What is a Green Card?

A Permanent Residence Card also called a Green Card, is a document issued by the federal government that allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. You must apply for a Green Card through the United States federal government, and once you have it, you can work and travel anywhere in the country.

Who is Eligible?

There are several categories you may fit under which allow you to get a Green Card. The categories are determined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and include going through family members or your employer. Some crime victims may also be eligible.

There are several different types of people who may fall into these categories including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, fiancés of U.S. citizens, religious workers, or international media broadcasters. It’s important to be familiar with the different options you may have if you are hoping to obtain a Green Card.

How is the Application Process?

The applications process can be daunting because requirements are different depending on your situation. You must first be eligible to apply. You can see the eligibility categories at the start of this article.

Most people who are eligible to apply for a Green Card will have to fill out a few forms, including an immigrant petition and a Green Card application. Some people can file the documentation for themselves but others need a sponsor to file the petition. You will also be interviewed and asked questions about why you want to obtain a Green Card.

The process to apply for a Green Card also differs depending on if you are currently living inside the United States or if you are currently living outside of the country. Below is a general list of steps you must take to apply for a Green Card:

  1. File the immigrant petition
  2. Once that is approved by the government, file a Green Card application
  3. Attend an in-person appointment to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature
  4. Attend an interview
  5. Receive a decision

Please remember to keep your information up to date throughout the application process because you must be able to receive mail. If you do not update your address after moving, your case could be delayed and you could potentially have to start the process over from the beginning.

This is an important rule to follow even after you obtain a Green Card because if you do not update your address, you could risk deportation.

Is a Green Card a Visa?

There is a difference between the two. The simplest way to describe the difference between a Green Card and a visa is that a visa is temporary and a Green Card is permanent.

A visa allows someone to live, and possibly work, in the United States for a designated period of time. A visa may also be the first step in getting a Green Card. A Green Card allows the holder to live permanently or work wherever they want in the country. It also gives the holder almost as many rights as a United States citizen.

A Green Card Does Not Make You a Citizen

A Green Card does not grant the holder citizenship. If you would like to become a United States citizen, you can pursue that process, called naturalization, after three to five years of living in the U.S.

If you have a Green Card, you cannot vote in U.S. elections, you cannot leave the country for extended amounts of time, and you may not be eligible for certain scholarships or federal grant money. Once you go through the naturalization process and become a U.S. citizen you are granted full rights, including the right to vote.

How Long Does the Process Take?

The process to apply for and obtain a Green Card could take anywhere from three months to two years. Several factors go into the decision-making process including your family ties or your job. It is also important that you check your mail and respond to any inquiries from the government while you are waiting to hear back.

If Your Case was Denied

You should receive a notice from the federal government explaining why your case was denied. This document will also explain if you can file an appeal or a motion to reopen or reconsider the decision.


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