Your Guide to Obtaining Permanent Residence: The Application Process Explained

Permanent residency, also known as a green card, grants foreign nationals the right to live and work in the United States on an unrestricted basis. Obtaining permanent residence is a lengthy process that requires careful preparation and an understanding of the application process. This guide explains the steps involved in applying for and obtaining permanent residence.

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

The first step in the application process is to determine your eligibility to obtain a green card. Depending on the situation, you may have more than one option for becoming a permanent resident. The three main ways to obtain a green card are through:

  • Employment
  • Family-based petitions
  • Refugee or asylum status

You may also be eligible for a green card if you are a winner of the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery, a VAWA Self-Petitioner, or if you were granted a U Nonimmigrant Visa (U Visa). It’s important to determine your eligibility for each option before proceeding with the application process.

Step 2: File an Immigration Petition

After determining which route you qualify for to obtain permanent residence, you must file an immigration petition. This petition is filed to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and may be approved in as little as six months or as much as several years. For example, if you are applying for a family-based green card, you must have a family member file an immigrant petition with the USCIS on your behalf before you can proceed with the application process.

Step 3: Submit Additional Supporting Documents

Once you have filed an immigration petition, you may be required to submit additional supporting documents to the USCIS. This could include evidence of income level, birth certificates, and other relevant information. You may also be asked to provide proof of your relationship with your petitioning family member or proof of marriage if you are applying on the basis of family.

Step 4: Fill out the Appropriate Forms

Once you have filed your immigration petition and submitted the necessary documents, you must fill out the appropriate forms for the green card application. There are several forms you may need to complete, depending on your eligibility. The most commonly used forms are Form I-130 for family-based applications, Form I-485 for all other applications, and Form I-864 for family income sponsor forms.

Step 5: Submit the Application

After filling out the appropriate forms, you must submit your application to the USCIS. This can be done by mail, online or in-person. You may also be required to submit a fee for the application, depending on the type of application you are submitting.

Step 6: Receive and Attend an Interview

After your application is submitted, you may be required to attend an interview with an immigration officer. During the interview, the officer will ask you questions to verify the information on your application. You should be prepared to answer questions about your personal and criminal background, as well as any other relevant information.

Step 7: Receive a Decision

After the interview, the USCIS will review your application and make a decision regarding your eligibility for a green card. This decision can take several months, depending on your specific situation. If you are approved, you will receive a permanent residence card, also known as a green card.


Applying for and obtaining permanent residency can be a lengthy process, but with the right preparation, it is possible to become a permanent resident. By understanding the steps involved in the application process, you can ensure that you are well-prepared to apply for a green card.

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