Having a US Green Card — officially known as a permanent resident card — enables citizens from other countries to live and work permanently in the United States. As such, getting a US Green Card is the first step in becoming a naturalized US citizen, should they maintain their permanent residency for five years and meet the other citizenship requirements.

In this guide, we’ll provide information about the various Green Card categories, eligibility, and the Green Card process.

What is a Green Card?

A Green Card is a document that the US grants to foreign citizens to allow them to live and work in the US, with some limitations. A Green Card differs from citizenship because people with this status are unable to vote in local, state, or federal elections; they also cannot hold certain public offices.

What are the types of US Green Cards?

There are many types of Green Cards that are available to people seeking permanent residency in the United States. The main categories are:

  • Family-based: Sponsored by an immediate family member (spouse, parent, child) or other relatives. This Green Card process often involves the longest timeline because of visa backlogs.
  • Employment-based: Sponsored by an employer. Processing times vary depending on category and visa availability.
  • Investment-based: Through investment in a US business (via the EB5 Visa program).  Generally, the processing can be faster depending on which country you’re applying from (applicants from India and China, for example, face significant backlogs), but requires significant investment.
  • Special categories: There are various special categories available to refugees, asylees, and diversity visa lottery winners. Each of these categories has specific requirements and timelines.

Getting a family-based Green Card

The US immigration system prioritizes the principle of family unity, so there are various Green Cards available to reunite people with their family members in the US.

Family-based Green Cards offer a pathway to permanent residency in the United States for individuals based on their close family relationships with US citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The following family members are eligible to apply:

  • Spouse of a US citizen: No waiting period or limits on availability.
  • Unmarried child under 21 of a US citizen: No waiting period or limits on availability.
  • Parent of a US citizen (if the US citizen is 21 or older): No waiting period, but processing times may vary.

Family preference categories:

First Preference (F1):
Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens (21 years of age and older): Currently experiencing long processing times due to high demand.

Second Preference (F2):
Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of lawful permanent residents: Processing times vary depending on country of origin.

Third Preference (F3):
Married sons and daughters of US citizens: Currently experiencing long processing times due to high demand.

Fourth Preference (F4):
Brothers and sisters of US citizens: Currently experiencing very long processing times due to high demand.

Important notes:

  • Sponsorship requirement: Most family-based categories require a US citizen or lawful permanent resident to sponsor the applicant.
  • Marriage validity: Spouses applying based on marriage must prove a bona fide (real) marriage.
  • Visa availability: Certain categories have annual visa limitations, leading to longer processing times.

Getting an employment-based Green Card

Employment-based Green Cards offer opportunities for foreign nationals who are highly skilled workers with diverse skillsets to contribute to the US economy and gain permanent residency.

Here’s a breakdown of the main categories:

First preference (EB-1): Priority workers

The EB-1 category is granted to various ‘priority workers,’ which is determined by the ability and  expertise.

EB-1a for individuals with extraordinary ability:
Researchers, artists, athletes, and business leaders demonstrating sustained national or international acclaim in their fields.

EB-1b for outstanding professors and researchers:
Internationally recognized academics with sustained achievements and contributions to their field.

EB-1c for multinational managers and executives:
Executives or managers transferring within the same multinational company to managerial or executive positions in the US.

Second preference (EB-2): Professionals holding advanced degrees or exceptional ability

EB-2a for professionals with advanced degrees:
Individuals with advanced degrees (Master’s or equivalent) and at least five years of progressive experience in their profession.

EB-2b for persons of exceptional ability:
Individuals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business demonstrated through extensive experience and recognition.

Third Preference (EB-3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers

man walking in united statesEB-3a for skilled workers:
Workers with at least two years of specialized training or experience in a skilled profession with a labor shortage in the US.

EB-3b for professionals:
Workers with bachelor’s degrees or equivalent in their profession and at least two years of experience.

EB-3c for other workers:
Unskilled or semi-skilled workers performing jobs with a shortage of US. workers.

EB-4 for special immigrants:
This category covers specific groups of individuals, such as religious workers, certain international organization employees, and certain special immigrant juveniles.

Getting an Investor Green Card

The EB5 Visa, also known as the Investor Green Card, provides a pathway to permanent residency by making a substantial investment into a US commercial enterprise and meeting job creation or job preservation requirements.


  • Invest a minimum of $1,050,000 (or $800,000 in Targeted Employment Areas, which are areas with high unemployment and/or rural areas) in a US commercial enterprise.
  • Create or preserve at least ten full-time jobs for US workers.


