How to apply for an immigrant visa

Different Types of Immigrant Visas

There are various types of visas that you can use to obtain a green card, depending on your eligibility. The main visa categories are: 

  • Family-based 
  • Employment-based


Family-based visas are generally granted to spouses, siblings, children, married/unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and spouses, children, unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents of the U.S. Read more about family-based immigration here. 


If you are interested in working in the United States, a sponsorship by a U.S. employer or demonstration of extraordinary ability will deem you eligible to apply for an employment-based visa. You can also apply for a special employment-based visa (EB-5) if you invest between $900,000 to $1.8 million in an American business. Read more about employment-based immigration here.

Apply for an immigrant visa

There are two situations from which you’ll apply for a green card, depending on where you live right now: 

  • If you are currently living in the United States: You’ll be able to file for a green card through a process called Adjustment of Status, which means that you can remain in the U.S. while your application is processed. 
  • If you are currently living in another country: You can file your green card application through a process called consular processing, in which you’ll stay in your home country until your application is approved by a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country.

STEP 1: File a petition

Your sponsor (petitioner), be it a family member or employer, will file a form to start your immigration process with the USCIS. For family-based visas, this form (Form I-130) will establish that you are related to the family member sponsoring you. For employment-based visas, the form (Form I-140) will essentially be a request for a green card for you from your employer. These forms are referred to as petitions.

STEP 2: File a green card application

Generally speaking, once the USCIS approves your petition, you can file your green card application by filing the Form I-485 if you apply from inside the United States (If you are applying from inside the United States, you may be eligible to complete Steps 1 and 2 at the same time, meaning that you can send both Form I-130/I-140 and Form I-485 to the USCIS concurrently.) or Form DS-260, if you are applying from outside the country. If you are seeking a family-based visa, the relative that is sponsoring you will have to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), which is a contract between a sponsor and the U.S. government that states the sponsor will support foreign national financially. 

STEP 3: Complete biometrics and medical exam

As part of your green card application, you will also need to have your biometrics appointment and a medical examination. The medical exam is a review and evaluation of your current health as well as past medical history to check for any health conditions that would deem you ineligible to receive a green card. A mental evaluation as well as a drug and alcohol screening is a standard part of the exam.

STEP 4: Complete your interview

The final step of the green card application process is your interview, which will be conducted in-person at a USCIS office in the United States or a U.S. consulate in your home country. Following the interview, you’ll be notified of your application approval, and you will be mailed either your green card or your passport with a visa allowing you to travel to the U.S.

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