The U.S. issues nearly a million green cards every year through various immigration streams. Securing a green card is the primary U.S. immigration pathway for any foreigner that wants to live and work in the U.S. and eventually receive citizenship. There are numerous green card categories and types of green cards within each category. On this page, you will learn all about different green cards, general requirements, processing times, and the cost of a green card. Also, this page could be the starting point for you to explore which green card is suitable for your situation.
What is a Green Card?
A green card allows foreign individuals the right to live and work in the United States permanently. It is also known as a Permanent Resident Card and is issued by the USCIS to foreign nationals who meet certain eligibility criteria. A green card holder is considered a lawful permanent resident and is allowed to stay in the country for an indefinite period.
U.S. green cards are highly sought after by individuals around the world who wish to move to the U.S. Many want to secure green cards to have better job opportunities, education, or reunite with family members. Holding a green card has many advantages, such as being able to work for any company in the U.S. and travel in and out of the country without restrictions. A green card will also put you on track for U.S. citizenship.
To be eligible for a green card, one must meet specific requirements, depending on the category. The most common ways to obtain a green card are through employment, family, or as a refugee or asylee.
Types of Green Card Categories
There are several types of green card categories, below are listed most of them:
- Family-Based Green Cards – These are available to individuals with a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or a LPR. Immediate relatives, such as spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizens, have a higher priority and typically have shorter waiting times than other family-based categories.
- Employment-Based Green Cards – These are available to individuals with a job offer from a U.S. employer. The U.S. employer must first obtain a labor certification to demonstrate that no qualified U.S. workers are available. There are five employment-based categories based on the job requirements and qualifications of the employee.
- Refugee and Asylee Green Cards – These are available to individuals who have been granted asylum or refugee status in the U.S. Refugees are individuals who were forced to flee their home countries due to persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Asylees are already in the United States and have applied for asylum due to fear of persecution.
- Diversity Lottery Green Cards – These are available through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the Green Card Lottery. This program randomly selects individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.
- Longtime Resident Green Cards – These are available to individuals who have lived in the U.S. for a significant period of time without legal status. Individuals must meet specific eligibility requirements, including proving that they have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years, have good moral character, and can demonstrate that their removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent, or child.
- Conditional Green Cards – These are available to individuals who married a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or who have invested a substantial amount of money in a U.S. business. Conditional green cards are valid for two years, and individuals must apply to remove the conditions before the expiration date.
Different Types of Green Cards
There are different types of green cards within each category. Each green card type was created to serve a specific immigration purpose within each immigration category. All types of green cards are listed below:
Family-Based Green Cards
The following types of green cards are part of the family-based immigration category:
- IR-1 – Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- IR-2 – A United States citizen’s unmarried child under the age of 21
- IR-3 – An orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
- IR-4 – An orphan to be adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen
- IR-5 – A United States citizen’s parent who is at least 21 years of age
- F-1 – Unmarried children of U.S. citizens and their minor children (under 21).
- F-2 – This green card type is divided into two parts:
- F-2A: Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of LPRs.
- F-2B: Unmarried children (21 or older) of LPRs.
- F-3 – Married children of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (under 21).
- F-4 – Siblings of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (under 21).
The IR green card type has a preference over the F-type green card. This means the processing time for IR green cards is much faster than F green cards. The difference in processing time can be several years.
Employment-Based Green Cards
The following types of green cards are part of the employment-based immigration category:
- EB-1 Green Card – Priority Workers
- EB-2 Green Card – Professionals with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability
- EB-3 Green Card – Skilled Workers and Professionals
- EB-4 Green Card – Special Immigrants
- EB-5 Green Card – Investors
- H-1B Visa – Foreign workers engaged in specialty occupations requiring specialized knowledge and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
- L-1 Visa – Intracompany transferees working for a company with offices in both the United States and abroad.
- E-3 Visa – Australian citizens who will work in specialty occupations within the United States.
- TN Visa – Canadian and Mexican citizens working in specific professional occupations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
- O-Visa – Individuals who possess exceptional ability in the fields of sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
- P-Visa – Athletes, entertainers, and artists who will perform in the United States.
- R-Visa – Religious workers who will work for a nonprofit religious organization within the United States.
It is crucial to understand that EB-type green cards lead to permanent residency in the U.S. In contrast, all other employment green card types are non-immigrant visas, meaning they will not grant you permanent residency.
