Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your application, the process of applying for a permanent resident "green card" can be stressful and often discouraging. The U.S. government issues permanent residency cards to law-abiding individuals who can prove that they have "good cause" to remain in the United States. There are many restrictions and regulations that govern the issuance of so-called green cards.
Among other criteria, green card recipients must have lived in the United States for a set period of time or have a family member who resides in the country as a citizen or permanent resident. Green card recipients must also come to the United States by legal means or under certain approved pretenses. Individuals who migrate to the United States illegally and subsequently apply for green cards may be barred from receiving recognition as permanent residents.
Once you've decided to apply for permanent residency, you'll need to seek legal advice. While you don't technically need a lawyer to complete your application, a trained legal professional is likely to make your experience far easier than it otherwise would be. If your first language is not English or Spanish, it's especially important that you retain a lawyer to guide you through the application process. Even though you'll be able to procure residency documents in the language of your choosing, you may have a harder time finding a government representative who's fluent in your language. If you're already in the United States, you may have to travel to a faraway city in order to find such a person and incur significant costs in the process.
Some residency applications are routine and involve few unanticipated delays. Others can be complicated and require months or years for final approval. If your application falls into the former category, you can expect to spend about $2,000 to $3,000 on a lawyer. Otherwise, you may need to budget as much as $5,000 for your legal expenses. If you opt to apply for your green card without a lawyer's help, you'll need to budget about $1,200 in application fees.
Before you begin the arduous process of applying for a green card, be sure that you're making the correct decision. If you've already gained entry to the United States on a humanitarian or "refugee" visa, your permanent residency application may be expedited. Likewise, you may not require a permanent resident card if you plan on maintaining a permanent home in another country. If you come to the United States for business purposes, an easy-to-obtain business or temporary-worker visa may be better-suited to your needs.