5 Things to Know Before Seeking Permanent Residency in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, over a million people become lawful permanent residents of the U.S. every year. The application process can be long and confusing, but successful applicants walk away with the grand prize: an immigrant visa, which is also called a “green card.”

Green cards grant their bearer permanent residency, meaning that they can live and work in the U.S. They also enjoy many of the same benefits as U.S. citizens do.

Of course, if you’re hoping to apply to become a permanent resident, there are a few things you’ll want to know about green cards. Let’s take a look at five things to keep in mind before you apply.

1. There Are Several Ways to Get One

If living in the U.S. is your current goal, keep in mind that there are several paths you can take to get there. While it’s true that the government sometimes rewards celebrities and international achievers with green cards, most visitors will have to apply for one on their own. Some options are below:

Study and/or Work

If you’ve been accepted as a student at a U.S. university, you can apply for a student visa. After your program is complete, you can apply for a work permit called “Optional Practical Training,” which allows you to remain a resident for an extra year while gaining technical skills.

However, to get permanent residency, you’ll need to focus on skills that will allow you to apply for a specific work visa. H1B work visas are a great option for qualified workers hoping for a more permanent stay. Preference goes to workers in specialized fields like medicine, mathematics, or engineering.

Get Help From Relatives

If one of your relatives or future relatives is a U.S. citizen or resident, they may be able to help you get a green card as well.

The U.S. government allows residents to petition for a green card on behalf of immediate family members, future adopted children, and future spouses. The same is true of both widows and widowers of U.S. citizens.


If money isn’t an issue, you can participate in the EB-5 investor program. This means investing at least $1,050,000 in addition to following other requirements like creating new jobs.

Claim Refugee Status

The U.S. offers permanent residency to refugees who need asylum for humanitarian reasons. People seeking refuge from human trafficking, violence, and persecution in their home country can often get a green card.

Win the Lottery

Each year, the U.S. selects 55,000 applicants as part of its Diversity Green Card Lottery. Often, these applicants come from countries whose population is under-represented in the U.S.

2. Green Cards Have Disadvantages

In addition to the huge wealth of green card benefits, it’s worth remembering that there are downsides as well. Weighing the pros and cons is important when you’re deciding the best course of action for you and your family.

For many, the biggest downside is that all legal residents of the U.S. have to report their total worldwide income on their federal tax returns. This is different from many other countries in which citizens only pay taxes on their national earnings.

If you identify as male and you’re between the ages of 18 and 25, you’ll have to register for the Selective Service, which can call for a military draft. Note, however, that the U.S. military has not called a draft since 1973.

In addition, while you’re considered a permanent resident for as long as you hold a green card, it’s also possible to lose one. This can happen for a range of reasons, including being absent from the country for over a year without filing the appropriate paperwork. You can also lose a green card after committing a felony or failing to inform the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of an address change.

3. A Green Card Isn’t Citizenship

Keep in mind that there are many legal differences between a permanent resident and a U.S. citizen. While green card holders enjoy many of the same benefits as citizens, there are a few things you cannot do.

For example, green card holders can’t vote, nor can they run in a public election. They can’t automatically obtain residency for any children born abroad, nor can they apply for a U.S. passport. In addition, some jobs with federal agencies require applicants to be American citizens.

If any of these benefits are important to you, consider your citizenship options through USCIS.

4. A Lawyer Can Help

As you probably expect, applying for a green card isn’t a walk in the park!

Many applicants find that the paperwork can be extensive and convoluted. Worse, it’s possible to damage your claim if you don’t follow the instructions and fill out every line exactly as required. The USCIS will often send incorrect documents back, but delays and even denials are also common if applicants don’t file forms by certain deadlines.

For this reason, many successful applicants choose to work with an immigration lawyer. These experienced legal experts can help minimize the risk that your application will be denied.

5. You Don’t Always Need an Interview

Many green card applicants find themselves anxious about their USCIS interview. As the last step in the application process, this interview will require you to answer a range of questions about your immigration process, your education, and any criminal history. If you aren’t fluent in English, you’re allowed to have a translator present.

However, you might be excited to learn that the USCIS will waive interviews for certain applicants whose questioning seems less necessary. This is more common for parents or unmarried children of current U.S. citizens or residents.

Apply for Permanent Residency

It’s true that green cards have their pros and cons, as we’ve outlined above, and that the process for getting one can be complex. However, applying for permanent residency presents a great opportunity to live and work in the U.S. Now that you have a better idea of what to expect, consider starting your application today!

Looking for more helpful guides like this one? Be sure to take a look at our other tips, tricks, and insights on our site.

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