Getting a "Green Card" in California
Legal Permanent Residence (LPR)

California is home to more than three million foreigners with green cards, also called legal permanent residents (LPR).1 Green card holders may lawfully live and work in America.

In California, the main way non-citizens achieve LPR status is through either (1) employment sponsorship or (2) family sponsorship. Ultimately, legal permanent residents may even be eligible to naturalize as U.S. citizens.

In this article, our Los Angeles green card attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about obtaining legal permanent resident status in California. Click on a question to go to that topic.

Green 20card 20sign
California has the fourth largest green card population (after New York, Florida, and New Jersey).

1. Can I get a green card in California?

There are various ways foreigners can pursue green card status. Most non-citizens get green cards through employers or family members sponsoring them on a visa to come to the U.S.:

1.1. Job sponsorship

Companies can sponsor foreigners to come to the U.S. on a green card as their employees. The four main types of work sponsorships are the following:

  1. LPR by job offer: In the majority of green card cases, the U.S. employer has to obtain a labor certification and file a Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. Once the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves the I-140 form, the foreigner will receive instructions for continuing the green card application process. 
  2. LPR by self-petition: In some situations, foreigners may apply on their own behalf to work in the U.S. on a green card. Examples of non-citizens eligible for this option include "aliens of extraordinary ability" on EB-1 visas as well as National Visa Waiver recipients.
  3. LPR by investment: Foreign entrepreneurs who want to invest in a job-creating enterprise in the U.S. may be able to get a green card through an EB-5 visa.
  4. LPR through special category jobs: Foreigners with "specialized" jobs such as broadcasters and religious workers may be able to get green cards through a EB-4 visa

1.2. Relative sponsorship

U.S. citizens or green card holders may be able to sponsor a foreign family member to come to the U.S. on a green card. The three main types of family sponsorships are the following: 

  1. U.S. citizen immediate relative: This includes spouses, unmarried children under 21, and/or parents of the petitioning U.S. citizen.
  2. U.S. citizen family member in a preference category: This includes siblings, unmarried children over 21, and/or married children no matter the age of the petitioning U.S. citizen.
  3. Green card-holder immediate relative: This includes spouses and/or unmarried children under 21 of the petitioning legal permanent resident. 

Other ways to secure legal permanent resident status include asylum, refugee status, diversity lottery, and the Violence Against Women Act.2

2. What is the green card application process in California?

Typically, the first step is for the foreigner to get an immigrant visa. Second, the foreigner applies for a green card using the I-485 Form. How the green card application proceeds depends on whether the foreigner is currently in the U.S. or not.

If the foreigner is overseas, applying for the green card is called "consular processing." If the foreigner is on U.S. soil, applying for the green card is called "adjustment of status." Consular processing usually goes a little more quickly than adjustment of status. And depending on the case, the foreigner will probably need to give an interview and give fingerprints.3

California has eleven immigration offices that offer fingerprinting.

3. What is the fee to get a green card?

The green card fee schedule as shown on the USCIS website is below:

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4.What is the waiting period to get a green card?

Adjustment of status (petitioning for LPR status while on U.S. soil) usually takes a year or longer. Consular processing (petitioning for LPR status while overseas) typically spans a few days to up to six months.4

5. How long are green cards good for?

It depends on the alien's specific case, but green cards typically require renewal after ten (10) years. However, many green card holders will be able to naturalize to U.S. citizens well before then.5

Note that green card holders are always at risk of losing legal permanent resident status if they get convicted of deportable crimes.

6. Can I get a green card if I have a criminal record in California?

It depends. Non-citizens who have been convicted of minor offenses should still be eligible for LPR status. Examples of minor offenses include speeding tickets or the California crime of trespass.

But foreigners will probably be disqualified from LPR status and can be deported if they are convicted of more serious offenses. These crimes include (with some exceptions): 

Note that foreigners may still be barred from getting a green card even if they get their criminal records expunged.6

Call a California immigration attorney...

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Call us for help

If you or a loved one is a non-citizen looking to live in the U.S., call our California immigration lawyers at (855) LAWFIRM for a free consult. We will investigate your options and walk you through the immigration process from start to finish.

Also see our article on green cards in Nevada.

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