Permanent-resident cards, commonly known as "green cards," allow their holders to live, work and travel in the U.S. without a visa. There are two types of green card. Conditional green cards are issued with a duration of two years and are dependent upon the holder's meeting a set of conditions, such as an investment or a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen. Unconditional green cards are valid for 10 years and remain valid unless the holder leaves the U.S. for an extended period of time.
Determine in what way you are eligible to receive a green card. You can get one in several different ways--you can win one in the green-card lottery, you can earn one based on your work, or you can get one because of your family relationship to a U.S. citizen or current permanent resident. Visit the USCIS website (see resources) to determine your eligibility and priority status. Priority is given based on your relationship to the petitioner or the priority status of your job.
Fill out the application form. For family-based immigrants this is form I-130. Employment-based immigrants use form I-140, and special immigrants use form I-360.
Collect the evidence to accompany your petition. This will vary based on how you are eligible for the card. For family-based applicants this includes evidence of your relationship to the petitioner, affidavits from family members attesting to your relationship and evidence of joint finances or shared property. For employment-based applicants the evidence needed depends on your particular employment in the U.S. and can include published work, significant awards and proof of international recognized achievement.
Fill out form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This form is filed concurrently with the petition.
Gather the evidence to accompany the I-485. This includes your passport with current nonimmigrant visa, birth certificate and two 2" x 2" passport photos.
Submit your application and petition to USCIS. Review the instructions for form I-485 for your particular filing location. USCIS has several locations which process green card applications, based on the type of application you are lodging.
Complete your biometric appointment. USCIS will send a notification to you after receiving your application informing you where your biometrics will be taken. Attend the appointment and keep the receipt.
Attend the medical examination and interview, if necessary. USCIS will notify you if these requirements are necessary for your application.
Wait for USCIS to adjudicate your application. Wait times depend upon the current work volume at the center where your application was lodged and, for some categories of petitioners, the availability of visa numbers.