a form titled immigration with a pencil resting on it

Application and Eligibility Requirements for Green Cards

Obtaining Green Card holder or permanent residency status can be done when you are sponsored by a family member, an employer, various humanitarian programs or when you are a refugee. In some instances, you may be eligible to file for yourself or have someone file on your behalf. General requirements for permanent US residency are:

  • Meeting eligibility under one of the immigrant categories as set in the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act)
  • Having a qualifying, filed immigrant petition (there may be some exceptions to this requirement)
  • A readily available immigrant visa
  • Being approved for entrance (admissibility) into the U.S.

Immigrant Category Eligibility

The details of eligibility if you are an immigrant wanting to obtain Green Card status will generally be classified in categories based on an order of importance (priority) system. Except for immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen who are given the highest immigration priority and a few other exceptions, the annual limits for visa numbers are established by Congress and can be referenced in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

How Visa Availability is Determined

If you are in a family or employment based preference category, visa availability is determined by:

  • Your priority date that determines your waiting period for the visa
  • The immigration preference category you are under
  • The country (usually country of citizenship) the visa will be applied to

Immigrant Petitions

Immigrants in most categories will need an immigrant petition (Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker), (Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative), (Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, or another petition) filed on their behalf. The immigrant petition establishes the underlying reason for your ability to immigrate and determines your immigrant category. However, the majority of people immigrating based on humanitarian programs are exempt from the petition requirement.

Before U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service officials can approve an applicant for permanent residency in a visa category that has limited numbers, you must first request a visa number from the Department of State.

Eligibility for Admission to the United States

All persons applying for an U.S. immigrant visa or adjustment of status must prove that they are eligible for admission to the satisfaction of consular officials or immigration. According to Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, grounds of inadmissibility to become a permanent resident could be related to health, criminal, security or other reasons that the USCIS considers and are determined by the particular category under which you are immigrating.

If you are found inadmissible to the United States, your adjustment of status application (Form I-485) or immigrant visa application will be denied. However, you might be eligible to file a waiver on Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility, (the form covering most immigrant categories) or I-602, Application By Refugee For Waiver of Grounds of Excludability (the form required for refugees) to excuse your inadmissibility. After all paperwork, interviews, (if required) , security checks and other eligibility requirements have been reviewed and completed, your status will be considered by USCIS.

Last Updated: February 19, 2015