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How To Get A Green Card

Many people around the world want to know how to get a green card in order to live and work in the United States. Some of the most common ways to do so involve being sponsored by a family member or an employer. In some instances, people may marry in order to obtain a green card. Whichever path is chosen, a green card is only valid for ten years and must be renewed if a person chooses to remain in the U.S. for a longer period of time. 


What Is a Green Card?

In determining how to get a green card, it helps to understand what this document is and the benefits of having one. Also known as a Permanent Resident Card, a green card allows foreign-born citizens of other countries to legally enter the United States of America in order to live or work. While the card is generally granted for a period of ten years, it may be renewed multiple times essentially allowing a person to permanently reside in the U.S. as long as they continue to be eligible to do so. 

Those possessing a green card may enjoy many of the same benefits that natural-born citizens of the U.S. do, such as:

  • Live in any state within the U.S.
  • Obtain a state-issued driver’s license
  • Obtain a social security number and card
  • Maintain banking and credit union accounts
  • Access consumer credit
  • Attend public schools
  • Own real estate in the United States
  • Officially request visas for family members to visit the United States
  • Travel in and out of the United States with few stipulations 
  • Apply for certain state and federal support benefits

A green card differs from full citizenship in that it only offers residency, which can be revoked at any time. For those seeking U.S. citizenship, however, a green card is a necessary step in the naturalization process. Adult green card holders still must pay income taxes, abide by applicable laws, and register with the United States armed forces if and when qualified to do so.


Who is Eligible For a Green Card?

Before applying for a green card, certain eligibility requirements must be met. Some of these requirements may include: 

  • Being related to a United States citizen or a current green card holder 
  • Being a refugee seeking asylum in the United States 
  • Being the victim of mental or physical crime
  • Being an immigrant worker


Obtaining a Green Card Through Family Relation

People who have immediate relatives who are citizens of the United States or who are lawful permanent residents may be eligible for a green card. An immediate relative is defined as the parent of a citizen or lawful resident who is of the age of 21 years or older. A parent of an unmarried child who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder who is age 21 years or younger may also be eligible, as well as foreigners who are married to a United States citizen. 


Family Consideration Offered to Fiances and Spouses

People engaged to marry a United States citizen may also apply for a green card. A separate application must be submitted for a foreign fiance’s minor children if they also plan to live in the United States. This same process also applies to individuals already married to a U.S. citizen. It should be noted, however, that these green cards are typically considered to be conditional and are only granted for a period of two years. 

Conditional status does not apply to foreigners who have already been married to an American citizen longer than two years. The primary reason such green cards are granted conditionally is in an effort to discourage abuse of the process by people who pretend to be in authentic relationships solely for the purpose of obtaining permanent residency. Known as sham marriages, obtaining a green card through this avenue has been quite popular in years past.

Individuals who wish to have conditions lifted on their residency must apply jointly with their American spouse within 90 days of their conditional green card’s expiration. During this process, close scrutiny is placed on the couple and they may be required to participate in in-person interviews with immigration officials. The couple must also submit reasonable documented proof that their marriage is, in fact, authentic and ongoing, which may include bank records, leases, and other documentation proving they live together as a married couple. 


Preference Immigrants

Beyond qualifying under the immediate relative category, some foreign applicants may receive consideration under what is known as a “preference Immigrant” category. More information on the eligibility requirements for preference immigrants may be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.


Obtaining a Green Card Through Asylum

Individuals who have faced persecution in their home country due to their religion, race, nationality, political ideology, or by being affiliated with a particular social group may seek the safety and protection that comes with residing in the United States of America. Those who fear persecution in the future based on these factors may also seek asylum in the U.S.  


Crime Victims and Green Cards

Foreign citizens who have been victimized by violent physical crimes or who have been psychologically terrorized in their home countries may apply for green card status in the United States. Individuals who’ve survived human trafficking may also seek permanent residency due to their victimization. Prior to applying for a green card, however, a visa must be applied for and granted. The process for doing so is explained in detail by the Department of Homeland Security.


