How to obtain a Green Card or permanent residency in the U.S.
Updated 2024-02-23 14:29

For millions of people, the prospect of living and establishing a life in the USA is a dream. Regarded as the land of freedom and opportunity, the United States currently houses more than 45 million immigrants. Despite the issue of immigration being frequently politicized in the USA, it is undeniably a nation that is made up of a diverse mix of ethnicities, religions, and cultures and is generally a welcoming place where adapting to a new life can be comparatively straightforward.

So, what do you need to become a permanent resident in the US?

To secure residency in the United States, one needs to acquire a Green Card, which is the commonly used name for a Permanent Residence Card.

A Green Card grants you the privilege to live and work in the US for up to ten years. During this time, you enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as US citizens, allowing you to pursue job opportunities in both the private and public sectors. Additionally, as a Green Card holder, you are entitled to health, educational, and other benefits. The only limitation is that you cannot vote or serve on a jury.

These Permanent Residency Cards were once colored green, which is where the more frequently used name has come from.

So, how can one get a Green Card in the US?

There are several scenarios in which you are eligible to apply for permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States:

  • You can apply for a family-based Green Card (if you have family in the United States or are married to a US citizen);
  • You can apply for an employment-based Green Card (if you have a job offer from the United States);
  • You can also participate in a Green Card lottery to win permanent residency in the country;
  • There are also a number of avenues where individuals can independently file for a Green Card without sponsorship from a family member or employer.

Family-Based Green Card

  • Suitable for individuals with family ties in the United States or those married to a US citizen;
  • The sponsoring individual, who must be at least 21 years old, can file a Green Card petition for their spouse, children, parents, or siblings;
  • The process involves completing the I-130 form (Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative), submitting the required documentation, paying a registration fee, and awaiting the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)' decision.

Employment-Based Green Card

  • Designed for individuals intending to work in the United States;
  • Subject to an annual quota of 140,000 employment-based Green Cards, distributed across various priority categories. However, the 2024 employment-based annual limit is expected to be approximately 161,000 due to unused family-sponsored visa numbers from 2023 being added to the employment-based limit;
  • Preference is often given to individuals with exceptional abilities in sciences, arts, business, education, or athletics;
  • Entrepreneurs, those with a valid job offer from a US company, and workers in specific fields can also apply;
  • The process involves the employer completing the I-140 form (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker), providing necessary documentation, submitting the application with the registration fee to USCIS, and awaiting a decision.

Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery

  • The DV is an opportunity to win a Green Card through the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery, which grants 55,000 Green Cards annually;
  • Open to residents of countries with low immigration rates to the US (the list of eligible countries changes each year);
  • Interested individuals, including those filing independently, must register online during the specified period on the Diversity Lottery official website;
  • Upon registration, a confirmation number is provided, which can be used to check if you have won;
  • The entry period for the DV-2025 Diversity Visa Program was between October 4, 2023 and November 7, 2023. Entries are not currently being accepted at this time; however, those who entered the lottery for the 2024 or 2025 periods can check their status online.

Individual Filing

Individuals can pursue a Green Card independently through various avenues, including:

  • The EB1A visa: It is for individuals with extraordinary abilities in fields like sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. It allows self-petitioning without a specific job offer, requiring evidence of sustained national or international acclaim;
  • The EB2 national interest waiver: It is for individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities, waiving the labor certification process. It requires demonstrating work in the US national interest, along with possessing an advanced degree or exceptional ability;
  • The EB5 investor visa: This program offers a Green Card to foreign investors and their families by making qualifying investments in new commercial enterprises. Investors must invest either $900,000 or $1.8 million, depending on the location, and create or preserve jobs for US workers;
  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): VAWA provides a legal immigration path for victims of domestic violence and other qualifying crimes. It allows abused spouses, children, and parents of US citizens or permanent residents to self-petition for lawful permanent residency, offering protection without the abuser's knowledge.

Responsibilities of Green Card Holders

Navigating life as a Green Card holder comes with both privileges and responsibilities. Here's an overview of what you must and mustn't do as a permanent resident in the United States:

Rights and opportunities

  • Living and working: As a Green Card holder, you have the valuable right to live and work anywhere in the United States. This flexibility allows you to explore diverse opportunities and build a life in the country;
  • Path to citizenship: Maintaining your permanent residency opens the door to a potential future as a US citizen. By adhering to the requirements and guidelines, you can eventually apply for citizenship and fully participate in the civic life of the nation;
  • Green Card designation: The term "Green Card" is an informal yet widely used reference to permanent residency. The card, first introduced in 1946, derives its name from its predominantly green color, symbolizing the holder's status as a lawful permanent resident.

