How to Get a Green Card

The Green Card is the everyday term that means Legal Permanent Resident status in the United States.


Legal Permanent Residents, also called Green Card holders or LPRs, may work and remain permanently in the United States. The LPR can travel freely in and out of the United States—whether for business, pleasure, or personal reasons. That said, a Legal Permanent Resident must avoid long or constant absences, because this status can be lost.


There are several ways to obtain the Green Card and all it offers a non-U.S. citizen.

  • The applicant could seek an employment-based Green Card. An immigration lawyer can examine a person's eligibility for the Green Card under one or more employment-based categories. This usually relies on the sponsorship of a U.S.-based employer. (An immigration lawyer also represents employers—often employers at corporations and institutes hiring multiple non-citizen workers.) Additionally, there are options for a non-citizen to petition for self-sponsorship, by demonstrating vital accomplishments and the promise of future professional success in the United States. Such an applicant isn't tied to any one employer. The categories that offer such flexibility include the National Interest Waiver and the prestigious categories for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability or Outstanding Researchers.
  • The applicant might instead be sponsored by a qualifying U.S.-based relative.
  • Finally, there is the Diversity Visa lottery.

Working It Out: The Employment-Based Green Card

To earn an employment-based green card, your employer must file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).


Most of these applicants for legal permanent residence will need to show a permanent—not temporary—job offer from a U.S. employer. It is the role of the employer to seek U.S. government approval. Many employer-sponsored petitions occur through the labor certification ("PERM labor") process. If the non-citizen gets through labor certification—the traditional purpose for this is to ensure the non-citizen is qualified and no citizens would step up to take the job—then the employer files the immigrant petition with USCIS.

Exempt from PERM are applicants in the EB1 (Employment-Based First Preference) categories (Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, Multinational Executive Transferees, and Outstanding Professors or Researchers), the EB2 National Interest Waiver category, and the EB4 Special Immigrant category (e.g., religious personnel). 


U.S. immigration law allows certain foreign nationals to become lawful permanent residents as EB5 Investors if they're investing $1 million (or half a million, in targeted areas) in a venture that will strengthen the U.S. economy and create 10+ full-time jobs. 

Finally, all of these non-citizens will apply for either:


Adjustment of status to permanent residence (if present within the United States); or

Consular processing for an immigrant visa (at the U.S. consulate abroad).


An immigration lawyer oversees the gathering, preparation, and submission of all the necessary documentation that goes into petitioning U.S. government agencies. For many workers, this includes the Department of Labor as well as the Citizenship and Immigration Service. In less common situations the law firm might also be petitioning the Department of State.


As the advocate and representative of the client, an immigration lawyer will assess each case for options, and suggest the best strategies from among the various employment-based classifications.


A Family Affair: Applying as a Relative of a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident


Family-based immigrant petitions are filed by either U.S. citizens or permanent residents on behalf of the future Green Card holder.

The term immediate relative describes the U.S. citizen's spouse, parents, and children under 21 and unmarried. Immediate relatives do not face waiting times—although certain hurdles, meant to prevent immigration marriage fraud, apply to spouses of U.S. citizens in marriages less than two years old.


U.S. citizens can petition for their siblings and their adult children (21 and older).


Minor children, and unmarried adult children, of Green Card holders are also eligible, but to receive legal permanent resident status, they must wait until their priority dates are current. The waits can take years, given annual limits on permanent immigration and the heavy application numbers from some countries.


The sponsoring relative will file a petition Form I-130 for each relative. Enclosed with the I-130 will be an Affidavit of Support (to convince the government that the immigrant won't need to rely on public benefits), and thorough documentation of the qualifying family relationship. If the relative wishing to receive a green card is within the United States, filing for Adjustment of Status may be preferable, as it does not require departing and re-entering the United States. If the relative is outside the U.S., the immigrant visa application is initiated through consular processing. An immigration attorney can help you determine whether Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing is better for you.


An immigration lawyer will advise the sponsor and beneficiary on what to expect in interviews at the USCIS office or the U.S. consulate abroad.


The Diversity Lottery


The U.S. State Department annually allocates 50,000 immigrant visas to the diversity lottery, to draw residents from countries with relatively low immigration rates.


After the annual online registration, selected applicants receive the chance to show they have a high school education or equivalent, or 2 years (out of the past 5) in an occupation requiring 2 or more years of training or experience.


An immigration lawyer cannot improve anyone’s chances in this lottery. No one can! But the lawyer can discuss timing and documentation requirements, and support successful lottery entrants' Green Card petitions.


Do You Know...

What differentiates Green Card holders from U.S. citizens? The Green Card holder may not vote.


Ready to schedule a consultation? If you have a demonstrable case for obtaining a Green Card, Megan Alvarez can represent you in your immigration process.