Immigration

Getting a green card

Becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) — commonly known as "having a green card" — allows you to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Learn more about who can become an LPR and the application process.

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Understanding the Basics

See what you need to know to take action.

Getting a green card means you become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the U.S. Becoming an LPR gives you automatic rights like work rights.

Becoming an LPR through a family or marriage relationship

One way to become an LPR is through a family or marriage relationship. U.S. citizens and LPRs age 21 and older can help certain family members become LPRs.

The current citizen or LPR is called the “petitioner.” Petitioners can apply for relatives including their:

  • Spouse. A petitioner can apply for their husband or wife.
  • Children. Children include those under 21 years of age who are unmarried.
  • Sons and daughters. Sons and daughters include people who are at least 21 years old or married.
  • Parents. A U.S. citizen petitioner can apply for their parents.
  • Siblings. A U.S. citizen petitioner can apply for their siblings.

Immigration rules divide relatives into 2 groups:

  • Immediate relatives. A U.S. citizen’s spouse, children and parents are called immediate relatives.
  • Non-immediate relatives. Other relatives are called non-immediate relatives. There are a limited number of immigrant visas for non-immediate relatives.

The required steps and paperwork for becoming an LPR are very complicated. If you do the steps or paperwork wrong, you risk removal (deportation). So, if you want to become an LPR through a family relationship, you should talk to a lawyer. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."

A lawyer can help you complete the steps and paperwork including:

  • Proving the relationship. You and your relative must have an eligible relationship.
  • Identifying a sponsor. The sponsor is a current citizen or LPR in the U.S. who promises to be financially responsible for their relative — the sponsor is usually the same person as the petitioner. The sponsor must meet income and assets requirements to prove they can support their relative. The sponsor must support their relative at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines for up to 10 years or until they naturalize. If the petitioner does not have enough income or assets, the petitioner needs a co-sponsor. 

It may take many years to become an LPR through a relative. Your case starts with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and then it may be transferred to the State Department and a consulate or embassy abroad.

Humanitarian paths to a green card

Another way to get a green card is through humanitarian paths like:

  • Asylum. Asylum is protection for people who have faced persecution or fear persecution in the future.
  • A U visa or a T visa. U visas and T visas are for immigrant victims of serious crimes and human trafficking.
  • The VAWA program. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows some survivors of domestic violence to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of the U.S.
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS is for immigrant victims of child abuse.

Getting humanitarian status is complicated. If you want to get humanitarian status, you should talk to a lawyer. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."

Read more to learn about finding an immigration lawyer.

Learn more about humanitarian paths to getting a green card.

Getting a green card through employment

Another way to get a green card is through eligible employment. Learn more about getting a work permit.

If you believe you are eligible to become an LPR, you should talk to a lawyer. Read more to learn about finding an immigration lawyer.

Inadmissibility

Having a relative in the U.S. does not guarantee the right to enter the country. Some people are not allowed to enter or reenter the U.S. A person who is not allowed to enter is called “inadmissible.”

Some groups of people are inadmissible, such as people who:

  • Are alien smugglers. “Alien smuggling” means knowingly helping or encouraging someone to enter the U.S. illegally. If you are found guilty of alien smuggling, you cannot lawfully enter the U.S.
  • Are sick or may make others sick. If you have a communicable disease or do not get required vaccinations, you may be inadmissible.
  • Have a criminal history. If you have a criminal history inside or outside of the U.S., you may be inadmissible.
  • Are a national security threat. If the government believes you are a national security threat, you may be inadmissible.
  • Become a public charge. If you rely on the government for support, you may be inadmissible. The government determines your need for support based on health, age, family status, work history and education.
  • Commit fraud or misrepresentation. If you commit fraud or misrepresentation, you may be inadmissible.
  • Commit prior immigration violations. If you have a history of prior immigration violations, you may be inadmissible.

If you have questions about whether you are inadmissible, you should talk to a lawyer. You can find nonprofits that offer free legal help in your area on this page under "Legal Help and Lawyers."

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