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How Do You Get a US Permanent Resident Card?

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

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How Do You Get a US Permanent Resident Card?

The following guide examines the eligibility and application requirements for non-US nationals wanting to settle in the USA by applying for a US permanent resident card.


What is a US permanent resident card?

A lawful permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Permanent residents are given what’s known as a Green Card – a photo ID card that proves their status, officially known as a US permanent resident card.

As the holder of a US permanent resident card you will also have the right to petition for close family members, ie; your spouse and any unmarried children, for the grant of permanent residence to enable them to join you in the States.

However, as a permanent resident you will still remain the citizen of another country. As such, every time you travel outside the United States you must carry the passport of that country with you, as well as your US permanent resident card .You will also need to produce your resident card to re-enter the USA.

Further, if you leave the US with the intention of making your home elsewhere, or for a period exceeding 12 months, you run the risk of being treated as having abandoned your residence and losing your US permanent resident card.


Who is eligible for a US permanent resident card?

US immigration laws provide a variety of ways for immigrants to apply for a US permanent resident card. The eligibility requirements may vary, however, depending on the immigrant category you are applying under.

Typically, you will need to be sponsored for a resident card through family already living in the United States or by a US employer. By way of example, you may be eligible to apply as the immediate relative of a US citizen, such as a spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21. You may also be eligible as the relative of a lawful permanent resident under one of the family-based preference categories.

Similarly, under the employment-based route, there are various preference-based categories depending on the nature of the work involved and your skill.

Having identified a relevant category, you will need to satisfy the criteria specific to that category, for example, the appropriate level of family relationship. You will also need to ensure that you do not all foul of any of the general grounds of inadmissibility, for example, you have not previously breached any immigration laws and you are able to adequately provide for yourself.


How do I apply for a US permanent resident card?

The steps you must take to apply for a US permanent resident card will vary depending on your individual situation. Most people who apply for a resident card will need to complete at least two forms: an immigrant petition and a green card application (Form I-485).

Someone else, such as a relative or employer, must usually file the petition on your behalf with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), often referred to as sponsoring or petitioning for you, although in some limited cases you may be eligible to file for yourself. The most common forms include Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

After USCIS approves the immigrant petition, you will then be required to file your visa application. You will need to attend a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photos and a signature, as well as attending an interview before receiving a decision on your application.

Please note, the wait and processing times for US permanent resident card applications can vary greatly depending on whether there are visas available in your category, from several weeks to even several years.


How does a US permanent resident card differ to US citizenship?

The terms “permanent resident” and “US citizen” are often used interchangeably, although in reality they mean completely different things and refer to different status under US immigration law. Permanent residency simply confers on you the right to live and work legally in the United States on an indefinite basis.

It does not, however, offer the same security or rights as US citizenship. Typically obtained through the process of naturalization, US citizenship allows you to share equally in the rights and privileges of other US citizens.

As a naturalized US citizen you will have the ability to travel with a US passport, participate on a jury, vote in US federal and local elections, obtain certain state and federal benefits not available to non-citizens, be eligible for federal and certain law enforcement jobs, obtain citizenship for minor children born abroad, and expand and expedite your ability to bring close family members to the United States. You will even be able to run for elective office where citizenship is required.

In stark contrast, however, these rights are not conferred on the holder of a US permanent resident card. In particular, although US immigration law allows certain foreign nationals who are family members of lawful permanent residents to get a green card based on specific family relationships, these relatives will fall into what’s known as the “family-based preference” categories.

As such, unlike immediate relatives of US citizens, there can be extremely long waiting times, several years in many cases, because there are only limited numbers of visas issued each year in these categories.


When can I apply for US citizenship?

People can become US citizens by birth in the United States or, in some cases, through US citizen parents, although for the green card holder citizenship is typically obtained through the process of naturalization.

As the holder of a US permanent resident card, you can apply for naturalization after a certain length of time, five years in most cases. However, you must also be able to satisfy various other criteria, including the following:

  • You must be able to read, write and speak English.
  • You must be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of US history and government, otherwise known as civics.
  • You must be a person of good moral character.
  • You must demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the US Constitution.

If you satisfy the English and civics requirements, together with all the other relevant eligibility criteria, you will then be required to take an oath of allegiance at a public ceremony, thereby accepting certain obligations of US citizenship, at which stage you will officially become a US citizen.


Need assistance?

NNU Immigration’s specialist US immigration attorneys can help with all Green Card applications, including advice on eligibility and the application process.

If you have a specific question or require support with your application, please get in touch contact us.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.