How to Obtain a Green Card in the U.S.A.

By Kathy Mair
Obtaining a green card in the United States makes working and traveling easier.
Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security, issues permanent resident status to foreigners. This gives an alien the right to work and live in the United States indefinitely. The documentation that proves such status is commonly referred to as a "green card." The process of obtaining a green card varies based on the category under which you fall. Obtain the necessary forms by calling USCIS at 800-375-5283 or visiting the website at A "Green Card Lottery" exists for potential permanent residents from low-immigration countries, as well.

Immediate Family of a U.S. Citizen While in the United States

Determine if you are considered immediate family -- a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21 or a parent of a citizen over the age of 21.

File form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, when or after the citizen has filed I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

Send form I-797, Notice of Action, showing form I-130 has been received or approved by the USCIS, if you submit form I-485 after your relative files I-130.

Immediate Family of a U.S.Citizen While Outside the United States

Request your family member file form I-130 with USCIS.

Receive approval of I-130 and a visa for travel to the United States.

Come to the United States and officially receive permanent residence.

Other Family Members of a U.S. Citizen

Request your family member file form I-130 with USCIS.

Receive approval of I-130. You must also wait for a visa if you are outside the country.

File form I-485 if you are in the United States.

Travel to the United States on receipt of your visa if you are not already in the country. You will receive permanent resident status on entry.

Employment with a U.S. Company

Wait for approval of form I-140 from USCIS. The potential employer files this form.

File form I-485 and supporting documents after approval if you are in the United States. Include form I-94 from your current visa, a copy of any approved immigration petition, the letter of employment offer, two color photos no more than 30 days old, and forms G-325A, I-693 and I-864 completed by the potential employer.

Obtain the next available visa for travel to the United States after approval of I-140 if you are outside the country.


Apply for your green card one year after you were first admitted to the United States as a refugee, as required by law.

Submit form I-485 and the following documents to USCIS: two color photos, proof of refugee status such as form I-94, evidence of any legal name change since entry to the United States, and forms G-28, G-325A and I-693.

Prepare individual I-485 forms and accompanying documents for each member of the family applying under refugee status. Send all the applications together.


Apply for permanent resident status after at least one year as an asylee in the United States. While not required by law, applying for a green card is recommended should conditions change and negate your asylee status.

Submit form I-485 and the following supporting evidence: form I-693, fees for form I-485 and fingerprinting, form I-602, a copy of your I-94, form G-325A, verified copies of any applicable court records and two color photos.

Translate any foreign language documents to English. The translator must certify the authenticity of the translation. Include the original foreign document with the translation.

Prepare I-485 packets for each member of your family granted derivative asylee status who wants to become a permanent resident.