How Do You Become a Permanent Resident of the United States?

Becoming a permanent resident of the United States – also known as getting your green card – is the dream of many immigrants. There are several different routes to getting your green card, and the one that you choose will depend upon your specific circumstances. Whichever one is right for you, it’s important that you follow the steps carefully, fill out all appropriate paperwork correctly, and pay all required fees. Perhaps most important and difficult of all, you must exercise patience.

The most common routes to permanent residency include:

  • Submitting an application for an employer-sponsored green card based on a specific job offer for a permanent, full-time position. There are several different categories and sub-categories that apply to employment-based applications, including EB-1 priority workers who have extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; EB-2 workers who are members of professions holding advanced degrees or with exceptional abilities; EB-3 skilled workers or professionals; EB-4 special immigrants including religious workers or special immigrant juveniles; and EB-5 investors.
  • Submitting an application for a self-sponsored employment based green card. This generally falls under the category of extraordinary ability (EB-1A) or EB-2 national interest waivers.
  • Qualifying for a green card based on family relations. This can include being the spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen, as well as less-immediate relative, widow, or fiancé.
  • Those who have sought and been granted asylum or refugee status for a year or more can apply for permanent residency.
  • Those who have been victims of human trafficking or crime and who hold a T or U nonimmigrant visa can apply for permanent residency.
  • Permanent residency is available for certain victims of abuse.
  • Registration for permanent residency is available for those who have lived continuously in the United States since January 1, 1972.
  • The United States Department of State offers the opportunity for permanent residency through a diversity lottery program.

The processing time for each of these types of applications varies and can be further complicated depending on your country of origin. While some are able to achieve employment-based permanent residency in under a year, for others the process can take decades.

To get a full understanding of exactly what you need to do and what you should expect, we encourage you to meet with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you navigate this complex process.