Guide to Green Cards and Permanent Residency

A green card is slang for a card which serves as evidence of an immigrant's permanent residence status. The first cards made were in fact green and the name stuck even though the color of the card has changed several times over the years. Government Green cards allow foreign nationals to live and work in the United States permanently. While green card employment, or permanent residency card, offers a great deal of opportunity for immigrants, getting one can be a very frustrating process that can take years to complete, and applicants are highly advised to seek help from an Immigration Lawyer. Permanent residence status does not afford all the rights of U.S. citizenship, but does offer an immigrant the opportunity to work and live in the United States permanently (barring any illegal activity which can result in removal and loss of permanent residence status).

If you want to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, the first step requires a sponsor to file a petition for you when applying for a green card. The following is a list of categories under which you might be able to find a sponsor:

Family-Based Relationships

Spouse, fiancé or unmarried child under age 21 of U.S. Citizen

Spouse or unmarried child under age 21 of Lawful Permanent Resident

Employment-Based Relationships

Priority worker (workers nationally recognized as experts in their field)

Highly-skilled professionals

Ordinary workers

Special Immigrants

Religious workers, former employees of the U.S. government, and other specifically designated categories of people


A sponsor is not necessary in this category, but the entrepreneur has to be willing to invest $1,000,000 or $500,000 and employ ten U.S. workers.

Protected Status

Aliens seeking protection from persecution based on specific factors


Groups of aliens specifically approved by Congress for green card eligibility

In order to get a green card, an individual must have an immigrant visa number. The number is only issued at the time of approval of the I-485 adjustment of status application. While it may not take long for USCIS to approve an individual's visa petition, it can take years for the State Department to issues an immigrant visa number.

A Word of Caution

In all cases, applicants should not make travel arrangements, give up jobs or apartment leases, etc. until the visa has been issued. There is never a guarantee that a visa will be issued at any given time. Some visa applications require further administrative processing or background checks which can take additional time after the applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. An immigrant visa can be valid for six months from the date of issuance which should allow sufficient time to make travel plans.

Persons born in countries other than the U.S. may have a claim, under United States law, to U.S. nationality if:

  • Either parent was born or naturalized in the United States, or
  • Either parent was a United States citizen at the time of applicant's birth.
  • Any applicant believing that he or she may have a claim to U.S. citizenship should not apply for a visa until his or her citizenship has been determined by the consular office

Next: The Application Process

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