Green Card Process

We all know that the benefits of being a Green Card holder are many. Apart from the obvious – being able to legally live and work in the United States, a Green Card allows you to travel between your country of origin and the U.S. without a visa, as well as buy property, register a company, or enroll at a college or university in the U.S. 

There are a couple of instances where an individual may be eligible to obtain a Green Card, and each one of them involves a number of steps to be completed. We have prepared this post to concisely explain to you the steps involved in each Green Card  process.

Steps in the Green Card process 

The process of getting a Green Card will slightly vary depending on which path you qualify for. There will be different forms to fill out and submit, and the processing times may also differ depending on whether you’re a relative of a U.S. citizen or a Green Card holder. Below we will go over various steps that have to be followed when petitioning for a Green Card in a couple of different circumstances. 

Green Card process steps for H-1B workers 

Temporary specialty workers who have been issued the H-1B visa are eligible to apply for permanent status in the United States via a Green Card. To start their employment-based Green Card approval process, H-1B holders must find an employer willing to sponsor them. Since employers must meet particular criteria to become sponsors, it doesn’t have to be the H-1B employer where the specialty occupation worker is currently employed. 

An H-1B worker can change their job before they start to take steps to apply for permanent residence in the United States. Applicants must also keep in mind that not every H-1B job position qualifies them for a Green Card  – this is determined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on the responsibilities a particular position entails. 

H-1B holders interested in becoming permanent U.S. residents via their employment must make sure that they have completed all the steps that we cover below. 

Step 1: PERM Labor Certification (EB2 and EB3 employment-based Green Cards)

The first step involves the U.S. employer and requires them to obtain a Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) Labor Certification from the Department of Labor (DOL). The purpose of this document is to present to the USCIS that the employer has taken steps to look for U.S. workers to fill the same position, but they were not able to find available qualified and willing U.S. workers, and that hiring the H-1B visa applicant won’t negatively affect U.S. employees in a similar job position. It also establishes the Prevailing Wage Determination, meaning that the potential H-1B visa applicant will be paid a minimum wage paid to other U.S. workers performing the same job. 

The last component of the PERM Labor Certification is Form 9089 (Application for Permanent Employment Certification), to be filed by the petitioning employer. 

Step 2: Form I-140 – Immigration Petition for Alien Worker 

Once Form 9089 has been approved, the next form to be filed by the employer is Form I-140. This form is one of the most crucial steps in Green Card petitioning, as it declares that the foreign worker possesses the necessary skills for the job making them eligible for an immigrant employment-based visa and that their potential U.S. employer has sufficient funds to pay them the prevailing wage.  

There are 2 (two) ways of processing Form I-140: regular and premium processing. Regular processing takes around 6 (six) to 9 (nine) months, and with premium processing, that time is reduced to only 15 days. Most employers want to expedite the employment-based visa process as much as possible, so they usually go for the premium processing option. Form I-140 involves a filing fee of $700

Step 3: Form I-485 – Adjustment of Status 

Form I-485 is the final step in the employment-based Green Card petitioning process – it’s the application for permanent residence in the U.S. If the Green Card application is being submitted in the United States, Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) must be submitted after Form I-140 has been processed. When submitting the application from outside the United States, the applicant must go through consular processing in their country of residence and have the NVC  (National Visa Center) handle their application. There is a yearly restriction on the number of Green Cards issued to each nation, and Form I-485 often takes the longest to process (an average of 6 (six) months) and it can only be filed from within the United States. 

While their application is being processed, the applicant may also apply for an EAD (Employment Authorization Document). Visit the USCIS website for more details on the Employment Authorization Document.

In this post, you will find more thorough information on how to apply for an employment-based Green Card, including a list of the necessary supporting documents.

Green Card for family members – steps 

You can sponsor your family members for permanent residence in the United States as a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder who, however, can only sponsor their spouses and unmarried children, whereas U.S. citizens are not as limited in this area and are allowed to sponsor their parents and other relatives* as well. Follow the steps below if you are looking to bring your foreign-born family member to the U.S. by petitioning for a Green Card on their behalf. 

*NOTE: Apart from being able to sponsor their spouses, children, and parents, U.S. citizens can also sponsor their siblings. This is called the Family Preference category and the number of visas issued each year is limited. 

