Who is a Green Card Holder (Permanent Resident)?
A Green Card holder (permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, a person is granted a permanent resident card, commonly called a “Green Card.” You can become a permanent resident several different ways. Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or employer in the United States. Other individuals may become permanent residents through refugee or asylee status or other humanitarian programs. In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself.
The steps to becoming a Green Card holder (permanent resident) vary by category and depend on whether you currently live inside or outside the United States. The main categories are:
Green Card Through Family
Many people get Green Cards (become permanent residents) through family members. You may be eligible to get a Green Card as:
- an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, this includes spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizen petitioners 21 or older
- a family member of a U.S. citizen fitting into a preference category, this includes unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21, married children of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizen petitioners 21 or older
- a family member of a green card holder, this includes spouses and unmarried children of the sponsoring green card holder
- a member of a special category, this can include battered spouse or child (VAWA), aK nonimmigrant, a person born to a foreign diplomat in the United States, a V nonimmigrant or a widow(er) of a U.S. Citizen
Green Card Through a Job
The main ways to immigrate based on a job offer or employment are listed below:
Green Card Through a Job Offer: You may be eligible to become a permanent resident based on an offer of permanent employment in the United States. Most categories require an employer to get a labor certification and then file a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, for you.
Green Card Through Investment: Green cards may be available to investors/entrepreneurs who are making an investment in an enterprise that creates new U.S. jobs.
Green Card Through Self Petition: Some immigrant categories allow you to file for yourself (“self-petition”). This option is available for either “Aliens of Extraordinary Ability” or certain individuals granted a National Interest Waiver.
Green Card Through Special Categories of Jobs: There are a number of specialized jobs that may allow you to get a green card based on a past or current job, such as:
- Afghan/Iraqi Translator
- International Organization Employee
- Iraqi Who Assisted the U.S. Government
- NATO-6 Nonimmigrant
- Panama Canal Employee
- Physician National Interest Waiver
- Religious Worker
- All of these require a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, and are described in Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
In some cases, you may be able to file the immigrant petition (either a Form I-140 or I-360, depending on your category) at the same time that you file Form I-485, known as “concurrent filing.” For more information, see the “Concurrent Filing” page.
If you are not eligible to adjust your status inside the United States to a permanent resident, the immigrant petition will be sent to the U.S. consulate abroad to complete the visa process. In order to apply for a green card, there must be a visa immediately available to you.
Green Card Through Refugee or Asylee Status
If you were admitted to the United States as:
- a refugee
- a qualifying family member of an asylee
Then you may apply for permanent residence
1 year after the grant of your asylum status
If you were:
granted asylum in the United States
Then you may apply for permanent residence
1 year after your entry into the United States
Note: As a refugee, you are required by law to apply for permanent resident status 1 year after being admitted to the United States. As an asylee, you are not required to apply for permanent resident status after being granted asylum for 1 year, although it may be in your best interest to do so.
For more information on how refugees, asylees, and their family members can apply for green cards see:
- Green Card for a Refugee: Explains the refugees eligibility criteria and application process for a green card.
- Green Card for an Asylee: Explains the aslyees and their family members eligibility criteria and application process for a green card.
Other Ways to Get a Green Card
Although most immigrants come to live permanently in the United States through a family member’s sponsorship, employment, or a job offer, there are other ways a Green Card (permanent residence) can be obtained, such as the:
Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (referred to by many as the ‘Green Card Lottery’)
K Nonimmigrant (includes fiancé(e))
Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status
Additional programs include:
Special Categories of Family
Battered Spouse or Child (VAWA)
Widow(er) of a U.S. Citizen
Person Born to a Foreign Diplomat in the United States
Special Categories of Jobs
Afghan Who Assisted the U.S. Government
Armed Forces Member
International Organization Employee
Physician National Interest Waiver
Iraqi Who Assisted the U.S. Government
Other Green Card Programs
Amerasian Child of a U.S. Citizen
Informant (S Nonimmigrant)
American Indian Born in Canada
Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act
Cuban Native or Citizen
Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)
Help HAITI Act of 2010
Victim of Criminal Activity (U Nonimmigrant)
Victim of Trafficking (T Nonimmigrant)