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8 Ways to Obtain a Green Card

Updated on February 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • Green Cards grant U.S. permanent residency through various pathways.
  • Common routes include family sponsorship (e.g., spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens) and employment (e.g., immigrant workers, physicians, investors).
  • Special immigrants include religious workers and Afghan/Iraqi translators. Refugees, asylees, human trafficking victims, and crime victims have separate categories.
  • Other unique situations and continuous residence since before 1972 also offer eligibility.

Obtaining a Green Card, also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident Card, is a significant step toward making the United States your permanent home. The process can be complex, but understanding the eligibility categories is the first essential step. In this blog post, we’ll explore the various Green Card eligibility categories and the pathways to permanent residency they offer.

1. Green Card through Family (Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen)

One of the most common routes to securing a Green Card is through family sponsorship. If you have close family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, they may be able to help you obtain your Green Card. Let’s dive into the different family-based eligibility categories:

Spouse of a U.S. Citizen

  • Eligibility: If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you qualify as an immediate relative, allowing you to apply for a Green Card swiftly.
  • Application Process: File an I-130 Petition with USCIS. Concurrently, file an I-485 Adjustment of Status if in the U.S.

Unmarried Child under the Age of 21 of a U.S. Citizen

  • Eligibility: If you are an unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen, you also fall under the immediate relative category.
  • Application Process: File an I-130 with USCIS, or adjust status concurrently with I-485 if in the U.S.

Parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old

  • Eligibility: Parents of U.S. citizens aged 21 or older can apply for a Green Card through family sponsorship.
  • Application Process: File an I-130 with USCIS, or adjust status concurrently with I-485 if in the U.S.

Other Relative of a U.S. Citizen

  • Eligibility: This category includes unmarried sons or daughters of U.S. citizens who are 21 or older, married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens, and brothers or sisters of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
  • Application Process: Start with an I-130, followed by consular processing or I-485 if in the U.S.

Family Member of a Lawful Permanent Resident

  • Eligibility: If you are the spouse or unmarried child under 21 of a lawful permanent resident, or an unmarried son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident aged 21 or older, you can apply for a Green Card through this category.
  • Application Process: Start with an I-130, followed by consular processing or I-485 if in the U.S.

Fiancé(e) of a U.S. Citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child

  • Eligibility: If you were admitted to the U.S. as a fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen (K-1 nonimmigrant) or the child of a fiancé(e) (K-2 nonimmigrant), you may be eligible for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: File an I-129F with USCIS. After approval, complete the process with the National Visa Center.

Widow(er) of a U.S. Citizen

  • Eligibility: Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens who were married to their U.S. citizen spouse at the time of their spouse’s death can apply for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: If you don’t have an I-130 in process, file Form I-360 within two years of your spouse’s death.

VAWA Self-Petitioner

  • Eligibility: Victims of battery or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, child, or parent can seek a Green Card through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
  • Application Process: You can independently apply under VAWA by submitting the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) without the awareness or approval of the abusive family member.

2. Green Card through Employment

Another significant path to obtaining a Green Card is through employment. Your eligibility may depend on your profession, qualifications, and other factors:

Immigrant Worker

  • Eligibility: This category is divided into first, second, and third-preference immigrant workers, each with specific eligibility criteria. It covers individuals with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors or researchers, multinational managers, and professionals, among others.
  • Application Process: Employer files an I-140, demonstrating the ability to pay the offered wage.

Physician National Interest Waiver

  • Eligibility: Physicians willing to work in designated underserved areas for a set period and meet other eligibility requirements may apply.
  • Application Process: You can file using EB-2 but the requirement for employment can be waived if you can prove that it’s in the national interest of the US.

Immigrant Investor

  • Eligibility: Those who invest a significant amount in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that will create full-time positions may be eligible for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: File I-526, DS-260, and I-485 for adjustment of status.

3. Green Card as a Special Immigrant

Certain individuals with unique circumstances may apply for a Green Card as special immigrants:

Religious Worker

  • Eligibility: Members of a religious denomination coming to the U.S. to work for a nonprofit religious organization can apply.
  • Application Process: File I-360, either through a U.S. employer or individually.

Special Immigrant Juvenile

  • Eligibility: Juveniles in need of protection from abuse, abandonment, or neglect can apply.
  • Application Process: File form I-360 (if approved, you get SIJ status) and then file for I-485 for adjustment of status.

Afghanistan or Iraq National

  • Eligibility: Individuals who served as translators or interpreters for the U.S. government in Afghanistan or Iraq may be eligible.
  • Application Process: File an I-360 form and if approved, file I-485 for adjustment for status.

International Broadcaster

  • Eligibility: Media professionals coming to work in the U.S. for the U.S. Agency for Global Media or a USAGM grantee can apply.
  • Application Process: File a Form I-360 petition, and upon approval, complete the process either through consular processing abroad or adjustment of status if already in the U.S.

Employee of an International Organization or Family Member

  • Eligibility: Retired officers or employees of eligible international organizations or NATO, and their eligible family members, may be eligible.
  • Application Process: An international organization employee or family member can apply for a U.S. green card through an I-360 petition filed by the organization, followed by consular processing or adjustment of status in the U.S. based on their affiliation with the international organization.

4. Green Card through Refugee or Asylee Status

Individuals who have obtained refugee or asylee status in the United States are eligible to apply for a green card one year after their status is granted, initiating a path to permanent residency.

  • Eligibility: If you were granted asylum status or admitted as a refugee at least one year ago, you may be eligible for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: You can file form I-485 for adjustment of status once your refugee or aslyee status is approved.

5. Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims

Victims of human trafficking holding a T visa, and victims of certain crimes possessing a U visa, have the pathway to apply for a green card as part of the U.S. government’s protection measures.

  • Eligibility: Human trafficking victims with a T nonimmigrant visa and crime victims with a U nonimmigrant visa may apply for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: T-Visa applicants can initiate their application with Form I-914.

6. Green Card for Victims of Abuse

Victims of abuse, including abused spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, can seek a green card to ensure their safety and well-being in the United States.

A variety of special circumstances, including those covered by specific legislative acts or immigration programs, allow for eligible individuals to apply for a green card through other designated categories.

Victims of abuse, including abused spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, can seek a green card to ensure their safety and well-being in the United States.

  • Eligibility: Under this category, individuals who have suffered abuse or extreme cruelty, such as spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, can seek a Green Card.
  • Application Process: File form I-360 and then I-485 for adjustment of status.

7. Green Card through Other Categories

A variety of special circumstances, including those covered by specific legislative acts or immigration programs, allow for eligible individuals to apply for a green card through other designated categories.

  • Eligibility: This category encompasses a range of unique situations, including Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, the Cuban Adjustment Act, and more.
  • Application Process: File form I-360 as a special immigrant and then I-485 for adjustment of status.

8. Green Card through Registry

Persons who have resided in the U.S. continuously since before January 1, 1972, can utilize the registry provisions as a means to apply for a green card, reflecting the U.S.’s long-standing residency acknowledgment.

  • Eligibility: If you have continuously resided in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972, you may be eligible to register for a Green Card.
  • Application Process: File form I-485 for adjustment of status.

Learn More About Green Cards

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, The path to obtaining a Green Card is diverse and often complex. Understanding which eligibility category fits your situation is crucial. For detailed information on the eligibility requirements, application procedures, and whether your family members can also apply with you, visit the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. It’s recommended to consult with an immigration attorney or seek legal advice to navigate the Green Card application process effectively. A Green Card opens doors to numerous opportunities and paves the way for a brighter future in the United States.

Sources

  • https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-eligibility-categories
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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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