Step 1: Form I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative

Form I-130 is the most important form to file when petitioning for a Green Card for a relative. The form must be filled out, complete with proof of relationship to the foreign relative, and filed with the USCIS. 

When filing Form I-130, you will have to provide proof of your legal status in the U.S., whether it’s proof of your U.S. citizenship or permanent residence. You will also need to submit proof of your relationship to the applicant, such as a birth certificate. The I-130 filing fee is currently $535

If the beneficiary (foreign relative) is already in the United States on another visa, you can file for Adjustment of Status by submitting Form I-485 at the time of submitting Form I-130. 

Step 2: Petition approval 

Once your petition is received by the USCIS, you (the sponsor) will receive a receipt – I-797C, or Notice of Action. The receipt number can be used to track the status of your case online. Should the USCIS require any more additional information, they will send you an RFE (Request for Further Evidence) letter. 

At this point, you just have to be patient and wait on the progress of your alien relative petition. In general, immediate family members such as spouses or children have priority and their applications tend to be processed faster – from a couple of months to a year. 

Step 3: Getting the immigrant visa number and applying for an immigrant visa in the country of origin – Forms DS-260 and DS-261

Assuming that everything has gone smoothly and the petition has been approved by the USCIS, the next step is for the beneficiary to schedule an immigrant visa appointment with a U.S. consulate or the U.S. embassy in their home country so they can apply for their immigrant visa. Form DS-260 will have to be filed to apply for the immigrant visa, and the filing fee for this form is $220. There is an additional form – DS-261 (Online Choice of Address and Agent), which is easy and fill out, free of charge, and serves to inform the U.S. Department of State on how you wish to be contacted about the progress of your Green Card petition.

In order to be able to schedule an appointment, an immigrant visa number must be made available by the Department of State. Fortunately, relatives (spouses, children under 21, and parents) of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for an immigrant visa number – the number will be assigned to them immediately and they will be able to schedule their visa appointment. Relatives of Green Card holders will have to wait for an immigrant visa number to be issued to them by the U.S. State Department before they can make their appointment.  

Prior to scheduling the visa appointment, the applicant will have to undergo certain medical examinations, including getting vaccinations required by the U.S. State Department. However, more information on this requirement will be provided by the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country. 

For those beneficiaries who are already in the United States, this is when they can also file their Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) if they haven’t done so already. 

Step 5: Applying for a Social Security number 

Once in the United States, the foreign relative can now apply for a Social Security number. Having a Social Security number allows its holder to open a bank account, apply for federal loans, get a driver’s license, as well as apply for Medicare and public assistance, and more. Information on how to apply can be found on the Social Security website

Green Card process steps for parents 

Parents of U.S. citizens are also eligible to apply for permanent resident status in the United States through their children. Parents fall into the family-based Green Card category and, since they’re immediate family members, they get priority in application processing. Green Card holders may not bring their parents to live in the United States.

An orange-and-pink-colored infographic with two columns and an American flag on top, explaining the steps of sponsoring parents to the United States.

Step 1:  Form I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative

As you already know, Form I-130 has to be filed when petitioning for family members. If you are sponsoring both of your parents, a separate form must be filed for each parent. The Form I-130 filing fee is $535

The processing of Form I-130 for parents may take anywhere from 6 (six) to 12 months.

Step 2: Form DS-260 and DS-261 or Form I-485 

If the parents are outside of the United States, they will have to file Form DS-260 and schedule a visa appointment at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The parents will be assigned an immigrant visa number (mandatory for scheduling the interview) immediately after the approval of their I-130 petition. Form DS-261 will also have to be filed, however, it’s a free online form whose main purpose is to inform the U.S. State Department how you wish to be contacted throughout the Green Card application process. 

In addition to other fees, an immigrant fee of $220 (Form DS-260) will have to be paid by parents residing in their home country. To find out more about applicable fees, visit the USCIS website, or better yet, contact your local U.S. consulate or embassy.

The visa appointment will most likely require the parents to undergo a medical exam prior to attending (more on that below). If the visa appointment is successfully completed, the parent or parents will be issued an immigrant visa. Once they arrive in the U.S., they will receive a stamp at the Port of Entry (POE), after which an actual plastic Green Card will be delivered to their mailing address. 

