Permanent residents are citizens of countries outside the United States who have been granted legal permission to permanently live and work within the U.S. When a person becomes a permanent resident, he or she is granted a “green card,” which provides proof of his or her status. Before a person can become a naturalized citizen, they usually must have been a legal resident for a significant amount of time before applying for citizenship.

Applying for a Green Card

There are many different ways to become a permanent resident. Usually, an applicant is sponsored by another person or party from within the U.S., such as:

  • A spouse, parent, or another family member
  • An employer
  • A refugee services or other humanitarian organization

Additionally, there are certain special adjustment programs for persons who meet particular qualifications, such as diplomats, American Indians born in Canada, certain children born to citizens outside the U.S., victims of trafficking or criminal activity, refugees and natives of certain nations, and more.

Persons who wish to become permanent legal residents must be eligible for one of the immigrant categories as established under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Except for relatives of citizens and a few other exceptions, there are only a limited number of visas that can be given to each category each year. Therefore, prospective legal immigrants are usually classified into these different preference categories to determine who is granted immigrant status first. If a person is eligible, he or she must then have an immigrant petition filed on his or her behalf which must be approved by an immigration official.