If you are a legal immigrant in the U. S., or if you have permission to work and live in the U. S., you can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. This process is commonly known as getting your “green card.” As a lawful permanent resident, you can live and work permanently in the U. S., so long as you do not commit any act that would make you removable from the U.S. under federal immigration laws, such as certain crimes. Becoming a legal permanent resident is also a necessary step to becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Being a lawful permanent resident comes with the right to work in the country and the right to petition for close family members (like your spouse and unmarried children) to receive permanent residence and join you in the U.S. Your family members will be considered “preference relatives.” This is beneficial because only a limited number of immigrant visas are available to people in this category per year. That said, "preference relatives" can spend five or more years on a waiting list before being allowed to enter or remain in the United States or get a green card.
Permanent residents continue to remain the citizen of another country. So every time you travel outside the United States, you must carry the passport of that country as well as your green card. You will use your green card to reenter the United States.
Steps to Becoming Lawful Permanent Resident
First, you must have an immigrant visa number before you can apply to become a lawful permanent resident. Because the number of immigrant visa numbers available each year is limited, you may not get an immigrant visa number right away. In some cases, you might have to wait years between the time that your immigrant petition is approved and the time that you receive your immigrant visa number.
Next, you’ll need to complete and file various forms with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), including two color photographs taken within the last 30 days. You may have to complete different forms depending on your situation.
With some exceptions, you must pay a filing fee in order to apply for lawful permanent residence. The usual filing fee is $1,010.00, but this fee is different if you are over 80 years old, or under 14 years old. Plus, if you were admitted to the U.S. as a refugee, you do not have to pay the filing fee. USCIS can also charge you an additional $1,000.00 filing fee if you are required to file a supplemental application that gives more information. There is a fee waiver application that you can file with the USCIS; depending in your circumstances, you might qualify for a waiver of the usual filing fee.
You also will be required to submit to a FBI fingerprint background check, which will take place at either an Application Support Center, or a Designated Law Enforcement Agency. Most applicants for lawful permanent residence, with a few exceptions, must also submit to a medical examination by a civil surgeon that is approved by USCIS.
After you submit your completed application to USCIS, you will have to go to a USCIS office for an interview, where you will answer questions about your application. You can check the status of your application with the USCIS office that received your application.
While you are waiting for your application to be approved, you can apply for a work permit. You also can leave the country during this time period, if you receive advance permission to do so, which is called “advance parole”. If you don’t receive advance parole before leaving the U.S., you will abandon your application for lawful permanent residence, and you may not be able to legally re-enter the U.S.