Eligibility requirements to apply for a green card

A green card gives the holder permanent residence in the U.S. – the ability to live and work in the country for the foreseeable future. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has implemented a lengthy and strict process for applying for permanent residence, but first you must qualify for a green card by meeting certain requirements. These generally include:

  • Being admissible to the U.S.
  • Having an immigrant visa immediately available
  • Having an immigrant petition filed and approved for you
  • Being eligible for an immigrant category established by the Immigration and Nationality Act

INA categories

To apply for a green card, you must fit into an INA immigrant category, which includes family-based, job- or employment-based, refugee or asylum categories.

An immigrant can qualify for a green card if he or she is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. This includes parents and spouses as well as children under the age of 21 who are unmarried. In some cases, applicants do not have to wait for a visa to become available to qualify under family-based circumstances.

Job- or employment-based
If someone is employed by an American company or has received a job offer to work in the U.S., he or she fits into this immigrant category. Immigrants can choose to apply for either a green card or an immigrant visa abroad. When a visa becomes available, it is granted to the most qualified individuals according to these rankings of preferences:

  • Priority workers such as immigrants with extraordinary talents, researchers in emerging fields, outstanding educators and multinational executives
  • Advanced degree holders and members of highly complex fields, like science and medicine
  • Skilled workers, professionals and other qualified employees
  • Immigrants in specialty fields, such as religion
  • Workers who serve to create more jobs, like certain entrepreneurs and investors

Refugee or asylum status
Those admitted to the U.S. as a refugee or as the spouse or child of a refugee must apply for a green card one year after being granted entry into the country. Those granted asylum are not required to apply, but it may be in the best interest of the immigrant to avoid extradition.

While these three categories are the most common ways that immigrants become permanent residents, there are also other options. For example, you can participate in the green card lottery, file an immigrant petition or apply through a special circumstance such as Armed Forces member or a victim of trafficking.