Permanent Residency in the United States – Green Card Process

There are several ways to become a permanent resident, or green card holder, in the United States, depending on whether you are currently situated inside or outside the United States.

Some of the major green card categories include:

  • Employment based green card
  • Family based green card (this includes marriage based green cards)
  • Investment based green card
  • Refugee or asylee

There are numerous steps that one must follow in order to successfully complete the green card process. The time it takes to acquire permanent residency depends on several factors, including the category in which you are applying and your country of origin.

The Green Card Process – Overview

Generally, the prospective immigrant must take some of the following major steps in order to acquire permanent residency or green card status in the United States.

Filing an immigrant petition. The first step in the green card process is to file the appropriate visa petition. For those seeking permanent residency through employment, the petition to submit is Form I-140, whereas for family-based immigrants, the proper petition is Form I-130.

Priority dates. Most family and employment-based green card categories have annual limits on the number of visas that can be issued. Such visa categories are typically oversubscribed because demand for permanent residency exceeds the annual quota restrictions. Hence, a priority date is the date on which the green card application is filed by or on behalf of the foreign national; it preserves his or her place in the permanent residency queue. Depending on the foreign national’s preference category and country of origin, he or she could either immigrate immediately or wait for a few years for the priority date to become current.

The priority date for family-based petitions is the date USCIS receives Form I-130 filed on behalf of the foreign national. On the other hand, for employment-based categories, the priority date is the generally the date of filing of the labor certification (ETA Form 9089) with the U.S. Department of Labor.

It is difficult to predict how long it will take for the priority date in any particular preference category to become current, but the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin keeps track of the progression in priority dates according to preference category and country.

Adjustment of status or consular processing. Once the initial petition is approved and the priority date becomes current, the foreign national can then apply for the final step in the green card process which, depending on whether he or she is located within the United States or abroad, can be either adjustment of status or consular processing.

If the foreigner is living in the United States, then he or she must adjust status by filing Form I-485 with the nearest USCIS office. However, if the person is living abroad, then he or she must opt for consular processing, that is, file your permanent residency papers at your local U.S. Consulate.