An in-depth look at how to get a green card in the US.
What is the Purpose of Obtaining a US Green Card?
The US immigrant visa programs were established to give foreign citizens a way to obtain green cards, allowing holders to live and work permanently in the United States.
It can be somewhat difficult to go through the application process for permanent residency due to the complexity of the requirements and lengthy wait times. However, once they secure a green cards, immigrant applicants will have Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status and can apply for citizenship five years thereafter.
In this article, we go over the individual requirements for each United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) green card form and explain how applicants can make the process easier.
Preparation for Immigrant Visa Applicants
The most valuable asset a foreign national can have by their side when applying for permanent residency is a highly-qualified, experienced immigration attorney.
Such legal counsel is the best preparation for the complicated application process, and immigration lawyers must stay up-to-date on recent changes to the various visa programs.
Before applying for a green card, foreign nationals should have all their personal and financial records in order.
Different forms require different accompanying documents, so the applicant should analyze each form in advance. An immigration attorney will help the foreign national determine which program is most appropriate for their particular situation and assist in the preparation and submission of all documents.
Green Card Categories
There are various eligibility categories for US immigrant green cards.
Green Cards Through Family Members
These marriage-based visas are for the spouse, betrothed, widow/widower, children, parents, or siblings of a US green card holder or citizen.
Green Cards Through Employment
Employment-based visas are meant for foreign workers, immigrant investors, and individuals with extraordinary skills such as athletes or professors.
Green Cards for Special Immigrants
This category covers a broad spectrum of applicants and can apply to religious workers, international organization or government employees, Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs), medical graduates, permanent residents seeking reentry after long absences, and other categories.
Green Cards Through Refugee or Asylee Status
Refugees outside of the US or asylees within the US who have good reason not to return to their country are eligible for these green cards.
Green Cards for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
Victims of serious crime or human trafficking may apply for a green card under this section.
Green Cards for Victims of Abuse
If a US citizen or green card holder perpetrates abuse against their spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21, the latter may apply for green cards. The parent of a US citizen may also apply under the same conditions.
Green Cards Through Other Categories
These categories include green card lottery winners in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, foreign diplomats who cannot leave the country, Lautenberg parolees, certain citizens of Cuba, Liberia, Vietnam, Kampuchea, or Laos, along with qualifying relatives, and American Indians born on Canadian soil. The green card lottery is known to be a less reliable way to immigrate.
Green Cards Through Registry
Any person who has lawfully resided in the US since January 1, 1972, can apply for permanent residency.
Basic Requirements for Green Card Applicants
There are different eligibility requirements for each green card program, but foreign nationals must generally fulfill the following criteria during the application process:
- Good physical health.
- A clean past without felonies or serious crime.
- Provide medical, academic, and financial records.
- Provide a birth certificate or official evidence of birth.
- Provide marriage, divorce, or death-of-spouse certificates, if applicable.
- Provide biometrics and two passport-style photographs.
- Pay filing and legal fees.
Green Card Form Checklist
The requisite forms in the green card process depend entirely on which eligibility category a foreign national falls into. Here is a comprehensive look at the primary accompanying documents for each form.
Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, is filed by green card applicants who are already within the US on a non-resident visa. They must submit
- A valid government-issued ID.
- Evidence of lawful admittance and residence through a nonimmigrant visa, a stamped passport, Form I-94, and/or Form I-797.
- Proof of financial stability through Form I-864.
- Form I-693 proving their physical health status.
Form DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa Application, is filed by foreign citizens living outside of the US to receive permanent residency. They will go through consular processing as well as an interview, and all forms must be submitted to the local US embassy or consulate, including:
- Proof of nationality, including a birth certificate and passport.
- All past immigration and military records.
- Medical exam results in Form I-693.
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is filed by green card holders or US citizens on behalf of foreign family members seeking permanent residency. The applicant should have:
- Evidence of their US citizenship or lawful permanent resident status through a passport, birth certificate, or naturalization certificate.
- Birth certificates to prove the relationship to the child, parent, or sibling in question.
- Marriage and name change certificates to prove relationship to the spouse, along with supporting evidence such as any children’s birth certificates, joint bank account or property ownership papers, and written statements from family and friends vouching for them.
Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, is submitted to USCIS (the official government organization that oversees immigration) by an EB-5 (employment based preference category) green card applicant after they have invested in a qualifying US business of their choice. They will need
- Proof of an at-risk investment in a new commercial enterprise (NCE).
- Detailed information on business operations and project partners.
- Lawful source-of-funds documentation and financial information.
- An economic report indicating the NCE is likely to produce 10 full-time jobs for two years.
- Evidence of policy decision-making or day-to-day managerial involvement in the business.
Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, is filed by an EB5 investment immigrant after having held Conditional Lawful Permanent Resident (CLPR) status for two years. They must include
- Documents showing that the NCE investment remained at risk for two years.
- Proof that the business successfully produced 10 US jobs during that time.
- Previous years’ tax returns and financial statements.
