Form I-551: What you need to know

Also known as a green card, this form allows you to work and live in the United States indefinitely.

black man wearing sunglasses holding American flag in front of his face

What's Inside

What's Inside

Form I-551 is a green card, also known as a permanent resident card. If you hold a Form I-551, you can live and work in the United States permanently. 

If you’re familiar with any immigration process in the U.S., you know that getting a green card will likely require paperwork and that the process isn’t always the same for everyone. So let’s review what you can expect when applying for a Form I-551 permanent resident card.

Who can apply for a Form I-551 permanent resident card?

Before you jump into the green card application process, you first need to find out if you’re eligible for a permanent resident card. There are several eligibility categories outlined below. 

Green card through family

If you have a familial connection with a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, you may be able to establish permanent residency for yourself. Multiple subcategories of applicants fall into this category, including: 

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens
  • Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their children
  • Other relatives of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
  • Widows and widowers of U.S. citizens
  • VAWA self-petitioners who are survivors of extreme cruelty or battery at the hands of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents

Green card through employment

Your job and work history might be the keys to your right to permanently remain in the U.S. A noncitizen may have the option to apply for Form I-551 if one of the following applies:

  • They have an extraordinary ability in science, art, education, business or athletics
  • They’re an outstanding professor or researcher
  • They’re a specific type of multinational manager
  • They have an exceptional ability in science, art or business
  • They work in a profession that requires an advanced degree
  • They’re seeking a national interest waiver (NIW)
  • They’re a professional whose job requires at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent
  • They’re a skilled worker whose job requires at least two years of experience or training
  • They’re an unskilled worker whose job requires less than two years of experience or training
  • They’re a physician who agrees to full-time work in clinical practice in an underserved area for a set amount of time
  • They’re an immigrant investor who’s invested or started the process of investing at least between $800,000 and $1,050,000 in a new U.S. commercial enterprise that will create full-time jobs for at least 10 qualifying employees

Get the right lawyer for your immigration case

Schedule a free 15-min call with our team today.

Get started

Green card through refugee or asylee status

If the U.S. government granted you asylum or refugee status at least one year ago, you may qualify for permanent resident status.

Green card for survivors of human trafficking or crime 

If you have a U nonimmigrant visa because you’re a victim of crime or a T nonimmigrant visa because you’re a survivor of human trafficking, you may qualify for a permanent resident card. 

Green card through registry

Noncitizens who’ve continuously resided in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972, may be eligible to register for a permanent resident card.

Green card as special immigrants

Depending on where you were born or the type of work you or your family member does, you may be able to claim special immigrant status for the purpose of applying for a permanent resident card. Special immigrants in this category include the following: 

  • Nationals from Afghanistan or Iraq who worked for the U.S. government under specific circumstances
  • Juveniles who need the protection of the juvenile court because of abuse, abandonment or neglect
  • Religious workers who come to the U.S. to work for nonprofit religious organizations
  • Employees or retired officers of international organizations or NATO-6
  • Family members of international organization or NATO-6 employees or retired officers
  • International broadcasters

Green card for survivors of abuse

The U.S. government offers a clear pathway to permanent resident status for the following types of abuse survivors:

  • Survivors of extreme cruelty or battery committed by a Cuban native or citizen spouse or parent
  • Special immigrant juveniles 
  • Survivors of extreme cruelty or battery committed by a spouse or parent who received their permanent resident status under the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act 
  • VAWA self-petitioner victims of extreme cruelty or battery

Green card through other categories

Other categories of applicants eligible to apply for a permanent resident card include:

  • Applicants who were selected for a visa in the Department of State’s diversity visa lottery
  • Cuban citizens and natives and their children and spouses
  • Liberian nationals who’ve been physically and continuously present in the U.S. since November 20, 2014, and under certain conditions, their spouses and children
  • Lautenberg parolees 
  • Section 13 diplomats 
  • Natives born in Canada who have at least 50 percent native blood and maintain their principal residence in the U.S.
  • Natives or citizens of Vietnam, Cambodia (Kampuchea) or Laos who were paroled into the U.S. under certain conditions
  • Spouses and children of individuals who received their lawful permanent resident status under the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act

Applying for USCIS Form I-551

Many applicants for a USCIS Form I-1551 need to submit an immigrant petition and a green card application to achieve permanent resident status. 

