An American passport and green card on top of an American flag

Immigrating to America? You’ll Need a Green Card

Understanding How to Get a Green Card

One of the most popular questions from people who immigrate to the United States is regarding how to get a green card. There is a specific timeline for getting a green card so you can stay in the country legally.

Knowing what to expect is important, as is knowing how to get a green card in general. There are certain criteria that fall under green card eligibility and it’s helpful to know what the green card application process includes.

What is a Green Card?

First and foremost, you may find yourself asking, “What is a green card?”

When you have this question in mind, it’s important to know that a green card is also commonly referred to as a permanent resident card. It is an official document that is exactly what it sounds like. It allows a person from another country to stay in the United States in a legal capacity by giving them permanent residence. 

The Benefits of Having a Green Card

In addition to gaining the legal right to stay in the United States on a permanent basis, there are additional benefits to getting a green card. They include the following: 

  • The ability to buy a home in the United States 
  • Being able to own any other type of property 
  • Having full rights and legal protections in the American legal system 
  • Being able to sponsor family members from overseas to get them their own green cards 
  • The ability to start and run your own business 
  • Being able to attend school and get a degree 
  • Work at an American company without needing a work visa 
  • Being able to leave the country to travel and return without issue 

What to Expect During the Green Card Application Process

Generally speaking, there are a number of ways to earn green card eligibility. There is a specific timeline for filing and receiving your green card, but for most people there are four key steps involved in the process.

Employers can file for labor certification: An employer can contact the immigration bureaucracy about getting a green card for an employee from another country. However, they are required to advertise and recruit an international employee if they fail to find an American citizen who is fully qualified for the job, and willing and able to accept it. The labor certification request must be made to the US Department of Labor via Form ETA 9089.

File an initial visa petition: It’s also possible to start your own petition for a green card. If you are a refugee who is seeking asylum, an investor, or the spouse of an abusive American citizen who is trying to prevent you from getting a green card, you can obtain Form I-526 or Form I-360, respectively, and file your initial visa petition. Afterward, you will have to wait a few weeks or even months before getting a response. However, if you are seeking asylum, the process is faster and you can get an interview after a few weeks.

Wait until a visa is available: Some categories of visas require you to wait for what’s known as a priority date. It can take years before you can hear back about an available visa. Spouses and children of unmarried permanent residents often wait around five years, while siblings of American citizens tend to wait as long as 20 years.

File for your green card: Finally, you can submit your application for your green card. The waiting time generally takes several weeks or even months depending on where you submit your application. Then, you have to wait for an interview and will be called in and finger-printed. You can expect to learn whether or not your green card will be approved during the interview. In some cases, you will have to wait to learn this due to security checks not being completed.

How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help

Knowing how an immigration lawyer can help is also a valuable tool. An attorney who is experienced in immigration law can help ensure that the entire process moves along quickly and smoothly. It’s important to hire the right lawyer, and ensure that they understand your situation and needs.