Refugee and Asylee Green Cards
The following types of green cards are part of the refugee and asylee green card category:
- T visa – Available to those who have been subjected to severe human trafficking and have assisted law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
- U visa – Offered to individuals who have experienced significant physical or mental abuse while residing in the United States and have cooperated with law enforcement agencies.
- VAWA Green Card – Granted to victims of domestic violence or abuse perpetrated by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent.
Diversity Lottery Green Cards
The US Diversity Visa, also known as the Green Card Lottery, is an annual program randomly selecting applicants from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. The program provides a path to permanent residency for up to 55,000 applicants who meet eligibility requirements. The requirements are: having a high school education or equivalent, or two years of work experience in a qualifying occupation. Applicants must also pass a background check and medical exam.
Longtime-Resident Green Card
A longtime-resident green card, also known as a cancellation of removal, is a legal status allowing certain non-citizens living in the U.S. for a long time to apply for a green card or permanent residency. To be eligible for a longtime-resident green card, you must have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least 10 years and have been physically present in the country for at least half of that time. You must also have no serious criminal convictions and demonstrate that your deportation would cause extreme hardship to you or your immediate family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Conditional Green Cards
There are two types of conditional green cards, CR-1 and EB-5:
- CR-1 – This green card is issued to a foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen, and they have been married for less than two years at the time of application for a green card.
- EB-5 – This green card is issued to a foreign national that meets the qualifying investment amount in the U.S. The green card is issued to the principal applicant, their spouse, and children.
For both types of conditional green cards, applicants must meet the conditions within 2 years of arrival in the U.S. and then apply to remove these conditions, allowing them to gain permanent residency.
Requirements for a Green Card
To apply for a green card in the United States, it is necessary to fulfill several requirements. These include having a valid passport that extends beyond the intended period of stay by at least six months and showing nonimmigrant intent for temporary visa applications. Additionally, some visa types require a petitioner who is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Applicants for almost all visa types must attend a consular interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country. Depending on the visa type, applicants may also need to demonstrate their proficiency in English and show that they have enough financial support to cover their expenses during their stay. Additionally, some visa categories require a medical examination to ensure that applicants are not carrying infectious diseases. All visa applicants must have a clean criminal record and have no involvement in any terrorist activities either abroad or within the United States.
How to Apply for a Green Card
Each immigration category and each green card type has its own unique application process, which involves specific forms and required documents. However, more or less, the general green card application process can be summarized in the following 6 steps:
Step 1: Determine Your Eligibility – you must determine which immigration category and which green card type you are eligible for.
Step 2: File a Petition – depending on your immigration type, you may need to file a petition or application with the appropriate government agency, or your employer would have to initiate the process. For example, if you are applying through family sponsorship, your U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative may need to file a petition on your behalf.
Step 3: Wait for Approval – after you file your petition or application, you must wait for it to be approved. The processing time will depend on several factors, including the type of green card and the current backlog of applications.
Step 4: Complete Biometrics – if your application is approved, you must complete biometrics, which typically involves taking your fingerprints and photograph.
Step 5: Attend an Interview – you will also need to attend an interview with a USCIS officer. During the interview, the officer will ask questions about your background and application to ensure you meet all eligibility requirements.
Step 6: Receive Decision – after the interview, you will receive a decision on your application. If approved, you will receive your green card.
How Much is a Green Card?
The expenses associated with U.S. green card can range from $1,200 to $8,000, depending on the type of green card you are applying for and the unique circumstances of your case. The immigration process incurs multiple fees, such as application fees, processing fees, and legal fees, which can vary based on the type of program – family, employer, student, or others. In some cases, it may be necessary to demonstrate that you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself and your dependents. This can involve presenting documentation of bank statements, investments, or a job offer that satisfies particular salary requirements.
Form or Service
I-129F: Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)
I-129: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
I-130: Petition for Alien Relative
I-485: Green Card Application
I-864: Affidavit of Support
$0 - $85
State Department Processing
$0 - $325
USCIS Immigrant Fee
$0 - $220
EAD (I-765): Work Authorization Document
Green Card Processing Times and Waiting Periods
The processing time for getting a U.S. green card can vary greatly depending on the specific immigration option you are applying for, and can range from 3 months to 4.5 years.
When it comes to family-based green cards, processing times can take between 8 months to 30 months. This can depend on various factors, including the applicant’s country of origin and the number of applications currently in the backlog.
