The Ultimate Guide to Getting a U.S. Green Card

If you’re like many people, you know that a United States green card is the final step on the path to citizenship. But who’s eligible for a green card, how do you get one, and what happens after you have it? This guide explains everything you need to know about getting a green card in the United States.

Who’s Eligible for a Green Card?

In order to apply for a green card, you must be eligible. Only people who fall into certain categories are eligible for green cards, and different categories require different methods of application.

Generally, you’re eligible for a green card if you have certain family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, you belong to a certain classification of immigrant worker, or you’re part of one of a number of special immigrant categories. You may also be eligible for a green card through registry.

The following sections explain each of these eligibility categories. If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, you should contact an Albuquerque immigration attorney for guidance.

Getting a Green Card Through Your Family Connections in the United States

Your family connections can make you eligible for a United States green card. If you are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (meaning that you’re a spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent of a United States citizen who is at least 21 years old), you may be eligible for a green card immediately.

Some other relatives of United States citizens are also eligible, such as their children and siblings. Additionally, you may be eligible for a green card as the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen or as the spouse, child or parent of an abusive U.S. citizen.

Some relatives of lawful permanent residents are also eligible for green cards. Those relatives include spouses and unmarried children.

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Green Cards with Hendricks Law FirmObtaining a Green Card Through Employment

Some immigrant workers are eligible for green cards based on the work they do in the United States. Here’s a closer look at immigrant worker categories that provide green card eligibility:

  • First preference immigrant workers. If you have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, athletics or education, or you are an outstanding professor or researcher, you may qualify to apply. Additionally, if you are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria, you may be eligible.
  • Second preference immigrant workers. If you are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree or you have exceptional ability in business, the sciences or the arts, or you are seeking a national interest waiver, you may be able to apply for a green card.
  • Third preference immigrant workers. Third Preference immigrant workers can be skilled, professional or unskilled. Third preference immigrant workers may also be eligible to apply based on their employment.
  • Physicians who agree to work full time at a clinical practice in an underserved area for a certain amount of time are sometimes eligible to apply for green cards.
  • Immigrant investors who have invested or are actively in the process of investing a certain amount of money in a United States business that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees are eligible to apply for green cards.

Special Categories of Immigrants Who Are Eligible for Green Cards

There are several categories of immigrants who are eligible for green cards outside those who have family members or employers willing to sponsor them. They include:

  • Special immigrants, such as religious workers, Afghanistan or Iraq nationals, international broadcasters, and employees of certain international organizations or NATO
  • Refugees and asylees who have come to the U.S. to seek protection from persecution in their home countries or to seek refuge in the United States due to unlivable conditions in their home countries
  • Victims of human trafficking and other crimes
  • Victims of abuse

Each of these categories requires a different type of documentation, which means it may be in your best interest to work with an immigration attorney who understands what the United States government requires.

Getting a Green Card Through Registry

If you have lived in the United States continuously since before January 1, 1972, you may be eligible to simply register for a green card. You must meet other criteria, such as being a person of good moral character and not having any bars to naturalization.

Do You Need a Sponsor to Get a Green Card?

Most people need a sponsor to get a green card in the United States. A sponsor is a person who is willing to take responsibility for you and, in some cases, provide financial support if you cannot afford to live on your own. The sponsor accepts responsibility for you until you become a United States citizen or have proven to work for a total of 40 quarters (that’s ten years).

Some people, such as refugees and asylum, victims of human trafficking and other crimes, and victims of abuse do not need sponsors to apply for a United States green card. They can apply for a green card without a sponsor, and so can immigrant investors.

Who Can Sponsor You?

Usually, a family member or an employer serves as a sponsor. For most people, a spouse, parent or child serves as the sponsor. And frequently, an employer is the sponsor.

A sponsor must usually certify that their income level is at least 25 percent over the current federal poverty guidelines. There is an exception for military service members; their income must be at least equal to the federal poverty guidelines.

What is an Affidavit of Support?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires people to file an affidavit of support, which is a legally binding commitment the sponsor makes with the United States government. This affidavit says that the sponsor will ensure that you have adequate financial support while you are in the U.S.

What Are Bars to Adjustment?

You cannot get a green card if you are ineligible or have what’s known as a bar to adjustment. Some bars to adjustment include:

  • Previous criminal convictions
  • Ties to terrorist organizations or previous terrorist activities
  • Violation of the terms of a visa
  • Unauthorized employment

If you suspect that you may be ineligible for a green card, you should ask an immigration attorney for help. Your immigration attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and let you know what to do next.

Why Would You Apply for a Green Card?

When you have a United States green card, you may work and live anywhere in the country you wish. You don’t need special employment authorization documents, and you can move anytime you’d like. Additionally, a green card is the last step on the path to United States citizenship. You must have a green card, which means you are a lawful permanent resident, before you can apply for citizenship.

Can You Get Citizenship After You Obtain a Green Card?

You may apply for United States citizenship after you obtain a green card. However, you must have your green card for a certain period of time before you’re eligible to become a naturalized United States citizen.

Do You Need to Talk to an Immigration Attorney About Getting a Green Card in the U.S.?

If you are thinking about applying for a green card, we may be able to help you. Our team understands United States immigration law and how it applies in a broad range of cases. Call our office to schedule your free consultation with an immigration attorney now.

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U.S. immigration law can be incredibly complex – and for most people, the best course of action is to work with an immigration attorney who understands the process and federal immigration laws. 

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