If the parents are already in the United States, Forms I-130 and I-485 (Adjustment of Status) can be filed together. Also, parents who are residing in the U.S. are not required to file Form DS-260. The visa appointment will be held at the USCIS for those parents who are in the United States. 

Step 3: Form I-864 – Affidavit of Support 

An Affidavit of Support is mandatory to file since it is assumed that upon their arrival in the United States, the new immigrants will rely on their financial sponsor, at least in the beginning stages. Form I-864 is filed to confirm and prove that the sponsor has adequate financial means to support their parents. Interestingly, the financial sponsor is not always the sponsoring family member – a friend or relative can act as a sponsor if they are able to demonstrate sufficient funds. For more information on the documents that you need to prepare when filing the Affidavit of Support, visit the USCIS website. 

Step 4: Form I-693 – Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record

All parents living outside of the United States and those who are already in the U.S. and are trying to adjust their legal status must submit Form I-693. The form is to be completed by a designated civil surgeon (if you’re applying for an Adjustment of Status in the U.S.) or a panel physician if you’re applying from abroad. 

The medical exam will be a thorough review of the applicant’s medical history, such as drug/alcohol screening, a physical and mental health examination, blood and urine testing, and tuberculosis testing.   

There is no filing fee for Form I-693, however, the doctor’s visit and medical examination costs will have to be covered. 

Other steps 

In some cases, 2 (two) more forms may be required, however, this depends on the individual circumstances. If the U.S. citizen’s parents wish to seek employment upon their arrival in the United States, they may file Form I-765 which is the Work Authorization Application for Employment Authorization. The filing fee for this form is $410

Another optional form to submit is Form I-131 – Application for Travel Document. This document is recommended if the parent plans to leave the United States at any time of their Green Card application processing. The form lets Green Card applicants apply for “Advance Parole”, i.e. the permission to leave the United States and re-enter without a visa. There is no flat filing fee for Form I-131 – it may be anywhere between $105 and $575 depending on the situation. However, if the parent has already filed Form I-485, filing Form I-131 will be free of charge. 

Marriage-based Green Card process – steps 

Marriage-based Green Card petitions may be among the most common Green Card applications out there. The spouse of a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder has the right to become a lawful permanent resident as long as all the requirements are met and the marriage is genuine. 

Step 1: Form I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative

Again, petitioning for a spouse falls into the category of family-based Green Cards, therefore, the first step is to submit Form I-130. This form must be filed with the USCIS regardless of whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder and whether their spouse is inside or outside the United States. Form I-130 must be supplemented with your marriage certificate and documents that prove the legitimacy of your marriage, such as a joint bank account statement, your wedding photos, or a joint lease agreement. The fee to be paid for Form I-130 is $535

Step 2: Applying for a Green Card

There are two different ways of going about this step depending on whether you and the foreign spouse are inside or outside the United States. 

Inside the United States

If you and your spouse are living in the U.S. at the time of applying, you have to file Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) with Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support). The forms will have to be accompanied by the beneficiary’s (foreign spouse’s) birth certificate, proof of medical examinations, and proof of the foreign spouse’s legal entry into the U.S. (such as a prior visa or their I-94 travel record), among others. For a detailed list of all the documents to include with the I-485 application, refer to the USCIS website. 

Petitioners who are U.S. citizens can file Form I-485 concurrently with Form I-130 for their spouse. Whereas petitioners who are Green Card holders will have to wait for their immigrant visa date to be current and that’s when they’ll be able to proceed with their Form I-485. 

Outside the United States

The Green Card application is handled through consular processing when the foreign spouse is living in their home country at the time of applying. Then, upon the approval of Form I-130 by the USCIS, the applicant’s file will be sent to the U.S. State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will notify the applicant letting them know when they can submit their NVC filing package. 

This time, the filing fees will amount to $445. This is when you will also be filing Form DS-260, the Green Card application (it can be filed online), and Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support). 

Step 3: Preparing for the interview 

Whether you and your husband or wife are living outside or inside the United States, you will have to attend a Green Card interview. If inside the U.S. the interview will take place at the USCIS, and if outside the U.S. – at an embassy or consulate. 

