Green Card Steps

The major green card steps are obtaining a permanent labor certification from the Department of Labor, filing i-140 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and filing i-485 with the State Department. However, the steps and sequence may vary depending on the applicant’s situation.

Green Card Process

Any foreign national who desires to become a lawful, permanent resident of the United States must go through the green card process.

What is a Green Card?

A green card is essentially proof of legal and lawful residence within the United States. It is necessary in order to work and travel outside of the country. Green cards need to be renewed every 10 years, and they are a requirement for US citizenship.

What are the benefits of being a Green Card holder?

Some of the advantages of being a green card holder include being able to live in anywhere in the country, work anywhere without receiving special permission, a Social Security number, access to financial institutions, being able to start a business, study anywhere in the US, sponsor family members for immigrant visas, apply for US citizenship, and be a recipient of government benefits.

Green card holders can also retain citizenship in their native countries, if they desire.

What are the different ways to get a green card?

Green cards can be acquired through family sponsorship, employer sponsorship, investment based criteria, lottery, and refugee status.

Green Card Process Steps

The steps in the Green Card process differ based on the type of Green Card. However, the basic steps are a petition, some sort of supporting documents from the sponsor, and immigrant visa availability.

US Green Card Process Steps and Stages for EB1, EB2 and EB3

EB1, EB2, and EB3 are for employer sponsored Green Cards. For these categories, the basic steps are filing a PERM labor certification, i140 Immigration Application, and i485 Adjustment of Status. These applications are filed by the employer with the Department of Labor and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Department.

Stage 1: PERM Labor Certification (Program for Electronic Review Management)

The first step is for employers to apply for PERM Labor Certification from the Department of Labor. This is done when employers want to hire a foreign national for a position who is either located abroad or in the United States on a temporary work visa or student visa. Once this is approved by the Department of Labor, the next step of the process can commence.

PERM Overview

The essence of the PERM labor certification is to show that there are no qualified American citizens or green card holders for the position. In order to demonstrate this, the employer must show proof of recruitment efforts and a lack of significant, qualified interest in this position. The job must also offer fair prevailing wages for the position. This is verified by the State Workforce Agency in the state where the position is located.

Additionally, the employer must show that the applicant’s qualifications are a good fit for the job description. Employers must provide annual reports, audited financial statements, and bank records to show that they are able to hire an additional worker. 

Recruitment Report

Part of the application for the PERM labor certification is a recruitment report which details various steps taken by the employer to find an American citizen or green card holder before looking to hire a foreign national. This includes, the number of applications, rejections, and reasons for rejecting candidates. This is to ensure that employers are making good faith efforts to hire domestic workers.

Job Duties, Restrictive Requirements, and Business Necessity

Employers must match the qualifications for the open position with the Specific Vocational Preparation level assigned to the occupation, unless in some special circumstances. This is to prevent employers from gaming the system by listing positions that are unsuitable for domestic workers at the pay level.

Special circumstances include some sort of occupation which is unique and essential to the business’ operations. In that case, a waiver can be granted. An example would be a foreign language requirement.

Combined Occupations

If a job opening has combined occupations which involves multiple roles being filled by the same employee, then the employer must show that previous people in the position were able to fill the position at a similar pay level. Additionally, the employer must show that these combined occupations are essential to operations and normal within the industry. This can be shown with payroll records, job descriptions, and corroborating evidence from other companies within the same industry.

Alternative Requirements

For combined occupations, there cannot be a major disconnect between the primary and alternative requirements. Employers need to show that the applicant can fulfill both primary and alternative requirements via their work history, education, or training. If this is not properly demonstrated on the application, their labor certification will be denied, ending the green card process.

Actual Minimum Requirements

Before issuing the PERM labor certification, the Department of Labor will check the experience, education, and certification levels of previous hires in the same role. If the employer has hired workers with subpar qualifications in the past, then the application will be denied.

Any opportunities for training, education, or certification provided to foreign nationals in preparation for a role must also be offered to domestic workers at a similar level. If this is not the case, then the application for a labor certificate will be denied as well.

Conditions of Employment

The working conditions for the applicant’s position must be comparable to similar roles in the same geographic area and industry. This is to ensure that employers are not looking to hire foreign nationals for positions with poor working conditions.


Layoffs can jeopardize a PERM application even if domestic workers were given the opportunity to apply for the open position. Essentially, the Department of Labor is not in favor of approving of the hiring of foreign nationals while the employer reduces domestic workers. PERM applications are only approved when employers can prove without a doubt that qualified domestic workers were unavailable for the position.

Alien Influence and Control over Job Opportunity

PERM applications have a greater chance of being audited if the applicant has any sort of financial stake or familial connection to the employer. Additionally, companies with less than 10 employees have a greater chance of being audited as well.

Employers will have to provide additional documentation to the Department of Labor to show that no qualified, equivalent domestic worker is available for the position and that the connection between the applicant and the employer played no role in the hiring decision.

Audits/Requests for Information

Audits can happen due to questionable information on the application or randomly. The Department of Labor will ask for additional information related to the various parts of the PERM application process.

Employers must keep records and all supporting documents for up to five years past the date of filing for the PERM labor certification. This is for audit purposes and can be relevant for future applications. Additionally, all records should be kept related to previous employees in a similar role and recruitment efforts.


If the Department of Labor approves the employer’s application, they will receive ETA Form 9089. The total process takes about two to three months for unaudited cases and up to eight months for audited cases. A denial of an application be appealed to the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals.

Stage 2: I-140 Immigration Application

The second step of the green card process is filing Immigration Application, Form i-140. This form verifies that the applicant is a match for the position based on experience and education. Additionally, the employer must provide proof that they have the funds and assets to pay the worker’s wages. Employers may also concurrently file Form i-485 Application to Adjust Status if the priority date is current. This depends on the immigration calendar and the applicant’s country of origin.


EB2-NIW is a special category for applicants which does not require a PERM labor certification. It can be filed by an employer, but is typically filed by the applicant. EB2-NIW applicants needs to demonstrate his qualifications and that his admission into the United States is for the country’s national interest.

Some groups that may qualify under this category include people with advanced degrees, and people doing rare and exceptional work in art, science, and academics. In order to obtain a waiver from the PERM labor certification, applicants must prove that they are doing exceptional work that would be in the national interest.

Processing Time for I 140 Applications

As of January 2017, i-140 application processing by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is around eight months. However, this can be expedited with premium processing and can take longer if the application is audited.

Stage 3: I-485 Adjustment of Status

Upon approval of Form i-140, employers may file Form i-485, Application to Adjust Status. This is the actual green card application which is processed by the Department of State. This is the official process whereby a foreign national becomes a green card holder.

Foreign nationals that are living abroad must go through consular interviews before being awarded a Green Card.

What about EB1 Category?

The EB1 category is for applicants who are leaders in their fields. It does not require a permanent labor certification. Applicants who fall under this category may directly fill out form i-140. The three subcategories for EB1 are people with exceptional abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers.

H1B to Green Card Process

H1B visas are eligible for a maximum six years. After six years, H1B holders may apply for a green card or return to their home country. In order for a H1B holder to receive a green card, he must be sponsored by his employer.

Process After the Green Card

Green Cards need to be renewed every 10 years. Additionally, green cards can be revoked due to immigration fraud or criminal activity. If a green card holder leaves the country for longer than a year, a reentry permit is necessary.

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