How to obtain a Green Card in the United States – Updated Guide

Permanent residency is one of the main goals for any migrant arriving in the United States. Now, how exactly to get a green card? Today we will give you an updated guide with everything you need to know about this process.

The green card application process can be complex, as there are multiple pathways to permanent residency and each case is unique. That is why the help of an immigration attorney is essential. At Urbina Immigration Law we can help you. Contact us and take the first step towards permanent status in the United States.

What are Green Card Categories?

Green Card categories or “admission categories” are the type of situations in which certain individuals may apply to become permanent residents. They are based on the following types of migrants

  • Eligible through Family Based Immigration.
  • Eligible through employment.
  • Eligible through the Special Immigrant category.
  • Eligible as a victim of human trafficking or a qualifying crime (e.g., through a U visa or T visa).
  • Eligible as a victim of abuse (through U visa or VAWA, for example).
  • Eligible through other categories (asylum, refugee, etc.).
  • Eligible through registration (being a resident of the United States continuously prior to January 1, 1972).

Admission categories have multiple subcategories based on family relationship, employment status or country of origin. Therefore, it is important to have the assistance of a lawyer to guide and advise you. At Urbina Immigration Law we can help you. Tell us about your case and take the first step towards permanent residency.

How to obtain a Green Card?

The process for obtaining a Green Card varies depending on the admission category you are in. In the following table you will find the general processes and procedures on how to apply for permanent residence:

ProcedureDescription
Green Card by Family PetitionAn immediate family member (parent, spouse or child under 21 years of age) may initiate the process through Form I-130 with USCIS. 
If approved, you will be placed on a waiting list for a visa, which can later be upgraded to a Green Card.
Green Card for adoptionAn adopted child under the age of 16 who has resided with you for at least two years may receive a visa. In these cases, you may request that the Green Card be upgraded on your behalf.
Green Card by MarriageMarriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can also lead to a Green Card, as long as the couple can prove that the marriage is genuine.
Green Card through EmploymentU.S.-based employers may petition on behalf of one of their employees, allowing them to obtain a Green Card through an employment-based visa.
Green Card for asylum or refugee statusThis type of Green Card is available to those who enter the country legally or illegally and face civil unrest, death, starvation, fear of persecution, torture or war in their home country.
However, obtaining this Green Card is the most difficult and has undergone several evolutions over the years.
Green Card for Religious WorkIf you have been a member of a religious organization for at least two years, it may file a Green Card application on your behalf.
Adjustment of StatusThe adjustment of status process is used by immigrants to obtain a Green Card while they are physically and lawfully present in the United States. 
Consular ProcessingConsular processing is the method used by immigrants to obtain a Green Card when they are outside the United States or when they are not eligible for adjustment of status.

Please note that each Green Card category has different processes to follow. For this reason, the assistance of a lawyer is essential. At Urbina Immigration Law we can help you. Speak with an attorney to find out which category you apply for and begin the process of obtaining your Green Card.

What documents do I need for my Green Card application?

There are two essential documents for any application. These are:

  • Form I-130: This is the Green Card application for foreign relatives who wish to obtain lawful permanent residence through a citizen or resident relative. Its purpose is to establish the existence of a family relationship between both parties.
  • Form DS 260: This is the Green Card application for applicants residing outside the United States. Also known as the “electronic immigrant visa application,” the DS-260 is processed through the National Visa Center (NVC) and the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your location.
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While the documents required to obtain residency vary, the DS 260 and I-130 forms are essential.

Please note that the documents required vary depending on the admission category to which you belong. Therefore, it is important to consult with an attorney to help you gather the necessary documentation for your case. At Urbina Immigration Law we can help you. Contact us and let’s put your documents in order together.

Green Cards preference categories

Anyone who belongs to any of the admission categories may apply for residency. However, the waiting time for each Green Card application varies  depending on the preference category to which it belongs. You can look up which preference category you belong to in the following tables:

Immediate Relatives of Citizens and Permanent Residents

Immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents may apply for the permanent residency. In this case, the categories of preference are as shown in the following table:

PreferenceEligible Family Members
First Preference (F1)Children (unmarried and over 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens.
Second Preference A (F2A)Spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents.
Second Preference B (F2B)Children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents.
Third Preference (F3)Married children of U.S. citizens.
Fourth Preference (F4)Siblings of U.S. citizens (if the latter is over 21 years of age).

Please note that certain non-direct relatives are eligible for the Green Card through family sponsorship. Therefore, it is extremely important to consult with an attorney who can help you determine if your loved one is eligible. At Urbina Immigration Law we can assist you. Tell us your case and take the first step to reunite with the ones you love.