  • Green Card for you and your immediate family after two years (conditional) and five years of sustained investment and job creation (permanent).
  • No specific education or job offer required.

Pathway to US citizenship after five years of permanent residency.

Take a look at our US EB5 Visa Ultimate Guide by Experts

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Getting a humanitarian Green Card

The US offers various Green Cards to help people in need of urgent humanitarian support, which includes individuals who are refugees, asylees and victims of abuse and serious crimes.

For refugees and asylees

Individuals who fear or have experienced persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group may apply for a visa from abroad or from within the United States. Those coming from abroad are considered refugees, while those who are applying from within the US are considered asylees.

After one year of living in the US following obtaining status as a refugee or asylee, they are then able to apply for Green Cards.

In order to apply as a refugee, you must meet the following criteria, as stated by USCIS:

  • You properly file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
  • You were admitted into the United States as a refugee under section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA);
  • You are physically present in the United States at the time you file your Form I-485;
  • You have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after your admission as a refugee at the time you file your Form I-485;
  • Your refugee status has not been terminated;
  • You have not already acquired permanent resident status; and
  • You are admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief

citizenship by naturalizationTo apply as an asylee, the eligibility requirements are:

  • You properly file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
  • You are physically present in the United States at the time you file your Form I-485;
  • You have been physically present in the United States for at least a year after you were granted asylum;
  • You continue to meet the definition of a refugee, or to be the spouse or child of a refugee;
  • You have not firmly resettled in any foreign country;
  • Your grant of asylum has not been terminated;
  • You are admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief; and
  • You merit the favorable exercise of discretion

For human-trafficking victims

You may be eligible to apply for a Green Card (Lawful Permanent Residence) if you hold T Nonimmigrant Status and meet the following requirements:

Maintain continuous physical presence: You must have been physically present in the United States for three years since being lawfully admitted in T nonimmigrant status OR during the entire investigation/prosecution of the trafficking, whichever is shorter.

Meet the other eligibility requirements: This includes good moral character, no inadmissibility bars, and sufficient financial support.

For crime victims

You may be eligible to apply for a Green Card (Lawful Permanent Residence) if you hold U non-immigrant status and meet the following requirements:

Maintain continuous physical presence: You must have been physically present in the United States for three years since being lawfully admitted in U non-immigrant status or during the entire investigation/prosecution of the qualifying crime, whichever is shorter.

Provide assistance to law enforcement: You must have not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

Meet other eligibility requirements: This includes good moral character, no inadmissibility bars, and sufficient financial support.

For abuse victims

You may be eligible to apply for a Lawful Permanent Residence through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) if you meet the following requirements:

Be a victim of abuse: This includes extreme cruelty, such as physical, emotional, or psychological abuse from a US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen parent.

Reside in the US: You must currently reside in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

Meet other eligibility requirements: These include good moral character, no inadmissibility bars, and sufficient financial support.

Green Card Lottery

e2 visa guideThe Diversity Visa Lottery Program, also known as the Green Card Lottery, is an opportunity for individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States to obtain a US permanent resident card. It’s essentially a drawing with randomly selected winners, offering a chance at permanent residency for those who might not qualify through other methods.

For this category, it’s important to bear in mind the following points:

Random drawing:
Entries are not based on merit or specific qualifications.

Open to citizens of countries designated by the State Department with low immigration rates to the US (excluding high-immigration countries like Mexico and China).

Application period:
Generally held once a year, typically between October and November.

Free to register online.

Selection process:
Entries go through a randomized computer drawing by the Department of State.

Roughly 50,000 visas are available annually, distributed among eligible countries.

Winning does not guarantee a Green Card:
Winners still need to go through visa processing and meet other eligibility requirements.

How to apply:
During the designated application period, register online through the official State Department website.
Follow instructions carefully and submit all required information before the deadline.
No fees are involved and beware of scam websites charging for applications.

Important reminders:
Winning the lottery is just the first step, not a guarantee of a Green Card.
Winners still need to undergo medical checks and interviews and demonstrate sufficient financial resources.
Seek professional advice from attorneys who specialize in immigration law for proper guidance throughout the immigration process.

What's the Green Card application process?

General steps:

Determine eligibility: Explore different Green Card categories (family-based, employment-based, etc.) and see if you meet specific requirements.

Gather supporting documents: Prepare documentation proving eligibility, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, employment contracts, etc.

File necessary forms: Depending on your situation, this might involve Form I-130 (family), I-140 (employment), I-526 (investment), or others.

