After you have received a suitable job offer from a U.S. employer (if you need a job offer under your prospective category of lawful permanent residence), getting a U.S. green card is a multistage process. Here, we'll provide an overview.
Basic Steps to Receiving U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence Based on Employment
In brief, applying for an employment based green card involves these steps:
- Your prospective employer requests what's called a prevailing wage determination (PWD) from the U.S. Department of Labor, using the online FLAG system. The PWD is the Department of Labor's formal ruling as to how much money is normally paid to people in jobs like the one you've been offered. The PWD will typically expire within a year or less, so it will be important to recruit for and file the PERM labor certification soon after the PWD is issued.
- Your employer advertises and recruits for the job you've been offered and ultimately determines (in good faith) that there are no qualified U.S. workers available and willing to take the job.
- Your employer files a PERM labor certification application online, using the electronic USDOL Form 9089.
- You wait the several months that the DOL will take to adjudicate the PERM labor certification application, and mail the certified PERM application to your employer (this time frame can extend up to a year if the DOL chooses your PERM application for audit).
- Within 180 days of the PERM labor certification approval, your employer prepares and files a petition using Form I-140, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- After USCIS approves the petition, you wait until a visa is available. It might be immediately available, if the number of people who applied in your category in that same year is less than the number of visas available; or if too many people applied, then you may have to wait until your Priority Date becomes current. (Get information on monitoring your Priority Date.)
- You file a green card application and pay the fees, either using USCIS Form I-485 to "adjust status," which eventually includes an interview at a local immigration office near your home, or by completing several steps to eventually have an interview at a U.S. consulate outside of the U.S. (through what is called "consular processing"). Which procedure you use depends on where you are living now, and if you are in the U.S., whether you are legally present or otherwise eligible to adjust status. (For detailed information on these procedures, see Getting a Green Card: Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status.)
- If your interview is at a consulate, after approval you enter the U.S. with your immigrant visa, at which time you become a permanent resident. Your green card will arrive by mail several weeks later.
Note that in cases when there is no backlog in your green card category (and everyone's priority date is current according to the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin), you can submit your I-485 application along with your employer's I-140 petition. If you're following the consular processing option, you'll need to wait for I-140 approval from USCIS before preparing your documents for the visa interview abroad.
Exceptional Case: Applying for a U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence Without Labor Certification
If you qualify for an immigrant visa category that does not require labor certification, then you will not need to follow all of the steps outlined above.
You or your employer will simply file the USCIS Form I-140 immigrant petition directly with the USCIS Service Center and, once it's approved, either file a Form I-485 green card application with USCIS (if you are lawfully present within the United States and eligible to adjust status) or await instructions from the National Visa Center (NVC) to prepare you for a visa interview at a U.S. embassy abroad.
Lawful Permanent Residence for Spouse and Children of Employee
If you're married or have children below the age of 21 and you qualify for a green card through employment, your spouse and children can get green cards as accompanying relatives. They will need to provide proof of their family relationship to you, such as marriage or birth certificates.