Immigrant Visas (Green Cards)

An Immigrant Visa, also known as a Green Card, is required for an immigrant to become a permanent resident of the United States. The first step in the Immigrant Visa process is to have a sponsor petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow the beneficiary to apply for an Immigrant Visa. After approval by the USCIS the petition is then sent on to the National Visa Center (NVC) for processing. The NVC will then provide instructions to the sponsor and beneficiary regarding forms, fees and other required documents to complete the Immigrant Visa application.

In general, to meet the requirements for permanent residence in the U.S., you must:

  • Be eligible for one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
  • Have an immigrant visa immediately available
  • Be admissible to the United States

Those applying for permanent immigration to the US are often required to have a sponsor. Most immigrants are sponsored by a family member who is already a legal resident. If you are applying for an employment visa your employer may be the sponsor.

Immigrant Categories

Individuals who want to become permanent residents will generally be classified into certain categories based on a preference system. Except for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, who receive the highest priority, there are a limited number of visas that can be issued each year per category.


Some relatives of U.S. citizens, known as immediate relatives, do not have to wait for a visa to become available. There is no limit to the number of visas that can be issued in this category each year. Immediate relatives include:

  • Parents of a U.S. citizen
  • Spouses of a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen

The qualified relatives of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in the remaining family-based categories may have to wait for a visa to become available before they can apply for permanent residency. These categories include:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult (21 years of age or older) sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Second Preference A: Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried children (under the age of 21) of permanent residents
  • Second Preference B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or age or older) of permanent residents
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children

You may also be able to become a permanent resident through a special family situation. These programs are limited to individuals who meet particular qualifications or apply during specific timeframes.

For more information visit our Family Based Immigration page.


Individuals who want to become immigrants based on employment or a job offer may apply for permanent residence or an immigrant visa abroad. These are granted accorded to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Priority Workers, including aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers
  • Second Preference: Members of professions holding an advanced degree or persons of exceptional ability (including individuals seeking a National Interest Waiver)
  • Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals and other qualified workers
  • Fourth Preference: Certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations
  • Fifth Preference: Employment creation immigrants (investors or entrepreneurs)

For more information visit our Employment Based Immigration page.

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