For Español click here.
The United States has a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants to its shores. The number of people granted lawful permanent residency in the United States has hovered right around 1 million a year for the past few years, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics. If you wish to be one of them, this guide is for you. We’ll walk you through the entire green card process from beginning to end.
What is a Green Card?
When an immigrant is granted lawful permanent resident status in the U.S., this is also known as “getting a green card.” It means you have been authorized to live and work in this country on a permanent basis.
Ways To Apply for a Green Card
Fill Out On a Computer
Download and edit forms in a PDF viewer.Download PDF
SimpleCitizen’s Application Builder
All forms are included with SimpleCitizen.Get Started
*Includes Attorney Review
Print & Fill Out Paper Forms
Print the PDF and fill by hand with black pen.Print PDF
Hire a Legal Professional
Find a legal professional to complete the forms.Visit AILA.com
As proof of this, the U.S. government requires you to carry a permanent resident card, more commonly known as a green card (the cards were green when first issued and have since gone through numerous redesigns and color changes — and are green again today).
In addition to the right to live and work in the U.S. permanently, there are numerous other benefits of getting a green card:
- You can now sponsor family members applying for their own green cards
- You may travel outside the U.S. and return without disrupting your status
- Once you’ve had your green card for five years, you may apply to become a U.S. citizen
- You are eligible to receive Social Security benefits after 10 years of work
- You qualify for in-state tuition
How to become a permanent resident (green card holder)
There are a few different ways you may become a green card holder:
- Sponsorship by a family member in the United States
- Sponsorship by an employer’s offer of permanent employment in the United States or through your own entrepreneurship
- Through attaining refugee or asylee status or through another humanitarian program
In addition, in some cases you may be eligible to file for yourself, also known as applying for a green card through self-petition
Find out if you are eligible to apply
Are you eligible to apply for a Green Card?
Are you currently living in the United States?
Have you lived in the US for more than 3 months?
Did you enter the United States with an active visa or green card?
Are you married to a US citizen?
Do you have an immediate family member that is a U.S. Citizen or is a Green Card holder?
You are probably not eligible to apply.
If you would like to apply for a Green Card, instead of a Renewal, we can help you.
You are eligible to apply online for a Green Card!
To qualify for a green card, you must meet the following requirements:
- You must belong to one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
- You must have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
- There must be an immigrant visa immediately available for you
- You must be admissible to the United States
1. Available immigrant categories
Important: Some applicants can apply through multiple categories at once. Known as concurrent filing of Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, visit the USCIS website to see if you qualify to file concurrently.
a. Who is eligible for the family-based category?
You may qualify for a green card if you are:
- An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. This includes spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizens age 21 or older.
- Another family member of a U.S. citizen. This includes unmarried children over the age of 21, married children of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens age 21 or older.
- A family member of a lawful permanent resident. This includes spouses and unmarried children of the sponsoring lawful permanent resident.
In addition to the above categories, being a member of another special category may qualify you to get a green card based on family. These include being a:
- Battered spouse or child
- A K nonimmigrant
- A person born to a foreign diplomat in the United States
- A V nonimmigrant
- A widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
Important to note: There is an order of preference for people who wish to immigrate to the U.S. based on family. First preference goes to the first category listed above, immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen. To see the complete order of preference for family members, visit the USCIS website.
b. Who is eligible for the job or employment-based category?
You may qualify for a green card based on a job offer or your plans to invest in the U.S. economy and create jobs. The employment-based category includes:
Green card through a job offer. This is also known as sponsorship through an employer — in other words, when an employer Green card through investment or entrepreneurship. Immigrant investors/entrepreneurs who are investing in a U.S. – based business that creates new U.S. jobs may be eligible for a green card.
Green card through special categories of jobs. You may be able to get a green card based on having a past or current job in one of the following special categories set forth by the U.S. government:
- Afghan/Iraqi translator
- Armed forces member
- International organization employee
- Iraqi who assisted the U.S. government
- Afghan who assisted the U.S. government
- NATO-6 Nonimmigrant
- Panama Canal employee
- Physician National Interest Waiver
- Religious worker
Important to note: There is also an order of preference for people who wish to immigrate to the U.S. for employment. First preference goes to “priority workers,” including exceptional professors and researchers and others with extraordinary abilities. To see the complete order of preference for workers, visit the USCIS website.
c. Who is eligible for the refugee or asylum-seeking category?
