people who have held a continuous residency in the United States dating back to January 1st, 1972, or earlier to apply for a green card, even if they are in the country unlawfully.
Green Card Through the Diversity Visa Program
The Diversity Visa Program allows up to 50,000 people to immigrate to the United States and receive a green card each year. Applicants are chosen by lottery from countries with low immigration numbers to the United States.
Green Card Through Other Categories
There are a variety of other less common ways for people to immigrate to the United States and receive a green card. Some of the other options for immigration include:
- Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
- Cuban Adjustment Act
- Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
- Dependants of an HRIFA residency recipient
- Lautenberg parolee
- Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000
- American Indian born in Canada
- A person born in the United States to a foreign diplomat
- A foreign diplomat or high-ranking official stationed in the United States and unable to return home
How Long Will It Take to Get a Green Card?
The amount of time it takes to get a green card can vary depending on the route you are taking to obtain your permanent residency. Let’s take a closer look at some of the possible wait times for various green card applications.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Family?
The wait time for getting a green card through a family member can vary dramatically depending on your relationship with the sponsoring family member and their residency status. For an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen, like a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21, or a parent, wait times range from six to 18 months.
For immediate family members of permanent residents, wait times can range from 11 months to over four years.
Meanwhile, for all other family members, the wait time is likely going to be much longer. In some cases, it can take as many as 10 years to get a green card as a family member of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Furthermore, family members with Filipino or Mexican citizenship can wait over 20 years for a green card.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Marriage?
In most cases, getting a green card through marriage will take between six and 18 months if your spouse is a U.S. citizen. However, extra time can be added if you are living in the United States while your application is being processed.
For spouses of lawful permanent residents, the waiting period can be over four years.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Employment?
The wait time for an employment-based green card depends on the popularity of the employment category under which you are applying. In some cases, it can take less than a year to receive a green card. However, if applying under a popular category, you may have to wait as many as six years for acceptance of your application.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card as a Special Immigrant?
The wait times for a green card as a special immigrant can vary significantly depending on your specific status. However, generally speaking, you will likely be looking at a wait of around one year up to five years. Of course, in some complicated cases, the wait time can be even longer.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Refugee or Asylee Status?
Wait times for refugees or asylees seeking green cards typically vary from eight months to two years depending on the backlog of refugee and asylum seekers and the immigration office where the application is filed.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims?
Victims of human trafficking and other select crimes become eligible to apply for a green card after three years of continuous residency in the United States. After that, the application can take another three years or more before they receive their green card.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card for Victims of Abuse?
The wait times for victims of abuse to get a green card will depend on the program through which they are applying. Obtaining a green card for a victim of abuse will likely take somewhere between two and five years.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Registry?
As the Registry law currently stands, applicants can likely wait less than a year to receive their green card because there are very few people applying for a green card under this category. The reason for this is that the date for continuous residency is over 50 years ago, leaving very few eligible applicants in the country.
However, if the date for the registry changes and moves into the 21st century, many previously ineligible immigrants will be able to apply, and wait times will likely rise.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through the Diversity Visa Program?
If selected in the lottery under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, you likely won’t have to wait as long for your green card as applicants in many other categories. In most cases, you can receive a green card through the Diversity Visa Program in one to three years.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card Through Other Categories?
The amount of time it takes to get a green card through other categories can vary wildly. Depending on the specific path towards permanent residency, you could be looking at as little as one year, all the way up to 10+ years.
Cost to Get a Green Card
In most situations, getting a green card can be quite expensive. The exact cost to get a green card will vary depending on the path you are taking to permanent residency.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Family
Getting a green card through a family member comes with several costs. Your family member must file Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative, which costs $535. Meanwhile, you must submit Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, which costs $1,140. You must also have to pay $85 for your biometrics exam fee in most cases.
If you are getting your green card through consular processing, it will cost another $300 to $350. To improve your chances of getting your green card approved and speed the process along, you might also want to hire an immigration lawyer who will likely charge thousands of dollars. All told, you will probably pay between $2,000 and $7,500 for your initial green card.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Marriage
The same forms will need to be filed to receive your green card through marriage as through any other familial relationship. When applying for a marriage-based green card, you will pay $1,760 in fees plus potential additional expenses such as hiring an attorney and translation services.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Employment
Some of the costs associated with an employment-based green card will be paid by you, while others will be paid by your employer. For first preference immigrant workers, your employer will pay the Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers fee of $700. For a second or third preference immigrant worker, your employer will also pay $3,000-$4,000 for Labor Certification.
Meanwhile, you will pay $1,140 for Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with $325 for the Immigrant Visa Application, $85 for Biometrics services, and $220 for the USCIS Immigrant Fee. The total of all your expenses will be $1,770.
Immigrant investors will have to pay the same $1,770 as immigrant workers. However, they will also have to pay $3,675 for the processing of Form I-526: Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor.
Cost to Get a Green Card as a Special Immigrant
The costs for a green card as a special immigrant vary depending on the specific category under which you are applying. However, you can generally expect to pay at least as much as a family or employment-based green card.
Many special immigrants will have to file Form I-360: Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, which has a fee of $435 in addition to Form I-485.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Refugee or Asylee Status
Refugees and asylum seekers will generally have to pay $1,140 for the processing of Form I-485, along with $85 for biometrics for those between the ages of 14 and 79. However, if you can not afford these costs, you can submit an application to have the fees waived.
Cost to Get a Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
When applying for a green card for human trafficking and crime victims you will have to pay the costs of $1,140 for Form I-485 and the $85 biometrics fee, if applicable. However, like refugees and asylum seekers, it is possible to apply to have these fees waived.
Cost to Get a Green Card for Victims of Abuse
Abuse victims can file Form I-360 for free. Like refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking and other select crimes, you can apply for a waiver of the fees for Form I-485 when applying for a green card for victims of abuse.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Registry
Those who apply for a green card through the registry will have to file Form I-485 and pay the filing fee of $1,140.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through the Diversity Visa Program
Entering the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery is free. However, those selected in the lottery will have to pay $330 for the Diversity Visa fee. Applicants outside of the U.S. will pay an additional $325 to file Form DS-260, while applicants already in the country on a temporary visa will pay $1,140 to file Form I-485 to adjust their status.
Cost to Get a Green Card Through Other Categories
The cost to get a green card for applicants in other categories can vary significantly. Some of these applicants may be able to get their fees waived, like refugees and asylum seekers, while others will pay up to thousands of dollars for their application and additional costs if they hire an attorney to help them with the process.
Speak with an immigration lawyer or immigration solutions company to get a better understanding of how much it will cost for your specific green card application.
Get Help Applying for a U.S. Green Card Today
At ImmigrationDirect, we provide our clients with all the resources they need to get a green card through whichever path they take. The road to permanent residency can be long and costly. However, the benefits of becoming a permanent resident in the United States are worth the battle. One of these perks is that getting a green card is a necessary step on the path to U.S. citizenship.
Receiving citizenship through naturalization will grant you the full rights of native-born U.S. citizens. If you plan to remain in the United States for an extended period, citizenship might be the right choice for you. We can help you not only with the process of becoming a permanent resident but also guide you through the steps to becoming a United States citizen.