How to get a Green Card

If you plan to emigrate to the USA, it is important to know how to get a Green Card. This card is also known as the Permanent Resident Card and allows you to live and work in the United States. In this article we review everything you need to know about the Green Card. From requirements, eligibility to procedures and cost by answering frequently asked questions.


The information in the article is detailed and if you have questions we can help you. Our immigration lawyers in Los Angeles have served immigrants for over 40 years.

How to get a Green Card in 2020 for the USA

US immigration laws offer different paths depending on your immigrant category. When we talk about obtaining the Green Card and permanent residence in the United States we are talking about the same process.

In order to apply for the Green Card you must be eligible under one of the following categories. Here you will see the one that best suits your current situation.

Green Card Eligibility Categories

The first step will be to consider whether you are eligible to obtain the Green Card. To know how to get a Green Card consider your circumstances adapted to the following categories:

  • Through family based immigration.
  • Through employment.
  • As a special immigrant.
  • Through refugee or asylum status.
  • As a victim of human trafficking and other crimes.
  • Victims of abuse.
  • By other categories.
  • Through registration.

Below we show you the basic requirements for each specific category.

Green Card through the family

  • Being an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen:
    • The spouse of a U.S. citizen.
    • Unmarried son under the age of 21 of an American citizen.
    • Father of an American citizen who is at least 21 years old.
  • Another relative of a legal permanent resident or US citizen under the family-based preference category:
    • Relatives of a US citizen:
      • 21 years old or older and the unmarried son or daughter of a US citizen.
      • Married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen.
      • You are at least 21 years old and the brother or sister of a US citizen.
    • Relatives of a legal permanent resident:
      • Spouse of a lawful permanent resident.
      • Unmarried child under the age of 21 of a lawful permanent resident.
      • You are 21 years old or older and the son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident.

Please review our article “Family based immigration” for more information on family petitions.

  • Fiancé (e) of a US citizen using the K-1 fiancé visa.
    • Child of a fiancé (e) of a U.S. citizen admitted to the U.S. on the K-2 non-immigrant visa.
    • Widow (er) of a US citizen who was married at the time of death.
  • VAWA applicant as a victim of abuse or extreme cruelty:
    • Being the abused spouse of a lawful permanent resident or US citizen.
    • Child who has been abused, single, and under the age of 21 by a lawful permanent resident or US citizen.
    • Father abused by a US citizen.

In our article ” VAWA visa” you can read everything about this visa.

Green Card for an immigrant worker through employment

general application process for the green card

The steps to take to apply for the Green Card depend on your individual circumstances and are variable. The ones shown in the image are the most frequent in the general application process. In other words, those reflect the ones that most of those who apply for the Green Card will go through.

For the immigrant worker:

  • First preference category (EB-1 visa)
    • With extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, sports or business or;
    • Outstanding researcher or professor or;
    • Executive or manager of a multinational company that meets certain requirements.
  • Second preference category (EB-2 visa):
    • Member of a profession that requires an advanced degree or; 
    • Possesses extraordinary abilities in arts, science, or business or;
    • Seeks to obtain a waiver for national interest.
  • Third preference category (EB-3 visa):
    • Skilled worker with 2 years of training or work experience that is not temporary or seasonal in nature. 
    • Professional with a US Baccalaureate or its equivalent abroad and a member of the profession. 
    • Non-specialized worker doing jobs that require less than 2 years of experience or training and employment is neither temporary nor seasonal. 
  • Physicians with national interest waiver: A physician who agrees to work full-time in clinical practice in a designated underserved area for a stated period of time. It also meets other eligibility requirements.
  • Immigrant Investor (EB-5 Visa): You have invested or currently in the process of investing at least $ 1,800,000 (or $ 900,000 in a given area of ​​employment) in a new commercial business in the US. Furthermore, you will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualified employees.

Green Card as a special immigrant

  • Afghan or Iraqi national:
    • He/she worked as an Afghan or Iraqi translator for the American government.
    • Employed by / for the US government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003 for at least 1 year.
    • He/she was an Afghan employed by the International Security Aid Force (ISAF).
  • Representative of international communications media arriving in the USA to work.
  • Employee of an international organization or your family member or NATO employee or a family member: Includes employees and retired employees of embassies, consulates, NATO and others.

Green Card for an asylee or refugee

  • Asylum: If you were granted asylum at least 1 year ago.
  • Refuge: You were admitted as a refugee at least 1 year ago.

In our section on asylum in the USA you will find further information on the topic.

Green Card for victims of human trafficking and other crimes

T visas and U visas

T visas and U visas are those that would grant permanent residence in these cases of human trafficking and other crimes.

Green Card for victims of abuse

  • VAWA applicant as a victim of abuse or extreme cruelty.
    • Abused spouse of a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
    • Abused, unmarried son and daughter under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. 
    • Father abused by an American citizen.
  • Juvenile Special Immigrants: Minor victim of abandonment, abuse or neglect by their parents and holder of SIJ status.
  • Spouse and abused child (victim of extreme cruelty or abuse) under the Cuban Adjustment Act: This is the abused child or spouse of a Cuban citizen or naturalized person.
  • Spouse and child abused under HRIFA: The abused child or spouse of a legal permanent resident who received their status based on HRIFA.

