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Understanding the Steps in the Green Card Process

This blog will help you better understand the green card process steps, what the various stages of this process are and how the timeline of the application process plays out. As you petition for a green card, we want you to understand what to expect, giving yourself the best chance of success.

To begin, we understand that getting an employment-based green card can be a long and sometimes frustrating process. It can also be very rewarding. You have much to gain by leveraging your employment status to achieve lawful permanent residency in the U.S., and thankfully, the green card process steps are clear and straightforward.

Outside of fee payments or paperwork submissions, the stages of the green card application process can be broken down into phases: Visa Category Determination, the PERM Certification Phase, the Petition Phase and the Application or Adjustment Phase.

1. Visa Category Determination

    • In this initial step, you’re deciding which employment-based green card is the best option for you. It’s an important decision because subsequent steps in this process will be based on which green card option you pursue.
    • For example, if you pursue either the EB-1A green card or the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver), then you can self-petition. This means you don’t need an employer to sponsor your petition, and you can bypass the PERM Labor Certification phase.
    • Self-petitioning for an EB-2 green card requires proving to the Department of Labor why it’s in the best interest of the U.S. to grant you the National Interest Waiver.

2. The PERM Labor Certification Phase

    • Known as the Program for Electronic Review Management (PERM) Labor certification, this first phase of the process is where your employer needs to show proof that there are not any qualified U.S. workers for the position. 
    • This process can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months, depending on whether or not your employer gets selected for an audit. These 18 months are broken down into the following steps:
      • Prevailing Wage Request: This is when your employer obtains a prevailing wage from the U.S. Department of Labor. The timeline for this step is approximately two weeks.
      • Recruitment Process: This is when your employer must work with the Department of Labor to prove that there are not any qualified U.S. workers for the position and that you are indeed the best candidate for the position. This step can often take several months to complete. 
      • ETA-9089 Application: This is the application form your sponsoring employer must submit to the Department of Labor to obtain the permanent labor certification you’re looking for. This essentially concludes the PERM Certification Phase of the process. The timeline for this step can take upwards of 24 weeks.

3. Petition Phase

    • This is where you file the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker form; more commonly referred to as Form I-140. This form cannot be filed with USCIS until the Department of Labor approves your Labor Certification, which was filed by your sponsoring employer. If no Labor Certification is required because you are pursuing an EB-1A green card or the EB-2 NIW, then this “petition phase” is essentially the first step of the process.

4. Application or Adjustment Phase

    • Once your I-140 petition has been approved, you can either apply for an immigrant visa through your U.S. consulate or you can submit Form I-485, which lets you apply for an adjustment of your non-immigrant status to a legal permanent resident.
    • Filing the I-485 is an exciting step in this process, but there are a couple of things you need to know.
      • First, the timeline for this part of the process can be quite long. With an application processing wait time of 6 months minimum, your total wait time could be longer if there is a high demand for green cards from applicants from your country.
      • There is an annual limit to the number of green cards that are available to each country. Therefore, wait times for individuals applying from countries with fewer total applicants are shorter. For individuals who are applying from countries with more applicants, the wait times are longer. Unfortunately, how long you can expect to wait depends on where you are from. Check the Visa Bulletin for the priority date for your country.
    • After filing your application, you can expect to receive a Notice of Receipt of Application. This usually happens around 2 to 3 weeks after filing.
    • Around 3 to 5 weeks after filing, you’ll receive a Notice for Biometrics Appointment. At this appointment you will provide data that is unique to you, such as fingerprints, a photograph and the documentation of your legal signature. This appointment is quick, and it allows USCIS to complete the background check that’s required for your case to continue on towards approval.
    • Ultimately, you’ll be contacted about attending an in-person interview with a USCIS officer. This interview serves to clarify and confirm the details of your work history, current immigration status and green card application.

The green card process timeline is quite specific, but it’s not the same for all green card applicants. This is why it is important to start by knowing exactly which green card you are most likely to successfully obtain. At Legalpad, we have expert, dedicated attorneys who are ready and willing to walk through each step of the green card application process with you. Getting a green card is an exciting but complicated journey, and you don’t have to go through it alone.

So, when you find yourself wondering, “what are the steps for the green card process?” get in touch with us, we’re here to help.