First, I need to clear up some confusion. I’m not all green anymore! Strange, I know, but after a few decades, everyone deserves a makeover. Now I feature an American flag that colors me with some red, white, and blue. While I’m confessing things, you should know that my official name is Permanent Resident Card.
Whatever you call me, I’m a powerful piece of plastic. I give foreign nationals the ability to live and work in the U.S. and freely travel internationally. Even better, I put them on the path to citizenship. But it’s a long road from a beneficiary dreaming of permanent residency to holding me in their hands. Here, I’ll describe the steps to getting an employment-based green card.
Step 1: Labor Certification
I start out as ETA Form 9089 in an online system called PERM. There, an employer asks the Department of Labor for a prevailing wage (average salary) determination for my beneficiary’s job. Then the employer describes the job, efforts to recruit American workers, and my beneficiary’s work history. I zip through the internet to the Department of Labor, where I sit for up to six months while officials decide whether to give me labor certification.
If the DOL finds there aren’t enough U.S. workers to fill the job and the beneficiary’s employment won’t adversely impact U.S. workers, they approve me.
Step 2: Employer Petition
When the DOL approves me, they send an approval notice to the employer. This starts the clock ticking—the employer has 180 days to petition for a permanent immigrant visa. I transform into Form I-140, where an employer explains that they can pay the salary and why the beneficiary is qualified for the job. The employer attaches a stack of supporting documentation and ships me to a Lockbox.
Step 3: Lockbox Processing
I travel to a Lockbox, a secure facility the government uses to collect immigration applications and fees. There are three USCIS Lockboxes in the U.S., so I visit Phoenix, Arizona; Chicago, Illinois; or Lewisville, Texas. Workers send my beneficiary a receipt notice to let them know I arrived safely. Lockbox workers sort me, scan me, and ship me to the correct USCIS office.
Step 4: USCIS Service Center
I arrive at a USCIS service center. There are four USCIS service centers: in California, Vermont, Nebraska, or Texas. I might stay at the Service Center for weeks or months, or I might get in and out quickly. It depends on whether an employer pays for premium processing, which shortens my Service Center visit to only 15 business days. There, USCIS officials approve me, deny me, or request additional information.
Step 5: Request for Evidence
When USCIS officials can’t decide whether to approve or reject me, they issue a request for evidence, also known as an RFE. This means my employer and beneficiary need to find extra documentation to support their application. This step extends my stay at a service center, but it gives the employer a chance to strengthen their petition.
Step 6: National Visa Center
If I receive approval from USCIS, I travel to the National Visa Center in New Hampshire. The NVC is on the site of a former Air Force base, so I enjoy touring the place. However, I tire of the scenery if I stay very long, which often happens. That’s because the NVC keeps me until a visa number becomes available.
The U.S. issues 140,000 employment-sponsored immigrant visas each year, so I have to wait in line for my number (called a priority date) to be called in the monthly Visa Bulletin. Whether I leave the NVC within weeks or linger for years depends on my priority date, my beneficiary’s country of origin, and my preference category. I wait at the NVC until my number is called.
Step 7: Apply for a Green Card
When the Visa Bulletin announces my number, I jump into action. It’s time for me to become a green card application. At this point, I can take two different forms, depending on whether my beneficiary is inside or outside the U.S.
If my beneficiary is inside the U.S. on a temporary immigration status, I become an Adjustment of Status application on Form I-485. Backed by supporting documentation and payment, I travel to a Lockbox for processing.
When I get to the Lockbox, workers send my fee to the Department of the Treasury, and I go on to a USCIS Service Center. If my beneficiaries fit into a few categories, they don’t send their application to a Lockbox. For those beneficiaries, I travel directly to a Service Center.
If my beneficiary doesn’t live in the U.S., I travel to the NVC when my beneficiary files Form DS-260. There, I’m joined by an Affidavit of Support from the employer, a criminal background check, and other supporting documentation. The Department of State evaluates me, and if they approve, they send me to a consulate in my beneficiary’s home country.
Step 8: Green Card Interview
Before interviewing, my beneficiary will attend a biometrics appointment. New information like my beneficiary’s fingerprints, photo, and signature will be added to my stack of papers.
If my beneficiary is inside the U.S., they’ll interview at a USCIS Service Center. If the interview goes well and the officer finds no issues with me, my beneficiary is approved for a green card.
If my beneficiary is outside the U.S., they’ll meet me at the consulate for an interview. The consular officer will make sure that my information agrees with my beneficiary’s answers to interview questions. If the interview goes well and I impress the consular officer, my beneficiary signs an oath and is approved for an immigrant visa.
Step 9: Immigrant Visa
After my beneficiary is approved for a visa at the consulate, I become an immigrant visa, which allows my beneficiary to enter the U.S. We board a plane together, both nervous and excited for the possibilities ahead. At the U.S. airport, my beneficiary receives an I-551 passport stamp indicating lawful permanent residence status.
Step 10: Green Card
Next, I take on my final form—a green card—and reach my beneficiary’s mailbox in the U.S. We join the 14 million other U.S. green card holders in enjoying the privileges of lawful permanent residency. It’s been a long journey to get here, but the benefits and freedoms I offer are worth it.