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FAQs About Green Cards


A U.S. green card allows foreign nationals to lawfully live and work as permanent residents in the United States. The U.S. government issues several green cards every year. This blog post answers the most frequently asked questions about green cards. 

What is a green card? 

Issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a green card is proof of lawful permanent resident (LPR) status with authorization to reside and work anywhere in the country. Most green cards need to be renewed every ten (10) years, but conditional green cards (marriage or investment) must be replaced after the first two (2) years. 

What is a lawful permanent resident? 

Commonly known as a “green card holder,” an LPR is a foreign national who is allowed to live and work in the U.S., sponsor certain relatives to have them obtain their own green cards, and apply for citizenship after three (3) or five (5) years. 

What is USCIS? 

Part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the government agency that oversees legal immigration to the country. USCIS approves green cards, work permits, travel permits, naturalization, and other immigration benefits. 

What is conditional permanent residence? 

A conditional green card lasts only two (2) years and is designated as “CRI” on the physical card, which means “conditional resident.” A conditional green cardholder needs to file Form I-751 to “remove the conditions” and receive a permanent green card. For example, an immigrant spouse who has been married for less than two (2) years at the time their green card was first approved will be issued a conditional green card. 

What is the difference between a green card and citizenship? 

A green card is proof that you are authorized by USCIS as an LPR, while citizenship means you are considered an American citizen. While you can legally live and work in the United States as a green card holder, you cannot vote in U.S. national elections. As we mentioned earlier, LPRs can become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process after having their green cards for three (3) or five (5) years. 

What are family-based green cards? 

LPRs and U.S. citizens can sponsor their immediate relatives to obtain a family-based green card. “Immediate relatives” consist of spouses, unmarried children, parents, siblings, and other close family members. Family-based green cards also apply to same-sex couples, as well as widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. 

What are employment-based green cards? 

U.S employers can sponsor foreign workers of “exceptional ability” to live and contribute to the U.S. economy and workforce. 

The following are several types of employment-based green cards: 

  • EB-1 for priority workers 

  • EB-2 for professionals with advanced degrees and extraordinary ability, including physicians 

  • EB-3 for skilled, unskilled, and professional workers 

  • EB-4 for special workers, such as media professionals, religious ministers and workers, as well as Afghanistan and Iraqi nationals who have served in the U.S. government 

  • EB-5 for investors 

What are humanitarian green cards? 

The U.S. government also offers some green cards to foreign nationals due to humanitarian reasons, such as individuals seeking asylum or refugee status, domestic abuse (through the Violence Against Women Act) and crime victims (U visa), and human trafficking victims (T visa). 

What are diversity lottery green cards? 

Another way for foreign nationals to become LPRs is through the diversity visa lottery (green card lottery). Every year, the State Department publishes a list of countries—that have a low number of immigrants in the U.S.—whose citizens can enter the lottery to obtain a diversity immigrant visa. The cap for the lottery green card is 50,000 people. 

What are longtime resident green cards? 

Foreign nationals who have lawfully or unlawfully lived in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, can apply for a “longtime resident” green card through a process known as “registry.” A person is eligible for this green card if they entered the U.S. before January 1, 1972, and hasn’t left, maintained “good moral character,” and have no criminal record consisting of deportable offenses. 

Are there other green cards available? 

There are a variety of other green cards available, such as “special immigrants” visas for Afghanistan and Iraqi nationals who have served in the U.S. government, Native Americans born in Canada, Cuban citizens, religious workers, and specific employees of international organizations. 

Can I work in the U.S. while waiting for my green card? 

If you already have a valid work visa, you can continue working in the U.S. even while you are applying for a green card. Otherwise, green card applicants cannot work in the U.S. until they obtain a work permit by filing Form I-765. 

What is the Visa Bulletin? 

Issued monthly by the State Department, the Visa Bulletin shows which green card applications can move forward, according to when the I-130 petition was originally filed. Filing the I-130 begins the green card process. The reason for the Visa Bulletin is that there are caps (limits) in the number of green cards that the U.S. government can issue each year in certain categories, which has resulted in several backlogs. 

What is a biometric screening? 

After submitting the green card application, USCIS or your local U.S. embassy will schedule a biometrics appointment for you. A government representative will collect your fingerprints, photograph, and signature. The U.S. government will run your biometric information through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) database to see if you have a criminal record with any crimes that may disqualify you from getting a green card. 

Why would a green card application be denied? 

Common reasons why a green card application is denied include making mistakes on the required forms, missing documentation or information on forms, missing signatures, failure to show eligibility, and insufficient fees and resources. 

Should I hire an immigration lawyer to help me apply for a green card? 

Applying for a green card—and later U.S. citizenship—can be a complicated legal process. To avoid making any mistakes on your application, it is wise to have an immigration attorney help you each step of the way. Your lawyer can ensure all the paperwork is completed correctly, you meet all the deadlines, and prepare you for your interview to help you become an LPR. 

If you are interested in applying for a green card in Santa Barbara, CA, call Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation. Our legal team has more than four decades of combined legal experience! 

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