Permanent Residency Guide: The Application Process

The green card process is long road. Once a person meets the eligibility requirements for a green card, he can file a petition or have his sponsor file a petition for an immigrant visa number. The petition must include affidavits of support. Affidavits of support are a guarantee to the United States government that once you come to live in the United States, you will not become a burden on the country's social services system. It states you will support yourself and your family financially. If your employer is filing a petition, he can demonstrate your ability to support yourself by providing salary and benefit information. If a family member is sponsoring you, he can sign an affidavit which states that in the event that you cannot support yourself, that family member will support you.

Once the petition has been approved, the alien can apply using Form I-485 which is the Application to Register for Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The application will ask you to identify your application type, or what kind of petition was approved for you to move to the step of applying with Form I-485. The categories include "an immigrant petition giving me an immediately available immigrant visa number has been approved, and "my spouse or parent applied for adjustment of status or was granted lawful permanent residence in an immigrant visa category that allows derivative status for spouses and children." Each possible scenario is listed on the application. Obviously you cannot complete the application until you have an immigrant visa number. It is a long application requiring detailed information regarding your personal and work history.

Medical Examinations

Before the issuance of an immigrant visa, every applicant, regardless of age, must undergo a medical examination. The examination will be conducted by a doctor designated by the consular officer. Examination costs must be paid by the applicant, in addition to the visa fees.

Once the State Department issues the immigrant visa number, the next step for most applicants is a personal interview. During the interview, an immigration official will review all documentation and it is best to keep track of documentation sent and answers given on paper in order to be consistent when answering in person. Digital fingerprints will also be taken at the time of the interview and possible digital photos as well.

Limits to Available Visas

When the cap is reached for the number of visas given in any category, the category is closed to applicants and the applicant is given a number issued in chronological order from the date the application was received. The filing date of the petition becomes the applicant's "priority date". The priority date establishes the applicant's place in line to receive a visa. In some categories, the wait can be several years as only a certain number of visas can be given for each category each year. There is also a cap for each single country in each category which can create longer waits for foreigner nationals of some countries than for other countries.

Visa numbers granted for applicants from one single country cannot exceed 7% of the total number allowed in each category. As a result, the waiting time for applicants from some countries can be considerably longer because more their nationals apply for United States permanent residency. India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines tend to have the longest wait because they meet the 7% quota quickly and the people waiting for permanent residence status must wait longer for their turn to get an immigrant visa number.

Country of Origin

Individuals are usually charged to the country in which they were born. For example, if an individual was born in France, but his parents were born in Germany, that individual would be charged as a French national. It doesn't matter if an individual was born in France and later became a German citizen, he would still be charged as a French national. There are two exceptions to this rule which would make it possible for an applicant to claim a country other than the one in which he was born:

  • If an applicant's spouse is charged with a different country and is requesting immigrant status at the same time as the applicant, he can use his spouse's country of birth.
  • If the applicant's parents were only temporarily residing in the country in which the applicant was born (at the time of his birth) then he can be charged with the country in which his parents were born.

Determining from what country you are charged as a national can make a big difference in your wait time for an immigrant visa number. The category and country will be the determining factors for how long it takes to get permanent resident status.

Documentation Required for Application Process

Documentation is everything in the United States immigration process. The more documentation you have to prove who you are and your intentions regarding living in the United States the more likely you are to succeed in getting into the United States. The only exception is for applicants for political asylum who understandably may not have documentation given the various dangerous circumstances they may face in getting to the United States.

Certain documents are required of all visa applicants such as:

  • Passport
  • Long form birth certificate
  • Marriage certificates
  • Death certificates if a widow
  • Court documents of divorce if applying for a visa requiring single status
  • Financial documents or other evidence the applicant will not become a public charge

Most applicants will go through a personal interview which will review all documentation and it is best to keep track of documentation sent and answers given on paper in order to be consistent when answering in person. It is important to keep all correspondence to and from the USCIS or any other governmental agency. Put copies of all documents in a safe place in case one set is lost or stolen. Application forms for every type of visa or green card are available from the USCIS (for U.S. based applications), the U.S. State Department (for applications made by a U.S. consulate outside the U.S.), and the U.S. Department of Labor (for work authorizations or employments-based visas and green cards).

Immigration forms, fees, and instructions change often and it is best to check with the appropriate website for each of the departments above before submitting application materials or before paying filing fees. If an applicant is ineligible for a visa, s/he can submit the appropriate waiver with necessary documentation before applying for a visa.

Green Card Photo

The green card picture is the identification photograph on the card. The applicant sends a photograph to USCIS to be placed on the identification card, similar to a passport. There are specific requirements for the photograph you submit when getting your green card including:

  • Total photo size must 51mm square
  • Size of applicant's head must be 25-35mm from top of hair to bottom of chin
  • Photos must in color, in good light, with no shadows or marks
  • Background must be white or off-white
  • Final image must not be retouched
  • Eyes must be 28mm to 35mm from the bottom of the photo
  • Photo of applicant's face from the front with eyes open
  • No jewelry or hats allowed unless headdress is required by applicant's religion

You do not need to pay a professional photographer to take your green card picture. As long as you follow the requirements and use a good quality camera in order to get the clearest photo possible, your photograph should be accepted.


Visa fees are required for each application (per person). Fees are not refundable, even if the application for a visa is denied. Fees should not be sent to the consular office unless specifically requested. There are additional fees for filing petitions.

Last Page: Introduction | Next Page: Family and Employment Based Green Cards

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