Is a Green Card the Same As Citizenship?

No, a green card does not grant citizenship. While permanent residency provides a way for an individual to lawfully work and live on American soil, own real estate, access certain public benefits, and while such persons are required to pay all applicable taxes, a permanent resident is still considered to be a foreigner while doing so. Acquiring a green card may be considered as a step toward citizenship, but that distinction is not given until actual citizenship has been applied for and granted.

A green card must be renewed every 10 years. Failure to apply for renewal within a specified time frame results in a person living in the United States illegally. Anyone caught doing so can be immediately deported. U.S. Citizens, on the other hand, do not have to ever apply to renew citizenship and can never be deported to another country as the United States is lawfully their permanent home as long as that citizenship is never denounced.

Permanent residents can also have their green card status revoked at any time if they are ever convicted of a crime.


How to Get a Green Card

The process of obtaining a green card begins with submitting the correct application to request permanent residency. For most people, this will be Form I-485 which is approximately 18 pages in length. The fee to file Form I-485 will vary based on a person’s age and the specific reasons involved in their desire to reside in the United States. 

Along with Form I-485, applicants must also submit the following:

  • Two passport size photographs
  • Government-issued photo identification
  • Acceptable record of birth
  • Certified copies of any applicable arrest, conviction, or parole records

Many other items must be submitted with the original application, but specific details depend largely on whether a person is applying as a relative of a citizen or permanent resident (including those engaged to be married), the child of another applicant or permanent resident, a refugee seeking asylum in the United States, or individuals immigrating for purposes of work or starting a business. A complete checklist of documentation to be submitted with the Form I-485 application can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website


Green Card Renewal or Replacement

As previously mentioned, a green card must be renewed every 10 years. The exception to this is the conditional green card in which renewal is not offered, but individuals living in the United States as conditional residents may have the condition lifted and move forward in the process of obtaining citizenship as long as the request to do so is submitted within a specified time frame before the two-year residency status expires. Lost or stolen green cards may also be replaced.

The standard application for green card renewal is the I-90 form, which may be submitted by mail or via the Internet. Whether submitted online or by mail, status updates are provided by logging into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. If a renewal or replacement is approved, applicants will receive a hard copy of their green card by mail.


Green Card Fees

The fees for obtaining a green card vary according to individual circumstances, such as whether a person is immigrating for work, family, or fleeing violence in their home country. For some, application fees may be waived entirely, while others may expect to pay several hundred dollars to more than $1,000.00 U.S. dollars. It is, therefore, best to visit the U.S. government’s official immigration website to inquire about exact fees.


Interviewing For a Green Card

Beyond a printed application and supporting documentation, those hoping to permanently reside in the United States must also undergo an interview process. After submitting the I-485 form, officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will contact an applicant to schedule a date and time to discuss things like how an engaged or newly married couple met, an individual’s employment and education history, and about any criminal history.

An interviewer may seek to clarify things submitted on the original application and may lend extra scrutiny in areas where verification is needed. Supplying honest answers and being fully transparent is key to this process as any hint of disbelief on the part of the interviewer can result in a green card application being denied.


Final Thoughts

Understanding how to get a green card is an important first step for anyone hoping to immigrate to the United States of America. Knowing the eligibility requirements and understanding what is expected of permanent residents can help people best decide how to approach the process with the least amount of difficulty. Consulting with an immigration attorney experienced in the United States green card process is also of serious importance both before and during the process of seeking permanent residency.

After obtaining a green card, a person must abide by all of the laws, rules, and regulations required to live in the United States. This includes renewing a green card in a timely fashion and keeping all appointments assigned by immigration officials. Failure to uphold the obligations of permanent residency can result in a person’s immediate deportation.

For more information on how to get a green card, please visit our article archives.

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