You may be able to get a green card through your status as a refugee or asylee.
- If you’re a refugee, the law requires you to apply for your green card within a year of entering the U.S.
- If you have been granted asylum in the U.S., the law requires you to apply for your green card within a year of asylum status being granted.
2. Who is eligible for the immigrant petition category?
If you belong to one of the above categories, next you will need an immigrant petition filed on your behalf. The petition establishes the basis for your immigration and the classification or category in which you belong.
- For people immigrating based on family, the petitioner will file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
- For people immigrating based on employment, the petitioner will file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
There are two exceptions to the petition requirement:
- As mentioned earlier, a limited number of immigrants can self-petition
- Most people immigrating based on refugee or asylum-seeking status are exempt from the petition requirement
3. Visa availability
The third eligibility factor is this: There must be an immigrant visa available to you. With the exception of immediate family of U.S. citizens — for whom visas are always available — there are limits on the number of immigrants visas that Congress grants each year.
In addition, there are priorities and preferences for how those visas are granted. Visit the U.S. Department of State website for the order of preference on family-based immigrant visas and the number of visas that will be granted in each category for this fiscal year.
4. Admissibility to the United States
Everyone who wishes to get an immigrant visa (and apply for any subsequent status adjustment) must prove that they are eligible for admission to the United States.
What would make someone inadmissible? The grounds of inadmissibility are set by Congress and are particular to the category under which you are immigrating. These factors include:
- Financial reasons. The relative who sponsors you must be able to support you, so you don’t end up relying on the public assistance.
- Health-related reasons. You cannot have a disease that makes you a public health risk, nor may you have a dangerous physical or mental disorder.
- Immigration history. If you’ve ever entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa by six months or longer, you may be deemed inadmissible.
- Criminal history. Applicants who have been charged and/or convicted of certain crimes, such as violent felonies, drug offenses and terrorism, may be deemed inadmissible.
If you’ve been found inadmissible to the U.S., you may be able to file for a waiver of certain grounds of inadmissibility. This waiver is Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility.
Are there special immigrant programs available?
Though the overwhelming majority of immigrants come to live permanently in the U.S. through a family member or employer’s sponsorship, there are other ways to get a green card. Some of these special immigrant programs include:
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Administered by the U.S. Department of State and commonly known as the “green card lottery,” this program grants up to 50,000 immigrant visas a year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. The recipients are selected in a random drawing.
- Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen (and certain other categories of widow(er)s). If you were married to a U.S. citizen at the time of the citizen’s death, you may be eligible for a green card. In addition, a widow(er) with or without a pending or approved immigrant petition and a widow(er) of a U.S. military member may also be eligible.
- Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act. Under this act, certain people who are in this country under circumstances that would normally prevent them from getting a green card may still be granted one.
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This program helps foreign children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected while in the U.S.
- Green card for an Amerasian child of a U.S. citizen. Under this program, people fathered by a U.S. citizen and born in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea (Cambodia), or Thailand between January 1, 1951 and October 21, 1982, may get a green card.
Visit the USCIS website to get a complete list of special green card programs.
What if I’m not eligible for anything? What now?
If your having trouble finding out what you may or may not be eligible for, check out this list of our favorite immigration non-profits. One of these non-profit organizations may be able to help you. Setting up a consultation with an immigration attorney to help you is also an option.
Fill out & submit the USCIS forms based on your category
Now that you are familiar with the requirements to get a green card and the conditions under which you may qualify, the remainder of this guide is dedicated to the application process.
Below is a list of USCIS forms related to the green card. Find the forms that match your category and fill them out according to the instructions. It’s extremely important to check and double-check that you fill out every form necessary for your particular situation/categorization.
Important things to remember:
- You must sign your forms! USCIS will reject your application if you fail to sign any forms.