Responsibilities and obligations

  • Compliance with laws: Upholding the law is paramount for Green Card holders. Adhering to all US laws and regulations is not only a legal requirement but also essential for maintaining your immigration status;
  • Tax obligations: Permanent residents are obligated to file income tax returns and report their income to both the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state taxing authorities. Fulfilling tax responsibilities ensures compliance with financial regulations;
  • Support for democratic values: Green Card holders are expected to support the democratic form of government in the United States. Advocacy for government changes through legal and democratic means is encouraged, while any involvement in illegal activities is strictly prohibited.

Health insurance

According to the Affordable Care Act, citizens and permanent residents of the United States must have health care insurance. If your income falls below federal poverty levels, you will be eligible for government subsidies that can help you pay for your health coverage. However, in most cases, permanent US residents can only apply for the social health program (Medicaid) after they have lived in the United States for at least five years.

Criminal acts

As a permanent resident in the United States, you could be deported from the country and refused re-entry if you are convicted of a crime. This may also lead to you losing eligibility for US citizenship in the future.

Other infractions that can affect your status include:

  • Providing false information to obtain immigration benefits;
  • Claiming to be a citizen of the United States when this is not the case;
  • Voting in a federal election (as a permanent resident, you can not vote);
  • Multiple marriages;
  • Inability to financially support your family;
  • Failure to submit tax returns.

Path to US Citizenship

Obtaining US citizenship is a significant milestone in your immigration journey. After receiving your Green Card, you have the option to apply for US citizenship. To become a US citizen, you must fulfill the following conditions:

  • Hold a Green Card (permanent residency) for a minimum of 5 years, or 3 years if you are the spouse of an American citizen;
  • Ensure the renewal of your permanent residency within 6 months of your citizenship application or if it has already expired;
  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of application;
  • Demonstrate proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing basic English;
  • Uphold good moral character, reflecting adherence to US laws and values;
  • Navigate through the 10-step naturalization process to culminate in US citizenship.

The 10-Step Naturalization Process

1.Eligibility Criteria Check

Verify your eligibility for US citizenship by reviewing the naturalization criteria on the USCIS official page. Common eligibility factors include being born in the US, born abroad to US citizens, holding a valid Green Card, being a spouse of a US citizen for at least 3 years, or serving in the US military.

2.Form N-400 Completion

Fill out the N-400 form with personal details, employment history, marital history, and other relevant information.

3.Photograph Submission

Provide two recent passport-sized photographs (2×2 inches or 5×5 cm) along with the N-400 form.

4.Document Compilation

Collect certified copies of necessary documents, such as your Green Card, passport, visa, and birth certificate. If any document is not in English, ensure it is translated.

5.Application Submission

Send your completed N-400 form and certified copies of documents to the USCIS office. Original documents are not required at this stage.


Attend a biometric verification appointment at the USCIS office for fingerprint collection.

7.Naturalization Interview

Participate in a naturalization interview where you'll answer questions about your application and background. Truthful responses are crucial to the process.

8.US Naturalization Test

Take and pass the Naturalization Test, which includes a civics part and an English part. This assesses your knowledge of US laws and your English language skills.

9.Verdict Waiting

After passing the interview and test, await the USCIS decision. Possible outcomes include approval, rejection (requiring departure before visa expiration), or an undecided case necessitating further information or appointments.

10.Citizenship Grant or Further Steps

If approved, congratulations on obtaining US citizenship. In case of rejection, follow the necessary steps. For undecided cases, provide requested information or attend additional appointments as needed.

Can US Citizenship Be Revoked?

While instances of US citizenship revocation are exceedingly rare, they can occur under specific circumstances. Grounds for potential revocation include:

  • Falsification or Concealment: Providing false information during the application process or interviews, even after obtaining citizenship, may lead to denaturalization proceedings;
  • Membership in a Subversive Group: Citizenship can be revoked if credible evidence suggests your involvement in a subversive organization within 5 years of becoming a citizen;
  • Refusal to Testify Before Congress: Within the first 10 years of citizenship, refusing to testify in investigations related to potential harm to US officials or an attempt to overthrow the US government may lead to revocation;
  • Dishonorable Military Discharge: Citizenship obtained through military service is at risk if you receive a dishonorable discharge before completing 5 years of service.

Individuals denaturalized based on these grounds must promptly leave the United States.

It's important to note that natural-born US citizens are protected by the 14th Amendment, preventing revocation. However, they have the option to voluntarily renounce their citizenship.

Future Changes to Green Card Rules

Though yet to be implemented, a White House Commission in late 2023 introduced some pretty major recommendations for the Green Card application process, aiming to benefit foreign professionals who are facing long processing times. The White House Commission for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Affairs approved the recommendation. However, final approval from US President Joe Biden is still pending, with implementation speculated to take over 18 months.

The commission proposes issuing employment authorization cards and essential travel documents at the first stage of the Green Card application process. If approved, the changes are expected to benefit over 8 million applicants who have been in the application backlog for over 5 years, with submissions dating back to 2018.

If approved, the validity of the issued employment authorization and travel documents would extend until the final stage of Green Card application processing.

Useful links:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

US National Visa Centre (NVS)

Electronic Diversity Visa Program

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.