Getting a Green Card
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
A United States Permanent Resident Card, most commonly called a "green card," allows a non-U.S. citizen to legally live in the United States for an indefinite period of time. It's not the same as becoming a U.S. citizen, which involves the more rigorous process of naturalization and grants certain rights and privileges otherwise denied non-citizens (for example, voting in elections and access to a U.S. passport).
For a more complete collection of articles, how-to guides and government resources, see the "Green Card" section of FindLaw's Immigration Law Center. The following is a general primer on getting a green card, with links to more in-depth resources:
- Green Card Eligibility - Green cards are available to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; certain highly skilled workers; refugees and asylum seekers; certain long-time residents; and others meeting specific criteria.
- See "Who May Obtain a Green Card" for an overview of who is eligible, and "Eligibility and Preference Categories" for more specific information.
- For details about green card preferences in the context of family-based immigration, see "Priority: Spouses, Fiances, and Adopted Children."
- See "Immigration Visas for Battered Spouses and Children" to learn about the Violence Against Women Act and its pathway for obtaining a green card.
- "Refugee Asylum Basics" contains links to FindLaw articles about becoming a permanent U.S. resident on the basis of persecution (or fear of persecution) in one's home country.
- See "Other Ways to Obtain an Immigrant Visa/Green Card" for links to additional information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Bringing a Family Member to the U.S. - U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (i.e. those who already have a green card) may petition for a green card on behalf of their immediate family members.
- See "Family-Based Immigration Overview" for general information about eligible categories.
- For more information about the various categories of family-based green cards, see "Bringing a Spouse to Live in the U.S.," "Bringing a Child to Live in the U.S.: Info for Permanent Residents," "Bringing a Child to Live in the U.S.: Info for U.S. Citizens," or "Green Card Marriage Interview FAQs."
- To bring a child adopted from a foreign country to live in the U.S., see "International Adoption Basics."
- Adjustment of Status - Foreign guests classified as "non-immigrants" or "parolees" may adjust their status to "immigrant" and apply for a green card, provided they meet the various requirements. When foreigner individuals living in the U.S. speak of "becoming legal," it is typically a reference to the adjustment of status process.
- See FindLaw's "Immigration through Adjustment of Immigrant Status" for a concise overview, including eligibility criteria and links to federal immigration forms.
- The "Adjustment of Status" page of the USCIS website outlines the seven-step process of adjusting one's immigration status.
- Green Card Application Process - As with most U.S. immigration procedures, the green card application process can be quite complicated and often takes a matter of years before it is finally granted. Since the number of visas and green cards processed each year is limited, the U.S. Department of State maintains approximate wait times (by category) on its "Visa Bulletin."
- See FindLaw's "The Green Card Process: Do's and Don'ts," "The Diversity Lottery: Overview," and "Submitting a Visa Petition for a Family or Employment Green Card" for more information.
- The USCIS "Green Card Processes & Procedures" section contains primers on the various stages of the green card application process.
- Once you have your green card, review "How to Keep Your Green Card" to learn about the various ways a permanent legal resident can get in trouble with immigration officials.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.