Processing times for employment-based green cards, like the H-1B visa, can take around 4 to 9 months. Meanwhile, successful applicants for the Diversity Lottery program are typically notified within 8 months.
Asylum seekers face varying processing times, which can take anywhere from 4 months to more than 4 years due to the requirement for their case to be heard in court.
It’s important to note that these processing times are general estimates, and may differ depending on individual circumstances, such as the type of green card and the workload of the USCIS. It’s crucial for those seeking to gain a green card to familiarize themselves with the potential processing times for their specific immigration option and to plan accordingly.
What Does a Green Card Look Like?
The card is primarily green in color, hence the name “green card,” with the Statue of Liberty in front and the cardholder’s photograph, name, and personal information on the front. The card also contains a unique identification number, card expiration date, and the cardholder’s signature. It is a wallet-sized ID card that is evidence of holder’s lawful permanent residence in the U.S.
The back of the Green Card has a magnetic stripe and may also contain a barcode and other security features to help prevent fraud and counterfeiting.
Why Would Someone Want a U.S. Green Card?
The U.S. is a land of opportunity, offering people from around the world a chance to start a new life and pursue their dreams. The country’s economy, political stability, cultural diversity, and high living standards make it an attractive destination for many people seeking a better life. Obtaining a U.S. green card is one way to gain legal residency and citizenship in the country, and there are several reasons why someone may want to pursue this option.
The U.S. is home to some of the world’s largest and most successful companies, offering ample job opportunities across various industries. The country’s strong economy, coupled with its advanced infrastructure, creates a conducive environment for businesses to thrive, providing job opportunities for both skilled and unskilled workers. Moreover, the country offers high wages, benefits, and working conditions, making it an attractive destination for people looking for better economic opportunities.
The U.S. is renowned for its excellent higher education system, with some of the best universities in the world located in the country. Immigrating to the U.S. with a green card offers individuals and families access to quality education, scholarships, and grants, which can enhance their career prospects and increase their earning potential.
The U.S. is a democratic nation with a stable political system, providing a secure environment for people to live and work. The country’s strong institutions and legal framework ensure that citizens and residents enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to vote, freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial.
The U.S. has a robust healthcare system, providing access to quality medical care and facilities. Immigrating to the U.S. with a green card offers individuals and families access to comprehensive health insurance coverage, reducing the financial burden of medical expenses.
The U.S. green card also offers a chance for family reunification. Immigrants can sponsor their immediate family members for green cards, allowing them to live and work in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship.
The U.S. is a melting pot of cultures, religions, and ethnicities, offering a rich and diverse environment for people to live and work. Immigrating to the U.S. offers individuals and families a chance to experience different cultures, languages, and traditions, broadening their horizons and providing a unique perspective on the world.
The U.S. is considered one of the safest countries in the world, with low crime rates and an effective law enforcement system. Immigrating to the U.S. with a green card offers individuals and families a chance to live in a secure and safe environment, free from the dangers of crime and violence.
Frequently Asked Questions About U.S. Green Cards
Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions about green cards:
What qualifies you for a green card?
There are several ways to qualify for a green card, including being sponsored by a family member who is a u. S. Citizen or a permanent resident, having a job offer in the u. S. , being a refugee or asylee, or winning the diversity visa lottery. Each category has its own specific requirements, and the application process can vary depending on the circumstances.
Is it hard to get a green card?
The difficulty of obtaining a green card can vary depending on the individual’s circumstances and the category they are applying under. Some categories, such as family sponsorship, may have lengthy wait times due to annual quotas. Other categories, such as those based on employment, may require a job offer and specific qualifications. Additionally, the application process can be complex and time-consuming, requiring extensive documentation and evidence.
How long does a green card last?
A green card is valid for 10 years, although conditional green cards may be valid for 2 years. Before the expiration date, the cardholder must apply for a renewal to maintain their permanent resident status. It’s important to note that the green card can also be revoked if the holder fails to meet certain requirements or commits certain crimes.
Does a green card mean you are a citizen?
No, a green card does not equal citizenship. While permanent residents have many of the same rights as citizens, such as the ability to work and live in the u. S. Permanently, they are not allowed to vote in federal elections or hold certain government positions. To become a u. S. Citizen, a green card holder must typically wait for a certain amount of time and meet specific eligibility requirements before applying for naturalization.