Prior to attending the interview, the required medical examinations will have to be done; outside the U.S. they must be conducted by an embassy-approved doctor (panel physician), and in the U.S. – a civil surgeon

Before the interview, you should prepare as much proof as possible to testify that your marriage is real and that you have genuinely been together as a couple, not just for the purpose of obtaining a Green Card for the applicant. The purpose of the interview is to establish whether the marriage is legitimate, meaning, that the petitioner and the applicant are not engaging in Green Card fraud. If there are any facts hinting at immigration fraud, apart from asking questions about the relationship you have, your future plans, or daily activities, the interviewing officer may ask more inquisitive questions. 

You will also be required to provide 2 (two) identical passport-style photographs and certified copies of civil documents that will support your visa application. Remember that any documents that were originally issued in a language other than English will have to be translated by a competent translator. 

Step 4: Attending the interview

If you are in the United States and have adjusted status with Form I-485, you will be notified by the USCIS of the date when you can attend your interview. Keep in mind that both the petitioner and the applicant must attend the interview. If everything goes well and your petition is approved, the Green Card will be mailed to your street address approximately 2 (two) to 3 (three) weeks after the interview. 

Applicants who are outside of the United States will be notified by the U.S. consulate of the date of the interview once the NVC has processed and approved their DS-260 application. Foreign spouses applying from abroad can attend the interview alone and their spouse’s (petitioner’s) presence is not mandatory. In this case, the decision will be made within approximately a week. If the application is approved, an immigrant visa will be sent to your street address and you will be allowed to legally travel to the United States. Once in the U.S., you will be mailed the actual Green Card to your U.S. address by the USCIS. If, however, the interviewing officer decides that there is a need for further investigation, the process will be delayed and you may even be denied a Green Card.

Passport Photo Online 

Since all of the above petitions require passport-style photographs, we want to briefly tell you about Passport Photo Online – an easy, user-friendly, intuitive, and no-hassle application that will get you passport and visa photos in a matter of approximately 5 (five) seconds. The greatest part about it is that you don’t even have to leave your house to do it.

You can either upload an already existing image to our app (available on both Apple and Android devices) or website or take a new photo using your smartphone or digital camera. All you need is a tripod or a friend or family member who will snap a photo of you. 

Once you’ve uploaded your picture, the Passport Photo Online AI system will scan it for any errors, crop it to the correct size, adjust it to the proper dimensions required for your document of choice, remove the background and even some small shadows, and within a couple of seconds, your photo will be ready to be downloaded. You have 2 (two) options for ordering your AI and human expert-verified image:

  • $6.95 for digital photos sent directly to your email;
  • $9.95 for digital photos and printouts delivered straight to your door. 

The Passport Photo Online acceptance rate is 97% and our app has already been trusted by over a million users. We’ve been acknowledged by Forbes, Yahoo!, Glamour, and National Geographic, among others. Save up to 40% on your visa and passport photos with Passport Photo Online, without stepping out of your house!

Green Card process steps: FAQ

If we haven’t covered everything in the above sections, here are a couple of frequently asked questions regarding Green Card petitioning:

What are the Green Card steps for an EB1 international manager?

The first step in the EB1 international manager Green Card application is for the employer to file Form I-140 with the USCIS. Once the petition is approved, the next step is Form I-485, or Adjustment of Status. After this, an EB1 international manager should be able to switch their status to that of a permanent resident. Outside the U.S., the process will be handled by consular processing. The EB1 manager will have to file Form DS-260 online and attend an interview with a consular officer at the U.S. consulate or embassy.

What are the steps involved in the Green Card process for master’s students?

Being a master’s student alone doesn’t make one eligible for a Green Card – they can either apply for an employment-based visa or a family-based Green Card if they’re an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or a Green Card holder.

Green Card step-by-step process – final thoughts

The process of obtaining a Green Card is a lot more complicated than it may sound, as it is pretty costly and time-consuming. The key to making the Green Card petition go as smoothly as possible is to make sure that you’ve gathered all the necessary information, documentation, and any proof that may be required, for example, for a marriage-based Green Card. Also, keep in mind that any foreign-issued documents must be translated to English by a competent translator.

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