What is a Green Card & How do I Get One?

There are a few great sources of information answering one or both of the questions on the Internet. However the problem is most sites that address the Green Card tend to be vague, spread complete innaccuracies, raise false hopes and often charge usually excessively for services that should not be charged (eg. the DV or Green Card Lottery).

So I will try and create a brief outline of what the Green Card is and isn’t and what are the main ways you can obtain one.

The Green Card itself is an identification card stating that the holder is entitled to permanent resident status in the US. The major benefits include the right to both live and work anywhere in the US. This differs from all the non-immigrant visas which specify where the applicant must work, study, etc. and generally reside. They also are for much shorter periods of time and do not generally give the right to apply directly for US Citizenship.

The holder must maintain permanent resident status, and can be removed from the US if certain conditions of this status are not met. The Green Card actually does have an expiry date which can be extended simply and easily if all general conditions are met. A common period of validity is 10 years (which of course is far longer than the 3 years periods and limited renewals of H-1B and 2 year periods of E-3).

These general conditions are relatively simple like not committing crimes, submitting fraudulent application documents, paying taxes, etc. so most people never run into an issue here.

While a Green Card Application is pending, an applicant obtain 2 documents;

1.Temporary work permit known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allows the ability to work.
2. The second is a temporary travel document, advance parole, which allows you to re-enter the US as technically under normal circumstances during this period you are not allowed to leave.

There are 5 ways you can obtain a Green Card or Permanent Residency and these are as follows;

  • via a family member
  • via employment
  • via investment
  • via the Diversity or Green Card Lottery
  • via “The Registry” provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act

According to wikipedia these are the current annual limits and wait times for
the various Green Cards

(A U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age in order to sponsor his
or her parents.)
relative (spouses, minor children & parents) of U.S. citizens
F1 Unmarried
sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens
23,400 6-7
F2A Spouses
and minor children (under 21 year old) of lawful permanent residents
87,934 5-6
F2B Unmarried
sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of lawful permanent residents
26,266 9-10
F3 Married
sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
23,400 8-9
F4 Brothers
and sisters of adult U.S. citizens
65,000 10-11
EB1 Priority
workers. There are three sub-groups:Foreign nationals with extraordinary
ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics OR Foreign
nationals that are outstanding professors or researchers with at least three
years’ experience in teaching or research and who are recognized internationally.
OR Foreign nationals that are managers and executives subject to international
transfer to the United States.
40,000 currently
EB2 Professionals
holding advanced degrees (Ph.D., master’s degree, or at least 5 years of
progressive post-baccalaureate experience) or persons of exceptional ability
in sciences, arts, or business
40,000 currently
EB3 Skilled
workers, professionals, and other workers
40,000 5
EB4 Certain
special immigrants — ministers, religious workers, current or former U.S.
government workers, etc.
10,000 currently
EB5 Investors 10,000 currently
Immigrant (Green Card Lottery)
Refugee 70,000

The Application Process has 3 Steps:
1. Application (only with an Investor category would this be done by the person themselves)
2. Avalibility (As the quotas are limited as stated above, even in the application is approved by the USCIS, you still have to wait for a visa number from the National Visa Center. There are  additional limitation based on birth country so citizens of India, China, Mexico, etc. tend to have longer wait periods. If this is an Immediate Relative petition
there is no wait time)
3. Ajudication (If done within the US, the form I-485 is require to do an adjustment of status. If done at a consulate or embassy outside the US, then the applicant will receive an I-551 stamp in the passport at the port of entry. In both cases the actual Green Card will be mailed to their US address after several weeks)

A person can apply for US Citizenship after maintaining permanent residency for at least 5 years and can make that application up to 90 days before reaching this date. However this time is shorter for people with political assylum (4 years) and if married to a US citizen (3 years).

To Note:
– There are major tax obligations with being a Permanent Resident and further obligations for a US citizen
– Male Permanent Residents aged between 18-26 are required to register for the Selective Service System (that is should the US Government ever reinstate the military draft for example, you can be called to serve). I hope
this clears up the myths and answers your questions. 🙂


9 thoughts on “What is a Green Card & How do I Get One?

  1. Hi again,

    I am masters in information systems. if i am on H1-b , how long it takes to get green card in usa.

    is green card possible on e-3 visa

  2. Sukh,
    Please read the posts that cover your questions as they answer everything about H-1B, E-3 visas and green cards.

  3. Hi, I have two questions
    first: can I fill all the documents by myself without pay an attorney?
    second: how much the green card will cost including me and my family (spouse and one child)
    I have the H1B and my spouse and child (14) have the H4

  4. Hi Ximena,
    If you are on H-1B then your employer has to sponsor your green card application. They must complete Form ETA-750, and submit it on your behalf to the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. The DOL must either grant or deny the certification request. Then the USCIS must approve Form I-140 which is the Petition for Alien Worker and finally I-485, Asjustment of Status for Alien Worker, filed on your behalf. After your I-485 is approved then you can adjust your dependents status like spouse on child on H-4 visas.
    Look technically you could fill out most of the form and have your employer do the parts and sign the parts they need to but it is a detailed form if you look through it and you want to be sure you are answering correctly.
    For the ETA-750 phase, the employer has to advertise your position as part of the process to ensure no US workers are available so there is obviously a cost associated with that. General estimates are around $1,000 but of course this could vary depending on where they advertise (they are conditions on the type of places the must advertise)
    The I-140 has a $500 filing fee or $1,000 for premium processing. Remember as well in all of this the green card wait times differ on your nationality and country of birth.
    The I-485 has a $930 filing cost as well as a $120 fee for medical exam and then $80 for a biometric fee.
    I hope this all helps but it is not a simple process.

  5. help me I prepare my coming to usa I won a lottery green card I want to find friends who can help me the first time

    I just received my success of the Office of the U.S. consulate for the green card in 2010, I could unite with it and allow it to take my green card

  6. Hi,
    My husband is going to us in L1B Blanket visa, i hope it is valid for 3 years and 2 years extension, totally we can stay in US for 5 years, my question is if we want to stay in US for more than 5 years what should i do, should i ask him to apply for green card, if so how long will it take to get the green card and will i be able to be in US even for more than 5 years? Or else i heard some people tellng that if we change the visa type to H1B we can stay in US itself by just renewing in US itself. Is that true? can some one tell me exactly what to do if i want to stay in USA itself?

  7. hi,
    my mom and dad got family visa under f3 category but i didnt get because of age limit.my question is , when should my parents can file for me and how much time it will take.

  8. My sister has applied for F4 visa in 2007 october
    how long it is going to take for my permanent resident card

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