- A copy of their conditional green card.
- Form I-797 current immigration status from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Form I-693 medical exam results.
Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, is issued automatically to anyone entering or leaving the United States who is not a green card holder or US citizen. Upon traveling to the US, the foreign citizen must present their visa and passport to a Customs Border and Patrol (CPA) agent to be inspected and stamped. Most receive an electronic travel record, but those traveling by land might receive a paper record, which is kept in their passport.
Form I-864, Affidavit of Support Under Section 213A of the INA, proves that a foreign national has the ability to support themselves financially through
- Federal tax returns up to three years prior.
- Pay stubs dating back at least six months.
- Records of stocks and bonds ownership.
- Titles and deeds to any property.
- A written statement from the applicant’s employer.
Form I-797, Notice of Action, is not filled out by the immigrant but is sent to them by USCIS as the result of a petition. Form I-797 covers a broad spectrum of topics and is often submitted alongside other forms the applicant fills out themselves.
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, is submitted by a non-U.S. citizen within the US who has already filed but not yet received approval for a green card and who wishes to begin working immediately. They will need:
- Evidence of legal admittance to the US using a passport, visa, or Form I-94.
- Proof that their green card application is underway using Form I-797 from USCIS.
- Any previous US work permits.
Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, is filed by a US employer seeking to verify the immigrant’s employment authorization and personal identity. To do so, they must submit
- The potential employee’s green card, US passport, qualified foreign passport, or employment authorization document card; OR
- Two of the following: driver’s license, federal or military IDs, school reports, or medical records;
- AND a US social security card, birth certificate, or tribal documents.
Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, is submitted by a US employer who wishes to sponsor a foreign national for a green card through employment. They will need:
- Copies of academic achievements and credentials.
- Form I-9 employment eligibility verification.
- Payment records dating from the beginning of employment.
- Labor certification through the Department of Labor (DOL).
- Form I-797 from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services on immigrant status.
- A copy of the original written job offer.
- Financial audit reports.
- A letter of support on behalf of the immigrant from a high-ranking academic or an equivalent [erson.
Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, is filed by asylees within the US or by refugees outside of the US. It must be filed within one year of entering the US. Along with the basic application requirements, the applicant must include
- A letter of explanation stating eligibility.
- Supporting evidence for their personal situation.
Form I-360, Petition for Special Immigrants, Amerasians, Widows or Widowers, is for those who qualify as an Amerasian, widow or widower, or special immigrant. After approval, they can submit I-485 for adjustment of status and receive a green card. Depending on the applicant’s situation, the petition will require
- A statement explaining their life situation.
- Evidence to support categorical eligibility.
- Favorable written recommendations from government personnel.
Forms I-914 and I-918
Form I-914, Petition for T Nonimmigrant Status, is filed by victims of human trafficking for a temporary immigrant green card.
Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, is filed by victims of serious criminal activity to receive a temporary green card.
Both victim types must provide the following with their petition before they can apply for status adjustment:
- A personal statement.
- Evidence of cooperation in an ongoing investigation related to their situation.
Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, is filed by foreign nationals living in the US while their I-485 applications for permanent residency are being processed. Form I-131 allows applicants to travel outside the US. It is also filed by refugees and green card holders seeking reentry to the US after leaving for more than a year. Applicants must submit
- Proof of lawful immigrant status using a visa, passport, green card, or Form I-797.
- Their work permit and identification papers.
- Date of past arrival or departure using Form I-94 or travel tickets, if applicable.
- An explanation of the reasons for travel.
Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, provides evidence of physical health and is submitted by any foreign national applying for US permanent residency, either with or after filing I-485 for status adjustment. It must be signed by the civil surgeon who performed the examination and handed to the applicant in an envelope that remains sealed.
Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, is filed by immigrants who have held their green card for five years of permanent residency, or three years for spouses of US citizens. Upon approval, they will officially receive US citizenship. They will need to submit a copy of their green card.
Green Card Processing Times
Processing times for a green card vary widely depending on which green card category is chosen, and they can range anywhere from 6 months for a marriage-based green card, to 70-plus years for certain employment-based visas.
Those applying for a green card from within the US or those who are the immediate family of a US citizen typically have shorter wait times than other applicants.
To receive priority processing, applicants can pay a fee of $1,500.
This provision is not available for the EB-5 investment program, but foreign nationals who apply for a green card can choose to invest in a business within a targeted employment area (TEA) and thereby receive priority processing.
The Importance of Obtaining a US Green Card
Securing permanent US residency can be of great benefit to a foreign national hoping for a better life. A green card can also lead to US citizenship, which comes with its own perks such as the ability to vote in US elections and lower higher-education tuition.
EB5 Affiliate Network (EB5AN) is a leading EB-5 investment project manager and consultancy. We have helped thousands of foreign nationals obtain US green cards and connected them with the best immigration attorneys in the industry.
Contact us by booking a call to find out more about the EB-5 program, its significant advantages over other visa options, and how to get a green card.