Becoming a Permanent Resident: How to Get Your Green Card

Becoming a permanent resident in the U.S. is a confusing, time-consuming process. Complex immigration laws that are subject to change make it even more challenging. Therefore, understanding the basics about applying for a green card is important. Here are the most frequently asked questions about getting your green card:

What is a Green Card?

Believe it or not, a green card is actually a plastic ID card with a green background.  

Legally speaking, a green card is an immigration document that is proof of Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status in the U.S.  As a permanent resident, you have permission to work and live indefinitely in the United States.  Being a permanent resident can also lead to better work opportunities, and can give you access to federal financial aid for your education.  With a green card, you can leave and re-enter the United States, allowing you to travel abroad to see family, go on vacation, or attend professional conferences. Finally, as a permanent resident, you can file an immigration petition for other family members such as your spouse or child.

Am I Eligible for a Green Card?

Most green card processes fall under one of the following categories:

  • Family-Based: Green cards based on your family relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  This may include a spouse, parent, child, or sibling. 
  • Employment-Based: An employer or sponsoring agency will petition for you based on your special skills or profession. 
  • Humanitarian: Protections available for survivors of trauma or abuse or those who face harm if forced to return to their home country. Green card options exist through VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status), U Visas for crime victims, T visas for trafficking survivors, and Asylum.

In all cases, the underlying petition must be filed and approved in order for you to be eligible for a green card. Sometimes the underlying petition can be filed together with the green card application – a process known as “one-step adjustment of status.”  Other times, the underlying petition and green card application must be filed in separate steps.

When Can I Apply to Become a Permanent Resident?

Before filing your green card application, you must ensure that a visa is available to you.  If you file your application before the eligible date, your case may be rejected.  

Immigration sets limits on how many visas/green cards can be issued each year for certain categories of visas.  These numerical limits exist for certain family-based, employment-based, and humanitarian cases.

As a result, you should refer to the current visa bulletin to determine whether (or when) you can file for a green card.  For spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, there are no annual limitations and visas are always available. Other categories, however, are subject to backlogs because there are more applicants than visas available. The wait time can be anywhere from months to years.

Help with Your Green Card Application

You do not have to go through this process alone! Origin Immigration Law staff can answer your questions and help you file for your petition if needed. 

If you have your green card, we can help determine if you are eligible for Naturalization. Individuals who already have green cards may be eligible for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.  Depending on your case, you may be eligible for naturalization within just a few years after getting your green card.  In most cases, you must demonstrate English proficiency, knowledge of U.S. history/government, and good moral character. 

We can screen you for eligibility and can help you with early filing as well as fee waivers if you have limited income and cannot afford the government filing fee.  We prepare you thoroughly for the interview and can attend the interview with you.  


Contact us today to discuss your immigration law needs.