6 Steps to Getting a Green Card

James Parker
September 20, 2022
Last edited by
Boruch Burnham, JD
May 14, 2023

Obtaining a green card is a way for one to become a U.S. lawful permanent resident and is the final goal of many aliens seeking to travel to the U.S. 

The process of getting a green card can be drawn-out and challenging, so AAL has put together a quick guide for the essential steps to help explain some of them.

1. Select the Appropriate Green Card Category.

There are four main categories: family, employment, special immigration, and asylum. 

The family-based immigration category is designed to allow direct family members of a lawful permanent resident or citizen to acquire permanent resident status. This pathway prioritizes 1) immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including spouses, parents, and unmarried minor children; 2) unmarried children of U.S. citizens as well as their minor children; 3) spouses and unmarried minor children of lawful permanent residents; 4) adult married children of U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and minor children; and 5) siblings of U.S. citizens, including their spouses and minor children, provided that the U.S. citizen who is petitioning for them is an adult Note that the term minor for these purposes refers to someone who is under 21 years old. 

The second most common pathway to lawful permanent resident status is through an employment-based visa. As with the family path, there is a tiered preference system for determining who will receive one of those visas. The employment tiers are:

  1. EB-1: For individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, outstanding professors and researchers, or multinational managers or executives that meet the specified criteria.
  2. EB-2: For certain advanced degree holders or those who show exceptional abilities in the sciences, arts, or business.
  3. EB-3: Certain skilled workers and professionals, or unskilled workers who are needed to perform work for which qualified workers are not otherwise available in the U.S.
  4. EB 4: Certain broadcasters, religious workers, medical graduates, and government employees.
  5. EB-5: Investors funding a U.S. business that generates and maintains a specified minimum number of jobs for qualified U.S. workers.

Next, there is a range of special immigration categories, including immigrants who receive visas under the diversity visa lottery program, visas for certain religious workers, or immigrants who are nationals of Afghanistan or Iraq who have worked alongside or on behalf of the U.S. government and are under threat for doing so.

Finally, immigrants can gain lawful permanent resident status through the asylum process. People who are under threat of persecution, torture, or death in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group can apply for asylum.

2. Determine where you need to submit your application 

These paths depend on where you are applying from. If you are applying from within the U.S., you will need to apply for an adjustment of status. Adjustment of status is a process by which individuals who are temporarily and lawfully present in the U.S., for example, temporary workers or other transient immigrants, can apply to become LPRs. 

If you are applying from outside the U.S., you will need to undergo consular processing, which requires that you submit your application to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) via a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country or the country where you currently reside.

3. Submit your application

Once you have determined where to apply, you can begin to apply for your green card. Some documents that will be required for this process include your birth certificate, health records, and any other documents as required by the U.S. Center for Immigration Services (USCIS).

In addition to bringing documentation, there are several fees that need to be paid in order to process the application. In many instances, you will also need a sponsor or petitioner who is a lawful permanent resident or citizen.

4. Attend your biometrics appointment

Once you submit your application, you will be required to attend a biometrics appointment, at which you will be asked to provide your fingerprints, photograph, and signature.  

5. Attend Your Immigration Interview 

After the biometric data has been collected, there will be an interview. The purpose of the interview is to determine whether an applicant is eligible for entry into the country. The interview will explore the personal history of the applicant. For more information about what to do in the interview, check out AAL’s 7 Do’s and Don’ts for Immigration Interviews.

6. Consider the benefits of hiring a skilled attorney with extensive immigration law experience

If you are looking to immigrate to the United States and acquire a green card, seeking the help of an experienced attorney can greatly benefit you. AAL’s directory provides access to numerous attorneys with extensive experience in practicing immigration law. They can offer advice, explore your options, and advocate on your behalf to achieve the best possible outcome. These attorneys can also expertly navigate the intricate processes of immigration bureaucracy and court while fighting for your rights.


*Disclaimer: Attorney at Law’s directory does not represent all lawyers in all states. There may be differences of opinion. It’s always advisable to consult with an attorney when in a legal situation.

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