What Is the Process for Obtaining a Green Card in the United States?

The process for obtaining a green card in the United States varies by the eligibility category of the application and depends on whether the applicant is living inside the country already, notes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Most people get a green card through family or employer sponsorship, but green cards also are granted to certain refugees and persons with asylum status. Less frequently, individuals are eligible on their own.

In most cases, green card recipients must be eligible in one of the immigrant categories, have an immigrant petition filed on their behalf, have an immediately available immigrant visa and prove they are admissible to the United States, explains U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Usually, either a U.S. citizen or humanitarian agency must initiate the process by filing the appropriate immigrant petition on the applicant's behalf. Then, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services assigns a priority date for the application based on the immigrant petition filing date. This date is used along with the applicant's country of nationality and preference category to determine how long the applicant must wait for an immigrant visa to become available.

After the paperwork is processed, the applicant must prove she is not ineligible to become a permanent resident of the United States, notes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Potential causes for inadmissibility include health-related, criminal or security-related issues.