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Applying for Green Cards and Permanent Residence in the U.S.

How to Apply for Green Card and Permanent Residence in the U.S.

Learn how to apply for Green Card to become a permanent resident, check your green card case status, bring a foreign spouse to live in the U.S. and what documents you need when traveling back to the U.S. Also, find out how to enter or check your results for the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

Apply for, Renew, or Replace a Green Card

What is a Green Card

Having a Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card (PDF, 6.77 MB) allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. The steps you must take to apply for a Green Card will vary depending on your individual situation.

How to Apply for a Green Card

Before starting the application process, there are two questions that you should answer first:

1. Are you eligible to apply?

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U.S. immigration laws provide a variety of ways for people to apply for a Green Card. The eligibility requirements may vary depending on the immigrant category you are applying under. Go to our Green Card Eligibility Categories page to see all the possible categories you can apply under and what the eligibility requirements are.

Being Sponsored for a Green Card. Most people who apply for a Green Card will need to complete at least two forms—an immigrant petition and a Green Card application (Form I-485). Someone else usually must file the petition for you (often referred to as sponsoring or petitioning for you), although you may be eligible to file for yourself in some cases. Here are the most common forms:Form I-130, Petition for Alien RelativeForm I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien WorkerForm I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative PetitionForm I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of RemovalOther petitions include:Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special ImmigrantForm I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien EntrepreneurForm I-918, Petition of U Nonimmigrant StatusForm I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant
Refer to your eligibility category to see if you need a petition.

2. Are you inside or outside the United States?

If you are eligible to apply for a Green Card, you then need to determine which process to use – adjustment of status or consular processing.

Where are you?What application process to useYour next steps
In the United StatesAdjustment of status with USCISIf you already have an approved immigrant petition and an immigrant visa is available, file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS, orIf you do not currently have an approved immigrant petition, check the eligibility requirements for your Green Card category to see if you can file the petition and the Form I‑485 together at the same time (this is known as concurrent filing).Go to our Adjustment of Status page for more information about the process of applying for a Green Card in the U.S.Please see our video on updates to Form I-485.
Outside the United StatesConsular processing with the U.S. Department of StateGo to our Consular Processing page for the next steps

General Application Process

The steps you must take to apply for a Green Card will vary depending on your individual situation. However, here is the general application process that most applicants will go through:

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  1. Someone usually must file an immigrant petition for you (often referred to as sponsoring or petitioning for you). In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself.
  2. After USCIS approves the immigrant petition, and there is a visa available in your category, you file either a Green Card application with USCIS or a visa application with the U.S. Department of State.
  3. You go to a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature.
  4. You go to an interview.
  5. You receive a decision on your application.

If Your Green Card Application Is Pending with USCIS

If you already submitted a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and your case is pending with USCIS, go to our While Your Green Card Application Is Pending with USCIS page for more information on checking your case status, updating your address, and making appointments with USCIS.

How to Track Delivery of Your Green Card, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and Travel Document

  1. Sign up for a Case Status Online account to get automatic case updates, including your U.S. Postal Service (USPS) tracking number when we mail your card or travel document.
  2. Register for Informed Delivery through USPS to get daily images of mail being sent to you. With Informed Delivery, you can:
  • Automatically track the packages you’re expecting
  • Set up email and text alerts
  • Enter USPS Delivery Instructions™ for your mail carrier

If your USPS tracking information shows your package was delivered but you have not received it, contact your local post office immediately. Remember, we will mail your card or travel document to the address you provided on your application (unless you told us to mail it your representative on Form G-28, Notice of Entry or Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative). 

If your mailing address changes after you file your application, you must update your address with USCIS and USPS as soon as possibleWe recommend you use the USPS Look Up a ZIP Code tool to ensure that you give USCIS your full address using the standard abbreviations and formatting recognized by USPS.

If you don’t update your address promptly, your case could be delayed, your document(s) could get lost, and you may need to reapply and pay the fee again.

