How to Obtain a Green Card for the USA

By Mallory Ferland
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There are many ways to obtain a green card and each maintains its own set of qualifications, requirements and application procedures. All paths to a green card begin first with a visa. Both visas and green cards are applied for through the United States Citizenship and immigration Services (USCIS).

Obtain a permanent job offer. There are many types of work visas, however, the majority of temporary job offers and employment exchanges cannot result in a green card. Only a permanent employment offer from an U.S. company can result in a green card. After securing a permanent job, your employer must file Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien worker with the USCIS on your behalf--you cannot do this for yourself. If approved, the petition is then sent to the U.S. Embassy or consulate nearest to your residence. The embassy will contact you to set up a visa interview. Once the visa is granted, you enter the United States and file Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence (green card).

Marry an American citizen. Persons engaged to or married to a U.S. citizen are qualified to enter the United States and apply for a green card. This immigration option is only for those who are already married or in a serious relationship with immediate intent for marriage. Sham marriages used for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card are easily detected by the USCIS and have serious penalties. The visa route is either a K-1 Fiance(e) visa or the I-130 family visa for the spouse of a U.S. citizen. The K-1 process begins with the filling of I-129F Petition for an Alien Fiance(e) filed by the U.S. citizen. The foreign fiance then attends a visa interview appointment. If the visa is granted, the couple has 90 days to get married inside of the U.S.. After the marriage, the alien spouse must file Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence in order to obtain their green card. For a spouse, Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative must be filed on behalf of the alien before a green card can be applied for.

Immigrate through a family member. Aside from marriage, it is possible to immigrate to the U.S. via a family member such as a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter who is a citizen. Family members of Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs or green card holders) can also immigrate through their family member. However, family members of LPRs have low priority compared to family members of U.S. citizens, and therefore must wait for a visa to become available. The average wait time for a family member of an LPR, even for spouse and children, is between four and five years. To immigrate through a family member, the LPR must file I-130 Petition for Alien Relative after which the alien relative will attend an interview at their nearest embassy or consulate in order to receive their visa. After entering the United States, an I-485 must then be filled out.

Win the diversity lottery. The United States reserves a certain number of immigrant visas per immigration year to grant to winners of the diversity lottery. Only those from a specific set of countries are qualified to apply for the diversity visa as the program is for those from nations that are the least represented in the United States. Refer to the Resources section for qualification and application procedures.

File for refugee or asylee status. It is also possible to obtain a green card as a refugee or asylee. Refugees must apply for a refugee visa through an U.S. Consulate or embassy before entering the U.S. Asylees obtain their visas after entering the U.S. from fleeing danger. Both asylees and refugees admitted to the United States can apply for a green card (I-485) after one year of living in the United States.