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Obtaining a Green Card Through the US Immigration Process

Green Cards

Green Card US Immigration Process

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Steps to Obtain a Green Card and Complete the Immigration Process
A Green Card holder (also called an immigrant and a "lawful permanent resident") is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of living and working permanently in the United States.

If you want to obtain a Green Card (and become an immigrant), you must go through a multi-step process:

  1. You must be eligible for a Green Card (US immigration) under one of the paths to lawful permanent residency.

  2. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) must approve an immigrant visa petition for you, which is usually filed for you by an employer or a relative (your "sponsor"). Certain applicants can petition on their own behalf, such as priority workers, investors, certain special immigrants, and diversity immigrants.

  3. If you are seeking to obtain a Green Card (become a lawful permanent resident) based on employment, your US employer may need to submit a labor certification request with the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

  4. An immigrant visa number, through the State Department must be immediately available to you, even if you are already in the United States.

  5. If you are already in the United States, you may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available for you. (If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to your local US consulate to complete your processing.)


Am I Eligible to Obtain a Green Card?
The US immigration system is based primarily on family reunification, needed work skills, employment creation, and recognition of refugees. Also, there is a Green Card Lottery for people who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. You must determine if you are eligible for a Green Card under one of the paths to US immigration, which include:

Eligibility requirements vary not only for each path, but also within each path. The majority of Green Card holders (immigrants) are admitted based on family or employment immigration, and these paths are further divided into categories based on a preference system. All people who want to obtain a Green Card based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the preference system. The immediate relatives of US citizens, which includes parents, husband and wives, and unmarried children under the age of 21, do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the immigrant visa petition filed for them is approved. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of US citizens. Other relatives must wait for a visa to become available according to the preference system.


Immigrant Visa Numbers
U.S. law limits the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available every year, which is one of the reasons for the preference system mentioned above. As a result, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately after your immigrant visa petition is approved. In some cases, several years could pass between the time USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. Because U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country, you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas.

You do not directly apply for an immigrant visa number. USCIS will tell the person who filed the immigrant visa petition (the petitioner) if it is approved. USCIS will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify you (the beneficiary of the application) when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available.


Additional Information on Obtaining a Green Card and the Immigration Process

For more details on visa numbers, see:
     Immigrant Visa Numbers: National Visa Center and the US Visa Bulletin

For an overview of the preference system, see:
     The Preference System: US Immigration Visa Preference Categories for Green Card

For more information on labor certification, see:
     Employment Immigration Green Card

For more details on how to apply to adjust to permanent resident status if you are already in the United States, see:
     Green Card: Become a Permanent Resident While in the U.S. (Adjust Status)

For more details on eligibility, immigrant visa petitions, application procedures, immigration forms, fees, and where to go for further assistance, see the appropriate immigration path:

Back to: Green Card Issues (US Immigrant Visas, US Immigration)

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