Green Card Forms

A green card allows a national of another country to obtain lawful residency in the United States. Green card holders have many but not all of the privileges of citizens. They can live and work in the United States, travel in and out of the country, and obtain benefits like resident tuition at public universities. A green card, however, does not allow holders to vote or serve on juries; these are reserved for citizens only. Having a green card for at least five years is one of the ways immigrants can enter the process of becoming a citizen, called naturalization.

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Green Cards: By Type (9)

There are different categories and subcategories under which people may apply for green cards, which are discussed in greater detail in the pages linked below. In general, the categories define some category of connection or contribution to the United States offered by the prospective immigrant, such as a family member already living in the country or a job offer with a company based in the United States. Each of these categories has particular requirements that an applicant must meet, and that must be demonstrated, and sometimes documented, later in the application process.

Crime Victim — For victims of crime or human trafficking

Employment — For those with pending offers of certain types of jobs, or with exceptional skills and abilities

Family — For spouses, fiancés and relatives of U.S. citizens and other green holders

Investment — For those who invest in businesses based in the United States

Religious Worker (Special Immigrant) — For those coming to the United States to work as ministers, or in other religious callings or occupations*

Refugees – For those fleeing trauma or persecution*

Asylees — For those seeking asylum*

Registry — For those who have resided in the United States since January 1, 1972

Diversity — For those coming from countries with relatively few immigrants to the United States*

Application Process

The primary agency with which an immigrant will interact during the application process is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly abbreviated as USCIS. The others are the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Although the rules for applying vary slightly by category, there are two general methods of applying for a green card:

Applying from the United States

If you are already in the United States, it is possible to obtain a green card without returning to your home country through a process called “adjustment of status.” (Generally, to be eligible for this, you must have been “inspected and admitted” or “inspected and paroled” into the country, but there are exceptions.) This involves submitting a petition associated with your application category, such as Form I-130 for those applying for a green card through a family connection. In some cases, such as those of certain employment-based green cards, it’s necessary for an employer to secure permission from the U.S. Department of Labor before beginning a visa petition. Depending on the category, sometimes the immigrant may file the form, but for most categories, someone else, known as the “petitioner,” must initiate the application.

The next step is for the prospective immigrant, known as the “beneficiary,” to submit a Form I-485, the application for adjustment of status. Generally, an applicant must wait to file Form I-485 until a visa connected with the petition is available; one of the most challenging things to figure out about this process is when a visa is available and when the applicant may submit Form I-485. In some categories, a visa will always be “immediately available” and the prospective immigrant will be able to file the two at the same time, a process known as “concurrent filing.” For others, the prospective immigrant must consult the Department of State’s Monthly Visa Bulletin to file an I-485. Applicants should keep in mind that, for some categories, the waiting time to file for adjustment of status may be lengthy. 

Applying from outside the United States

Applying for permanent residency from another country is known as “consular processing.” Consular processing also begins with the filing of a visa petition, either by someone else or by the prospective immigrant where permitted. Concurrent filing is not allowed for consular processing. Instead, the immigrant must await a decision on the petition, then apply through the consular office in his or her home country. Similar waits for a visa to be available can be expected with consular processing and adjustment of status. After this process, which usually includes an interview, is completed, the immigrant receives a “Visa Packet” to keep and present to Customs and Border Protection officials on entering the United States.

Conditions and Cautions

Once the steps in either of these cases are completed, the immigrant is generally ready to receive a green card from USCIS. In some cases, such as those seeking a green card through investment, there are “conditions” that attach to the immigrant’s green card application that are removed after the immigrant has met certain requirements for a specified period of time. It is necessary to remove conditions in the case of those who obtained green cards through marriage, and those who obtained a green card through investment.

In all of the applications discussed, there are distinct requirements for which supplements to fill out, what information or evidence to include, how much the filing fee is, and where the application should be sent. Where possible, the guides below will specify the answers to these questions, but at times it may be necessary to consult the USCIS website. Applicants should try to gather identity documents, such as passports, and where necessary those demonstrating work history or school attendance, before beginning the process. The forms can be detailed and extensive, and applicants should follow instructions as closely as possible: USCIS often warns that it will discard applications that fail to meet technical specifications.

Check Status

View the status of a green card application at www.egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/