- Evidence: Only send copies of your documents (also known as evidence) when submitting a form, unless USCIS has specifically requested original documents. If you submit originals when not requested to do so, your original documents may be destroyed.
- E-Notification: If you file at a lockbox facility in Chicago, Phoenix, or Lewisville, Texas, you can request to receive an email and/or text when your application is accepted. To request this, file Form G-1145.
- Status Updates: After you submit your application, be sure to stay updated via our USCIS status checker.
Forms for legal residency/green card
Wow, that’s confusing – is there an easier way?
If all of the above seems confusing, that’s because it is. However, our solution is not only easy to use, but is also a fraction of the cost of hiring an immigration attorney. Click here to get build your Green Card application online with SimpleCitizen.
What is SimpleCitizen?
SimpleCitizen is an online software solution that empowers immigrants to achieve their American dream while saving millions of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.
How it works: SimpleCitizen is a step-by-step wizard that asks applicants all the necessary questions to complete their immigration paperwork. Upon completion, users print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to USCIS. This is all done through the platform, without the high costs of a paralegal or immigration lawyer.
Filing alone vs. hiring an attorney vs. using SimpleCitizen
When you file alone. You can go through the entire immigration process without hiring an attorney or paying anything other than the filing fees associated with your forms. All the forms are available for free on the USCIS website, as are the instructions. This is definitely the cheapest option — but it may not be the easiest or smartest one.
The green card process is notoriously complex and daunting, and doubts often plague applicants who do it solo. Did you file all the correct forms? What’s the rule for this situation or the requirement for that one? What if you have questions — whom do you ask? If you file alone, you may not have a straightforward path to a green card, especially if you have circumstances that might make you inadmissible to the U.S.
When you hire an attorney. Hiring a lawyer is not required to apply, but they can be a huge help, especially if you have a situation that is complicated. It’s comforting to have a professional immigration attorney guide you through the process. All the guesswork and doubts that are present when you file alone are not part of the equation when you hire an attorney.
The downside is that immigration lawyers are expensive — all the way up to $300 an hour or more. To have an attorney guide you through the green card application process, you’re likely looking at thousands of dollars in legal fees on top of the filing fees. This is an extremely costly option for a process that’s not cheap to begin with.
When you file using SimpleCitizen. SimpleCitizen is the perfect middle ground. Don’t spend hours trying to figure out the green card application process by yourself, and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer. Our software walks you through the green card application online, and you can even have it reviewed by one of our professional immigration attorneys. We’ll guide you through every step of preparing your application — and when you finish, we’ll even print it out and mail it to you.
With SimpleCitizen, you have help completing all forms and navigating this long and confusing process, but without the high attorney fees.
Did you know: If you use SimpleCitizen and USCIS rejects your application, we will refund you 100 percent of the government filing fees.
SimpleCitizen Success Stories
Ha & Mickey: “The website and user interface make it easy for anyone to easily and successfully fill out their paperwork. SimpleCitizen has designed it so that you can swiftly finish all the paperwork you need by easily inputting information into pre-specified fields. Most importantly, SimpleCitizen mailed me my completed packet all in the correct order leaving me with the easiest step of all – mailing it in to the USCIS office!”
Olivia & Nick: “I had no idea how to get started but SimpleCitizen walked me through the whole process and a week later my application showed up at my house all ready to go. All I had to do was sign it and then send it to the government. I have a lot of international friends and family and I always recommend SimpleCitizen to them. Great service!”
Claudia: “Simple Citizen made the green card application process easier and cheaper for me. Simple Citizen made what would have been a very stressful and very expensive process into an easy and fast one. I am grateful for their unique platform and kind customer service. I will be recommending their services to my friends and family. Thank you Simple Citizen!”
Sign up for SimpleCitizen today & take the guesswork out of the green card process
You don’t have to try to navigate the green card process yourself, and you don’t have to pay outrageous attorney fees, either. SimpleCitizen’s user-friendly, intuitive software will guide you through the green card application. Apply for a green card at the fraction of the cost of using an attorney — with all the comfort of having a guide along the way. Your American dream awaits you, and SimpleCitizen can help you achieve it.