A Green Card is also known as a “permanent resident card.” A Green Card holder can live and work in the United States permanently. They can apply for some family members too. The steps to apply for a Green Card depend on your situation. The waiting time for a Green Card varies. You may be allowed to stay in the U.S. while the application is processed, or you may have to apply at a consulate outside the country.

You can get a Green Card in a few ways, including:

  • Sponsorship by a family member who has citizenship or a green card (depending on your relationship)
  • Sponsorship by a U.S. employer if you have special skills or qualifications
  • Refugee or asylee status or other humanitarian programs, such as human trafficking and crime victims and victims of domestic abuse
  • Special programs 

Some of the special programs to get a Green Card: 

  • U.S. military (if you have another legal status);
  • Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens;
  • Fiancés of U.S. citizens (someone engaged to be married).
  • Visa lottery winners
  • Some people from Cuba or Haiti 
  • Others who have been in the U.S. for a very long time.

Your eligibility for a Green Card depends on many factors:

  • How or when you entered the U.S.
  • If you have lived in the U.S. without documents (and for how long)
  • Any past immigration applications
  • Any arrests or legal problems
  • and more

Get legal help if you are not sure if you qualify for a Green Card. Use the free and private screening guide at immi.org to learn more about your eligibility.

How to protect your Green Card status:

Once you have your permanent residency, follow the rules to keep it.

  • Make the U.S. your main home and spend at least half the year in the U.S. If you are outside the U.S. for more than six months you can lose your status.
  • Obey all U.S. and immigration laws. You can lose your Green Card if you break laws. 
  • Apply for a renewal before your Green Card expires, usually every 10 years. (You are still a permanent resident, but you must have a current card.)

There are other rules for keeping your Green Card. Visit USCIS for more information on your rights and responsibilities as a Green Card Holder.

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Last Reviewed: October 26, 2023