Getting a Green Card

A United States Permanent Resident Card, most commonly called a "green card," allows a non-U.S. citizen to legally live in the United States for an indefinite period of time. It's not the same as becoming a U.S. citizen, which involves the more rigorous process of naturalization and grants certain rights and privileges otherwise denied non-citizens (for example, voting in elections and access to a U.S. passport).

For a more complete collection of articles, how-to guides and government resources, see the "Green Card" section of FindLaw's Immigration Law Center. The following is a general primer on getting a green card, with links to more in-depth resources:

  1. Green Card Eligibility - Green cards are available to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; certain highly skilled workers; refugees and asylum seekers; certain long-time residents; and others meeting specific criteria.
  2. Bringing a Family Member to the U.S. - U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (i.e. those who already have a green card) may petition for a green card on behalf of their immediate family members.
  3. Adjustment of Status - Foreign guests classified as "non-immigrants" or "parolees" may adjust their status to "immigrant" and apply for a green card, provided they meet the various requirements. When foreigner individuals living in the U.S. speak of "becoming legal," it is typically a reference to the adjustment of status process.
  4. Green Card Application Process - As with most U.S. immigration procedures, the green card application process can be quite complicated and often takes a matter of years before it is finally granted. Since the number of visas and green cards processed each year is limited, the U.S. Department of State maintains approximate wait times (by category) on its "Visa Bulletin."

Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.