Pay application fees: Costs vary depending on the category and additional services.

Biometrics appointment: Provide fingerprints and photographs for security checks.

Interview: This might be required for various categories to verify information.

Decision and Green Card issuance: USCIS processes your application and sends you their decision. If approved, you'll receive your Green Card.

Applying from within the United States (adjustment of status)

If you’re already present with a valid non-immigrant visa, you may be eligible to adjust your status to permanent resident without leaving the country.

Requires demonstrating continuous lawful presence and meeting eligibility criteria.

Processing times generally faster than consular processing.

Applying from outside the United States (consular processing)

If you’re outside the US, you’ll go through consular processing at a US embassy or consulate in your country.

Requires obtaining a visa number within your category before applying for the Green Card.

Processing times can vary significantly depending on visa category and backlogs.

What's the timeline for a US Green Card application?

Processing times: Can range from months to years depending on the category, your country of origin, and current visa backlogs. Check USCIS processing times for specific categories.

Total timeline: Consider initial petition/application filing, processing, interview, and potential appeals. It can easily take one to three years or longer.

How much does a US Green Card cost?

In February 2024, you can calculate the total cost of a US Green Card by factoring in the following costs:

Green Card filing fees:

Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative): $535

Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status): $1,225

Form I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card): $540

Mandatory costs:

Biometrics fee: $85 for most applicants. This covers the cost of collecting fingerprints and photographs.

Medical examination: The cost varies depending on the provider and location, but typically ranges from $200 to $500. You will need to undergo a medical examination by a USCIS-authorized civil surgeon to ensure you meet the health requirements for a Green Card.

Other Green Card costs:

money coinsAttorney fees: While not mandatory, legal representation can be highly beneficial, especially for complex cases or if you lack experience with immigration processes. Attorney fees can vary significantly depending on the complexity of your case, the attorney’s experience, and their location.

Translation services: If any of your documents are not in English, you will need to have them translated by a certified translator. Translation fees can vary depending on the length and complexity of the documents.

Travel expenses: Depending on your location and the application process, you might incur travel expenses for attending appointments, interviews, or medical examinations.

Form I-90 replacement card fee: There is a $45 fee for a replacement Permanent Resident Card (Green Card).

Additional Green Card cost considerations:

Financial sponsorship: Depending on your Green Card category, you may need to have a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor your application and demonstrate their ability to financially support you. This might involve additional costs for gathering supporting documents and legal advice.

Application photos: Specific photo requirements exist, and you might need to pay for professional photos meeting those requirements.

Mailing fees: You may need to mail various documents and applications. Consider incorporating those costs into your budgeting.

Proposed Green Card Cost increase

On January 30, 2024, USCIS issued increased some of the fees involved in the Green Card application process. The increases will go into effect on April 1, 2024.

The increase varies depending on the specific Green Card category, but here are some examples:

Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative): increased from $535 to $675

Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status): increased from $1,225 to $1,440

Form I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card): decreased from $540 to $465.

Because of these increases, you submit your application before April 1 to lock in the current fee structure. However, you must ensure that you meet all the eligibility criteria first.

Because the fee increases will significantly impact the amount of money you would pay for Green Card, it is well worth submitting your application before the deadline. To find out how Global Citizen Solutions can help, get in touch.

Why work with Global Citizen Solutions?

Global Citizen Solutions is a boutique investment migration consultancy firm focused on finding the right residency or citizenship by investment program for individuals wishing to secure their future and become global citizens. With offices in Portugal, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Brazil, our multilingual team guides individuals and families from start to finish, providing expert advice considering freedom, mobility, taxation, and security.

  • We have helped hundreds of clients from 35+ countries in all the top Residency by Investment and Citizenship by Investment programs. With an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of the area, we provide our clients with solid guidance. We have a team of immigration lawyers, and immigration advisers specialized in US immigration.
  • Our team has never had a case rejected. Our 100 percent approval rate sets us apart from our competitors and guarantees that you can expect a successful application.
  • Our transparent pricing covers all the processes from opening your bank account, document certification, and legal due diligence to investment and submission. As there is one fee for the entire process, you can be confident that you will not face any hidden costs later.
  • All data is stored within a GDPR-compliant database on a secure SSL-encrypted server. You can be safe knowing that your personal data is treated with the utmost security.
  • Global Citizen Solutions provides an all-encompassing solution. Our support can continue even after you receive your passport. We offer additional services such as company incorporation, Trusts, and Foundations formation.
  • The BeGlobal Onboarding System® allows you to access the status of your application every step of the way, something that sets us apart from our competitors.