Immigrant petitions

Depending on your circumstances, the government may require you to submit one of the following immigrant petitions before you can receive a green card:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
  • Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
  • Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur 
  • Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal
  • Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition
  • Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status 
  • Form I-929, Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant

Based on the facts of your case, you may need to file this paperwork before you submit your green card application, or you might have the option to file your immigrant petition and green card application simultaneously. 

Green card applications: Visa availability

If you aren’t an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you may need to check if there’s a visa available before you file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. To check visa availability, you need to know the priority date on your I-797, Notice of Action, from your immigrant petition.

Then look at the USCIS adjustment of status filing charts and find the chart for your green card eligibility category. In the chart, find your visa type in the first column on the left. Staying in that row, move to the right to find the block for your birth country. 

  • If there’s a “C”, you can immediately file your application.
  • If there’s a date and that date is later than your priority date, you can immediately file your application.
  • If there’s a “U”, the government isn’t authorized to issue you a visa at the moment. You need to check again later.

Green card applications: Submitting Form I-485

Applicants filing a Form I-485 typically need to provide information such as the following:

  • Background information about you and your household
  • Information regarding your immigration status and admissibility
  • Information about your finances, assets and liabilities
  • Your certifications, licenses and work experience
  • Photographs
  • Copies of your government-issued ID
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • An affidavit of support (I-864) for applicants seeking permanent resident status based on an engagement, familial connection or certain types of employment
  • A confirmation of a bona fide job offer for applicants seeking permanent resident status based on certain types of employment
  • A report of medical examination and vaccination record (Form I-693) to prove that you don’t have a health condition that would make you inadmissible
  • Certified police, court and criminal records

Depending on your current immigration status, you may need to submit additional paperwork and proof.

Get the right lawyer for your immigration case

Schedule a free 15-min call with our team today.

Get started

When you submit Form I-485, you must pay the filing fee and may also owe a biometrics fee for your fingerprinting, photographs and signature. Depending on your age and the details of your case, the current standard fees are:

Filer isForm feeBiometrics feeTotal cost
Under 14, filed with a parent’s application$750$0$750
Under 14, filed without a parent’s application$1,140$0$1,140
Age 14-78$1,140$85$1,225
Age 79+$1,140$0$1,140

You must pay your application and biometrics services fee (if applicable) when you submit your Form I-485. If you have additional questions about fees, you can call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283. You may also use this number to confirm where to file your form.

Attending appointments after filing your application

After you file Form I-485, USCIS will notify you by mail about a biometrics services appointment at a local application support center. You might also have to attend an interview and submit additional evidence after filing your application.

Receiving a decision

If USCIS approves your application for a permanent resident card, it will send a written approval notice first and your permanent resident card later. While you wait for this to happen, you can check the status of your application on the USCIS case status webpage, or you can call 1-800-375-5283 (or 1-800-767-1833 for the deaf and hard of hearing). 

How a lawyer may help

You don’t need to hire a lawyer to apply for a green card, but getting counsel and support from an attorney may make the process easier to manage. Your attorney can identify which eligibility categories apply to you and which category would make obtaining a green card the easiest. Your attorney can also help you gather the proper paperwork for your application and prepare you for your interviews, if you have any.

Share with

Bottom line

Our experienced team would love to help you move forward. Schedule a free 15-minute call so we can connect you with an experienced attorney.

Book a free call

Frequently asked questions

What is Form I-551?

Form I-551 is what we typically call a permanent resident card or green card. If you have a permanent resident card, you can work and live in the United States indefinitely. When onboarding for a job, your I-9 manager might use your permanent resident card document number (which has three letters and 10 numbers) to verify that you’re authorized to work in the United States.

How do I get a Form I-551?

You get a Form I-551 by establishing that you’re eligible, filing Form I-485 and any required immigrant petition and attending any appointments necessary, such as a biometrics appointment or an interview.

How long does it take to get an I-551 permanent resident card?

Each case is different, but getting a permanent resident card can take several months. You can receive a temporary I-551 stamp while waiting for your green card. This stamp acts as proof that you’re a permanent resident for up to one year.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

Share with

More resources