Employment-Based Preferences

This refers to migrants seeking to work in the United States or who want toinvest in new jobs in order to be eligible for a Green Card. In this case, the categories of preference are as shown in the following tables

Priority Workers
Category Eligible Persons
E10Children of Priority Workers classified as E11, E16, E12, E17, E13, or E18.
E11Foreigners with extraordinary abilities.
E12Exceptional Professors or Researchers
E13Multinational executives or managers
E14Spouses of Priority Workers classified as E11, E16, E12, E17, E13 or E18
E15Children of Priority Workers classified as E11, E16, E12, E17, E13 or E18.
E16Aliens with Extraordinary Ability (adjustment of status).
E17Exceptional professors or researchers (adjustment of status)
E18Multinational executives or managers (adjustment of status)
E19Spouses of Priority Workers classified as E11, E16, E12, E17, E13 or E18 (adjustment of status).

Professionals with Exceptional Ability or Advanced Degrees
Category Eligible Persons
E21Professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability.
E22Spouse of Aliens Classified as E21 or E26.
E23Children of foreigners classified as E21 or E26.
E26Professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability (adjustment of status).
E27Spouses of Aliens Classified as E21 or E26 (adjustment of status).
E28Children of Aliens classified as E21 or E26 (adjustment of status).
E30Children of skilled or professional workers classified as E31, E36, E32 or E37.

Other Admission Categories

These are migrants seeking to obtain their Green Card through refugee, asylee, special immigrant, and other status. In this class of cases the categories of preference are as shown in the following table:

Category Eligible Persons
AM1Asian Americans born in Vietnam.
AM2Spouses or children of an AM1 or AM6.
AM3Parent or guardian of an AM1 or AM6.
AS1Approved Primary Asylum.
AS2Spouse of an Asylee.
AS3Children of an Asylee.
NA3Children born during a temporary visit abroad whose mother is a lawful permanent resident or national of the United States.
XE3Children of employment-based immigrants born after the issuance of a visa.
XF3Children of family-based preferential immigrants born after the issuance of a visa.
XR3Children of immediate relatives of permanent residents born after the issuance of a visa. 
Y1 – 16, Y64Refugees.

What are the timelines for a Green Card application?

It can take anywhere from 7 to 33 months or more for your Green Card to be approved. This depends on several factors such as:
– The Green Card admission category to which you belong.
– The form of entry into the country.
– Applicant’s location (in the U.S. or home country).
– Need for waivers of inadmissibility.
– The workload of the local or consular office processing the application.
– The status of the petitioner.
– The relationship between petitioner and applicant.
– Translated with DeepL.com (free version)

What is the difference between residency and citizenship?

The main difference between residency and citizenship lies in the rights and obligations conferred. U.S. citizens fully enjoy all the rights and obligations established by the Constitution. On the other hand, permanent residents have limited privileges, such as the ability to live and work legally in the country.

Do I have to renew my Residence Card?

Yes, you must renew your Green Card, which is valid for 10 years. You must apply for a renewal if your green card is about to expire, if no more than 6 months have passed since the expiration date, or if you must apply for removal of conditions before your conditional Green Card (valid for 2 years) expires.

What are the requirements to renew my Residency?

To apply for the renewal of your Green Card you must meet the following requirements:
– Be the holder of the Green Card.
– Be at least 18 years of age.
– Have been in the country continuously for at least 5 years (or 3 if married to a U.S. citizen).
– Be physically present for more than 30 or 18 months (depending on the application).
– Not have a serious criminal record.

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Remember that you must renew your Green Card to continue enjoying the benefits of permanent residency in the United States.

The Green Card is the main objective of many of the migrants arriving in the United States. This permanent status not only enables you to live and work legally, but can lead to U.S. citizenship. However, the process for obtaining a Green Card varies depending on the admission category to which you belong.

For this reason, the advice of a lawyer is essential to guide you towards the best option for your case and to guarantee the success of your application. Don’t risk your future by facing this tough process on your own. At Urbina Immigration Law we can help you. Talk to a lawyer and take the first step towards permanent residency.

Sources

USCIS – Permanent Residency Processes and Procedures

USCIS – I-130, Petition for Alien Relative Petition

USCIS – Permanent Residency for Family-Based Immigrants

U. S. Department of State – Electronic Immigrant Visa Application DS-260

Other Resources

What are the Green Card categories?

What is the difference between Green Card and citizenship?

Permanent Residence for Victims of Violence or Crimes

Renewal of permanent residency in the United States: steps and documentation

How to apply for American residency by family petition, step by step

What are the requirements for family reunification in the United States?

Green card by marriage in the United States, in detail

Documents required for the Green Card process by marriage

Family Reunification Parole in the United States: A Complete Guide

Form I-130: Everything you need to know

Form I-130 Approved: How to Move Forward in the Family Petition Process

Form DS 260: The essential step for your immigrant visa