Frequently Asked Questions about Green Cards

What questions does US Citizenship and Immigration Services ask in a Green Card interview?

During your Green Card interview, USCIS officers may ask questions to verify your application information and assess your eligibility. These can range from personal details (e.g., family background, address history) to relationship verification (e.g., for spouses, details of your relationship, shared experiences) and understanding of US civics and history. Be prepared for both expected and unexpected questions, answer honestly and clearly, and bring supporting documentation whenever possible.

Can US Green Card holders travel to Europe?

US Green Card holders’ ability to travel to Europe depends on their nationality, trip duration, and destination country. Some European nations grant visa-free access to both US citizens and Green Card holders of specific nationalities, while others require visas for Green Card holders regardless of US citizen status.

To determine your specific requirements, research the visa policies of your target European country, considering your nationality, planned stay duration, and travel purpose. Consulting official embassy websites or immigration professionals is recommended for personalized guidance. Remember, visa policies can change, so always confirm current requirements before travel.

How many family members can a Green Card holder sponsor?

As a US Green Card holder (a US permanent resident), there are no numerical limits to how many family members you can sponsor, although there are restrictions on which family members you are able to sponsor.

You can sponsor your spouse, your unmarried children under 21 and an unmarried son or daughter of any age. Anyone in these categories is considered an immediate family member. However, you cannot sponsor your parents.

As well as the eligible categories listed above, you may also sponsor other relatives in the following family preference categories:

F1: Unmarried adult children: If your unmarried child is over 21 years old, they fall under this category. There are waiting times involved, which vary based on your child’s country of origin.

F2A: Spouses and minor children of Green Card holders: This category is for spouses and unmarried children under 21 of Green Card holders, with generally shorter waiting times compared to F1.

F2B: Unmarried adult children of Green Card holders: Similar to F1, this category is for unmarried children over 21, with longer waiting times.

F3: Married sons and daughters of Green Card holders: This category allows sponsorship of married children, with even longer processing times.

F4: Brothers and sisters of Green Card holders: This category has the longest waiting times and requires the Green Card holder to be a US citizen for at least five years.

The processing times vary significantly depending on the category as well as the country of your relative’s birth. There are income requirements for sponsoring family members. To sponsor siblings, you must be a US citizen.

What factors does USCIS consider in granting immigration status?

USCIS considers various factors when granting immigration status. Meeting specific category requirements (family ties, employment, investment) is crucial, but so is admissibility – no criminal history, security concerns, or public health risks. USCIS verifies information through evidence, interviews, and background checks. In certain cases, discretionary factors like humanitarian concerns or community ties may be considered. Remember, each case is unique, and consulting an immigration attorney is recommended for personalized guidance.

How do I replace my permanent resident card?

Replacing your permanent resident card (Green Card) requires filing Form I-90 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Reasons for replacement include card expiration, damage, name change, or stolen/lost status. Eligibility and fees vary; visit USCIS.gov for detailed information and online filing options.

How long does it take to get a Green Card after marriage?

Obtaining a Green Card through marriage depends on your spouse’s immigration status and your current location. Generally, if your spouse is a US citizen and you reside in the US, the process takes 13-20 months. Living outside the US with a US citizen spouse reduces it to 13-15 months. For green card holders as sponsors, expect 30-44 months within the US.

What is the Green Card renewal process?

Renewing your Green Card requires filing Form I-90 with USCIS. Do this within six months of expiration to avoid complications. Eligibility and fees depend on your situation. Generally, you file online or by mail, submit supporting documents, and pay the fee. After biometrics processing (fingerprints and photos), USCIS reviews your application and sends your renewed card. The entire process typically takes several months, so plan ahead.

Do people with US Green Cards need a visa for Canada?

No, if you have a US Green Card, you do not need a visa or an electronic travel authorization (eta) to visit Canada. You’ll need to show a valid passport from your country of nationality (or an equivalent acceptable travel document) and a valid Green Card (or equivalent valid proof of status in the United States)

Which immigrant visas can lead to a US Green Card?

Several immigrant visas offer a pathway to obtaining a US Green Card, granting permanent residency. These primarily fall under three categories: family-based, employment-based, and the diversity visa lottery.

Family ties, exceptional talent and skill, or sponsorship by a US employer can pave the way for Green Card eligibility. Remember, each visa type has specific requirements and processing procedures, so consulting with an immigration attorney is highly recommended for accurate guidance.