Everything You Need to Know About Green Card Explained

Having a Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. The steps you must take to apply for a Green Card will vary depending on your individual situation. Continue reading to learn more.

Everything You Need to Know About Green Card Explained

Most foreign nationals outside the United States want a green card because it will grant them the authorization to live and work anywhere in the US. And also be eligible to apply for US citizenship after three or five years. However, if you are looking to apply, this article will explain everything you need to know about green cards. So you’ll know what you need when planning to move to the United States.

What is a Green Card?

A green card is officially known as a permanent resident card. It is an identity document that shows that a person has permanent residency in the US. Green card holders are formally known as lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Green card holders are statutorily entitled to apply for US citizenship after showing by a preponderance of the evidence that they, among other things, have continuously resided in the United States for one to five years and are persons of good moral character.

Every year, the US government issues more than a million green cards. Most are given to family members of US citizens and current green card holders. Then followed by workers from other countries seeking employment in the United States as the next biggest group of recipients. As of 2019, there are an estimated 13.9 million green card holders of whom 9.1 million are eligible to become United States citizens.

Moreover, the card is known as a "green card" because of its historical greenish color. It was formerly called a "certificate of alien registration" or an "alien registration receipt card". Green card applications are decided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but in some cases, an immigration judge or a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), acting on behalf of the US Attorney General, may grant permanent residency in the course of removal proceedings.

Different Types of Green Cards

Furthermore, there are many categories of green cards. But the most common types are as follows:

Family-Based Green Card:

Close relatives of United States citizens and current green card holders may apply for family-based green cards on their own. However, to apply for a family-based green card, you must be eligible under one of the sub-categories listed below.

  • You may be eligible to apply for a family-based green card as an immediate relative of a US citizen if you are the:
    • Spouse of a US citizen
    • Unmarried child under the age of 21 of a US citizen
    • Parent of a US citizen who is at least 21 years of age.
  • Other relatives of a US citizen or relative of a lawful permanent resident under the family-based preference categories, if you are the family member of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident.
  • You may also be eligible to apply for a family-based green card as a Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child if you are the person admitted to the US as a fiancé(e) or the child of a fiancé(e) of a US citizen (K-1 nonimmigrant)

Moreover, also included in this category are widows and widowers who were married to a US citizen at the time the citizen died. However, in order to receive a green card. Widows and widowers must prove that their marriage was authentic just like spouses of living US citizens and green card holders who apply for marriage-based green cards.

Employment-Based Green Card:

Several sub-categories of workers can apply for permanent residence within the employment-based green card category. And in some cases, their spouses and children may also qualify for a green card as well. However, to apply for an employment-based green card, you must be eligible under one of the sub-categories listed below.

  • You may be eligible to apply as an immigrant worker if you:
    • Are a first preference immigrant worker, meaning you:
      • Have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or
      • Are you an outstanding professor or researcher, or
        You are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria
    •  Are a second preference immigrant worker, meaning you:
      • Have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or
      • Are you a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, or
      • You are seeking a national interest waiver
    • Are you a third preference immigrant worker, meaning you are:
      • A skilled worker (meaning your job requires a minimum of 2 years of training or work experience), or
      • A professional (meaning your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor's degree or a foreign equivalent and you are a member of the profession), or
      • An unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years of training or experience) 
  • Physician National Interest Waiver
    • Are a physician who agrees to work full-time in clinical practice in a designated underserved area for a set period of time and also meets other eligibility requirements
  • Immigrant investor
    Have invested or are actively in the process of investing at least $1 million (or $500,000 in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees

Humanitarian Green Cards:

These are green cards through refugee or asylee status. These refer to people who fear or have experienced, persecution in their home country. This may be as a result of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. However, they can seek protection in the US by applying for a visa from abroad to come as refugees or from within the United States to remain as asylees.

However, you may be eligible to apply for a humanitarian green card as an asylee or as a refugee if you were granted asylum or refugee status at least 1 year ago. Moreover, children and spouses (and in some cases, other family members) of refugees and asylees may also seek protection in the United States under these programs and eventually apply for a green card.


Diversity Lottery Green Card:

Every year, around 50,000 immigrant visas are made available under the US “green card lottery (officially known as the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program. The US government randomly selects up to 50,000 people who were born in countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the past five years.

However, the share of green cards distributed to any one country is capped at 7%. Moreover, applicants can only qualify by country of chargeability, not by citizenship. Anyone who is selected under this lottery will be given the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. They can also file for their spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21.

Furthermore, most lottery applicants live in their home countries at the time they cast their entries. Whereas some already live in the United States under a different type of immigrant status. However, if permanent residence is granted. The winner receives an immigrant visa in their passport that has to be activated within six months of issuance at any port of entry to the US.

But if already in the United States, then adjustment of status may be pursued. The new immigrants will receive a stamp on the visa as proof of lawful admittance to the US. Afterward, the individual is now authorized to live and work permanently in the United States. Finally, the actual green card typically arrives by mail within a few months.

Green Card Through Registry (Longtime-Resident Green Card):

Individuals who have physically lived in the US may apply for a green card through a special process called a registry. You may be eligible to register for a Green Card if you have resided continuously in the United States — lawfully or unlawfully since before January 1, 1972.

Moreover, the registry is a section of immigration law that enables certain individuals who have been present in the United States since Jan. 1, 1972, the ability to apply for a Green Card (permanent residence), even if they are currently in the United States unlawfully.

Furthermore, you may be eligible to receive a Green Card (permanent residence) under the registry provisions if you meet all of the following conditions:

  • You entered the United States prior to Jan. 1, 1972
  • have resided in the United States continuously since you entered
  • are a person of good moral character
  • are not ineligible for naturalization (citizenship)
  • You are not removable (deportable) under Section 237(a)(4)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). You are not inadmissible under Section 212(a)(3)(E) of the INA or as a criminal, procurer, other immoral people, subversive, a violator of the narcotics laws, or noncitizen smuggler

Other Green Cards:

Moreover, the United States also issues many other types of green cards besides the aforementioned ones. Some of these include green cards for “special immigrants,” including media professionals, religious workers, Afghanistan and Iraq nationals who have served the US government under certain capacities, and other types of workers who have served in an international organization. Others include green cards for Cuban citizens and American Indians born in Canada.

Final Thoughts

If you want to apply for a green card, you should first find out if you are eligible. If you are, file Form I-485 - Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS. Including all supporting documents and fees. Then, USCIS will review your application and schedule an interview with you. Once issued, your Green Card will be valid for 10 years.

A permanent resident card gives you official immigration status in the US. It also entitles you to certain rights and responsibilities. And is required if you want to naturalize as a US citizen. However, you should also get familiar with the immigration, visa, or green card process. This can help protect your personal information and money against scammers.