Green Card through other categories

  • Liberian Refugee Immigration Equity Act (LRIF)
    • Liberian national physically present continuously in the US since November 20, 2014, or
    • Is the spouse, child under the age of 21, or unmarried child or over the age of 21 of a qualified Liberian citizen.
  • Diversity Visa Program for those selected in the US State Department visa lottery.
  • Cuban Adjustment Law.
    • Are Cuban natives or citizens, or
    • The spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen.
  • Spouse and abused child (victim of abuse or extreme cruelty) under the Cuban Adjustment Law: It is the spouse or abused child of a Cuban native or citizen.
  • Status Dependent under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA): You are the spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident who received a Green Card through HRIFA.
  • Spouse and child abused under HRIFA: The abused spouse or child of a legal permanent resident who has received their Green Card based on HRIFA.
  • With Lautenberg Entry Permit: You were granted an entry permit in the United States as a person with a conditional entry permit (parolee) Lautenberg.
  • Indochinese Entry Permit Adjustment Act of 2000: You are a naturalized or citizen of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos who has been granted a US entry permit on or before October 1, 1997 from Vietnam under the Orderly Exit Program, a refugee camp in East Asia or a camp for displaced persons administered by UNHCR in Thailand.
  • American Indian born in Canada and possessing 50% or more blood of the American Indian race.
  • People born in the USA who are the children of foreign diplomats: The child of a foreign official born while the official was stationed in the United States.
  • Section 13 (diplomatic): You were stationed in the United States as foreign diplomats or high-ranking officials and could not return home. Spouses and other qualified family members of diplomats under section 13 may also apply.

Green Card through registration

Those who have resided in the United States continuously since before January 1, 1972 can apply for the Green Card. 

common ways to obtain the green card

Have a sponsor or be petitioned to obtain a Green Card

At least two forms must be submitted, the immigrant petition and Form I-485 to apply for the Green Card. Although you can petition, someone else generally must file the petition on your behalf. These are some of the most common forms in these cases:

Other requests include:

Adjustment of status or consular process depending on where you are

If you already know you are eligible, you must determine whether you will use the adjustment of status or the consular process.

  • If you are in the US, you will use adjustment of status with USCIS.
    • If you have an approved immigrant petition and the visa is available, submit Form I-485 to register permanent residence or adjust your status with USCIS, or
    • If you don’t have an approved petition, check your eligibility to see if you can file the petition and Form I-485 at the same time.
  • If you are outside the US, you will use the consular procedure with the US Department of State.

Please review our article on “Adjustment of Status” and “Consular Processing” for details on each procedure.

General process to apply for the Green Card

The steps to apply for your Green Card vary according to your personal situation. However, these are the basic steps that most candidates must follow:

  1. As a general rule, someone files an immigrant petition on your behalf. It is what is known as sponsor or who petitions you. In some cases you can self-petition.
  2. When USCIS approves your immigrant petition and if a visa is available, you will file the Green Card application with USCIS or the Department of State.
  3. Go to the biometric data collection appointment, to provide your fingerprints, a signature and photographs.
  4. Attend the interview.
  5. Receive the decision on your application.

Why can a Green Card be denied?

Here are some reasons why USCIS may deny your request:

  • Failures found in the validity of the marriage.
  • The Green Card application was sent with errors in the package.
  • Insufficient payment or insufficient financial resources.
  • You do not qualify to apply for the Green Card while in the United States.
  • Unlawful presence in the United States.
  • Criminal record. 
  • Certain medical problems.
  • Lying or presenting false documents.

With the help of a good immigration attorney it is possible to claim by applying for an I-601 immigration waiver.

New Public Charge Rule for 2020

This controversial new law, applied since February 24, 2020, deserves special mention. This increases the denial of immigrant visas or adjustments of status as you can be considered a public charge.

This law affects immigrants who have received support or subsidies from the government, preventing them from applying for permanent residence. The objective of the authorities is to guarantee that the immigrant who gets the Green Card is economically self-sufficient. 

Check our article about the Public Charge Rule. There you will find extensive information about it.

How to renew my Green Card?

Permanent resident status has no expiration date. However, the Green Card must be renewed every 10 years through USCIS. Failure to do so will cause you problems when traveling, working or carrying out legal procedures.

Green Card holders can renew the document using Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. Similarly, this form is used to replace a Green Card that has not yet expired.

At the time of processing, keep in mind that:

  • Form I-90 must be filed within six months prior to the expiration date of the Green Card, not earlier.
  • If your Green Card has expired due to carelessness or any other reason, you must immediately file Form I-90 with USCIS.
  • USCIS recommends requesting the replacement of the Green Card, if the holder has a previous version to the current one but that has not expired yet.

How much does it cost to renew the Green Card in 2020?

Renewing a Green Card has the following charges:

  • Application Fee: $ 455
  • Biometric data fee: $ 85

There are certain special circumstances in which applicants can be exempted from paying the fee for this immigration process. This could be the case for juvenile immigrants with a recognized status, T visa or U visa holders, among others.

When to replace the Green Card?

The Green Card must be replaced when:

  • It is lost or stolen.
  • It is mutilated or destroyed.
  • Contains an error (spelling, date, marital status and so on).
  • You never received the card in the mail.
  • The holder’s name was changed.
  • If you were previously in traveler status, but now reside in the United States, you must request a replacement Green Card.
  • If you previously resided in the US, but have assumed frequent flyer status, you will also need to request a replacement.
  • Green card holders who became permanent residents before the age of 14 must also renew or replace their Green Card after reaching that age.
  • When the immigrant’s status has changed to permanent resident.

How to track my Green Card?

You must first register and create an account online of the Case Status so you can get information about your case automatically, along with tracking the US Postal Service, after USCIS sends the document.

Then you must register for Informed Delivery through USPS, so that you can also receive daily images of the mail that has been sent to you. With this information, the immigrant can track the package they are waiting for, configure email and text message alerts, and enter any information into the USPS delivery service.


We hope you found this article on how to get a Green Card useful. Remember that for any case related to immigration matters, Lluis Law attorneys are at your disposal.

We have vast experience in representing immigrants.