If You Already Have a Green Card

If you already have a Green Card, go to our After a Green Card is Granted page for more information on travel, renewing a card, and your rights and responsibilities as a Green Card holder

Beware of Scams

If you are not familiar with the immigration, visa or Green Card process, scammers will try to take advantage of you by getting your personal information or your money. Learn about common immigration scams and identity fraudYou can also file a complaint in your state. 

Authenticate Documents

You can present a legal document issued in the United States for use in another country. These documents can include court orders, contracts, vital records, and educational diplomas.

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The process to get a document authenticated depends on the specific document, the state in which it was issued, and other factors. Check with your state’s document authentication agency and the Authentications and Apostilles page from the Department of State (DOS).

For more information, details on a procedure, or status, call the DOS Office of Authentications at 1-202-485-8000, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET, Monday through Friday.

Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program

The United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Lottery program allows for up to 50,000 immigrant visas to be awarded each year. It gives foreign nationals of countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. an opportunity to participate in a random drawing for the potential of getting an immigration visa. Check the State Department’s DV lottery site to learn more about the program.

Eligibility Requirements

Also known as the Green Card lottery, the DV program makes a limited number of immigrant visas available every year to people meeting certain eligibility requirements:

  • You must be a foreign citizen from a country with a low immigration rate to the United States. Each year, the U.S. Department of State puts out a list of eligible and ineligible countries. The list of countries may change each year. See the 2020 DV lottery instructions (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) for the most recent list.
  • You must have graduated from high school or its equivalent or have qualifying work experience.

Participating in the Lottery  

The lottery is open once a year, usually for 4 to 5 weeks in the fall.

  • Online registration for the 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery concluded on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.
  • If you qualify for a Green Card, 2020 is the year you can enter into the United States. 
  • Complete the online application for the lottery. It is a web form only and cannot be downloaded. There is no charge for registering.
  • Keep your confirmation number in a safe place; you will need that number to check the status of your entry online. If you lose it, you can recover your confirmation number.

For help, review the DV lottery instructions or watch a State Department video on how to submit an entry.

DV Lottery Results

  • Results for the 2019 DV lottery are available May 15, 2018 through September 30, 2019 for people who submitted an application in Fall 2017 to enter the U.S. in 2019.
  • Results for the 2020 DV lottery will be available starting May 7, 2019.
  • Make sure you have your confirmation number to check your application status. You can only check your status by going online. The State Department will not send you a letter or an email about winning a Green Card. See the fraud warning below.

If You Are a DV Lottery Winner

If you are selected through the random lottery drawing, you can move forward in applying for an immigrant visa  (Green Card).

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Fraud Warning

The State Department wants DV lottery participants to know about scams involving fraudulent email and letters sent to DV program applicants. The U.S. government is the exclusive operator of the DV program. It may send you an email reminding you to check the status of your entry, but it will not contact you by email or letter to let you know if you are a winner. You have to check onlineyourself. The U.S. government will also never ask you to pay for your visa in advance by wire transfer, money order, or check.

Your status determines who you can bring (sponsor) to live and work in the United States.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor:

If you are a permanent resident, you can sponsor:

If you are a refugee or asylee within the past two years, you can petition for certain family members to obtain refugee or asylee status.

If you or a member of your family is in the U.S. military, you may petition for citizenship for family members.

Travel Documents for Foreign Residents Returning to the U.S.

If you have a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card), or are a foreign citizen living in the U.S., you may need additional documents to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad. Obtain these necessary documents from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before your trip:

Permanent and Conditional Residents

All Other Foreign Citizens Living in the U.S.

  • Contact USCIS and your country’s embassy or consulate for all document requirements.

Note: If you need a travel document, but left the United States without obtaining one, contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for assistance:

Do you need help?

Ask any question about the U.S. government for free. We’ll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.

See also First-Ever Arrests of Operators of Birth Tourism Industry in U.S.

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