A “Lawful Permanent Resident Card,” or United States Green Card, is typically sought by those who would like to live and work in the US on a permanent basis. It does not mean that the holder is a United States citizen, although these two goals often go hand in hand. The United States holds about 330 million citizens, an estimated 13.2 million of whom are green card holders now living and working permanently.
The vast majority are also eligible to apply to become United States citizens. Many do not take this additional step. Green card holders are important to the United States economy. They contribute in all rungs of society, including tens of thousands or serve in the military.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorizes the issuance of green cards for temporary residents who prove at least five years of residency in the United States. In addition to proof of residency, a green card applicant must prove good moral standing. And that means building a reputation by forming important bonds with the people in the community — or through marriage.
But of course it’s more complicated than that.
For example, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. Is one of your parents a United States citizen while the other is a green card holder? Then you’re automatically entitled to citizenship, and there is no need to apply for a green card.
In addition, the Trump administration has proposed and implemented new rules that could significantly change the process for applying for a green card — and impact who is ultimately eligible to receive one. One of the new “public charge” rules will prevent some green card holders from receiving entitlement benefits like Medicaid or food stamps. The public charge rule will also make it more difficult for those who already hold a green card from obtaining citizenship. The rule went into effect in October 2019.
The goal of these new policies is to make it harder for applicants to receive a green card. This is an example of Trump’s more extensive push to limit immigration into the United States and to ensure that those who arrive will contribute. The administration is also trying to implement significantly greater application fees and eliminate the ability of a green card holder or new citizen from bringing family members into the United States.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli describes the administration’s plan to attract “people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system, especially in the age of the modern welfare state which is so expansive and expensive.”
But how will you obtain a green card?
First, you must know your eligibility. There are a number of ways for a person to obtain a green card. You might fall into one of the following categories: You have family already living in the United States, you are employed and live in the United States, you have special immigrant status, you are a refugee or asylee, or you are a victim of human trafficking or abuse. Check to see if you qualify here.
If you meet one of these eligibility requirements, your next step is to file “Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
This application requires supporting documentation that must be provided in the English language or with an English-language translation. Supporting documentation includes government-issued identification, birth certificate, two passport-style photographs, and many other documents as required. Check to see what you might need here.
When the USCIS is satisfied with your application, an interview will be scheduled. Dress for the occasion because first impressions count. Be on time. The interviewer will ask many questions related to your lifestyle and relationships. Applicants can also be expected to answer very personal questions. You should be honest with the information you provide. If you have difficulties (everyone does!), then don’t be afraid to discuss them. Feeling nervous? That’s to be expected. Keep your answers concise and on topic.
You are allowed to bring along an attorney, should you want one.
Those who wish to apply for a green card through family are urged to do so before additional rules or new laws are implemented — which is an ongoing strategy for the Trump administration. The process is long, but starting it as soon as possible is crucial. Family members who are already citizens might include a spouse, children who are minors, parents, etc.
Once you receive your green card, you are required to keep it on your person at all times. Failure to produce a green card can result in up to a month of incarceration for an immigrant who is older than 18 years.