Frequently Asked Questions: US Green Card for South Africans

Are you thinking about moving to the USA? For South Africans, there are several options for living and working in America, but most of them have limitations on what you can do while in the country. A Green Card allows you to permanently live and work in the United States without any restrictions.

It also entitles you to perks such as freedom to start your own business and sponsor a Green Card for members of your family. So if you have always dreamed of letting your creative genius loose in San Francisco, chasing fame and fortune in Los Angeles, or spending your twilight years enjoying the warm Pacific charm of Honolulu in Hawaii, a Green Card is your best bet if you want to live and work in the US.

If you just want to visit the USA for a holiday, check out this step by step guide to the US Visa application.

This post will answer some of the frequently asked questions about a Green Card and hopefully help you get one step closer to living out the American dream.

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What is a Green Card?

A Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card) is a document that grants you permanent residency in the USA. It allows you to live and work in the country for as long as you like without any restrictions.

Who can apply for a Green Card?

There are eight different eligibility categories for a Green Card:

  • Green Card through Family
  • Green Card through Employment
  • Green Card as a Special Immigrant
  • Green Card through Refugee or Asylee Status
  • Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
  • Green Card for Victims of Abuse
  • Green Card through Other Categories
  • Green Card through Registry

The three main ways for South Africans to obtain one are through family, employment, and investment.

Visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website for more details about each category.

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Is it hard to get a Green Card?

It depends on which one you apply for. Each has its own unique requirements and waiting period. Green Cards through Family and Employment are usually the easiest to obtain.

For the Green Card through Family, a family member will need to sponsor you, and your relationship to them will determine which preference level you fall into (i.e. it would be easier to sponsor a spouse than a sibling). For a Green Card through Employment, applicants with specialised skills or extraordinary abilities can be sponsored by a US employer who is willing to go through a certification process.

Enlisting the help of an immigration attorney would also make things a lot easier.

How long does it take to get a Green Card?

Getting a Green Card is a slow process that requires many forms to be filled out and documents to be submitted, so it can sometimes take years to obtain a Green Card. However, it really depends on which one you are applying for (e.g. a petition for a spouse or family dependent is usually the quickest, sometimes taking just a few months).

What rights does a Green Card grant?

As a Green Card holder, you have the right to:

  • live permanently in the United States
  • work in the United States
  • educational financial aid
  • sponsor a Green Card for family members
  • start your own business
  • be protected by all laws of the United States
  • social security benefits after retirement
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How long is a Green Card valid for?

A Green Card is valid for 10 years. If you obtain one through marriage to a US citizen, you will be given Conditional Permanent Residence and get a Green Card that is only valid for two years (if the marriage is less than two years old). You will need to file a petition to remove the conditions before the Green Card expires. If the request is granted, your status will change to Regular Permanent Resident, which basically means you get a new Green Card that is valid for 10 years.

How much does a Green Card cost?

Some of the main fees are:

  • The main application (Form I-485) needs to be paid upfront and is $1,140 (about R16,486)
  • The family application (I-130) is $535 (about R7,737)
  • The marriage application (I–129F) is $535 (about R7,737)
  • The employment application (I–140) is $700 (about R10,123)
  • USCIS Immigrant Fee is $220 (about R3,181)
  • Biometric Services Fee is $85 (about R1,229)
  • The Green Card lottery fee is $330 (about R4,772)

Here is detailed information about the fees associated with a Green Card application.

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How long does it take to get citizenship after a Green Card?

You will need to be a permanent resident of the USA for five years or married to a US citizen for three years before you are eligible to apply for citizenship. You will be able to begin the application process three months before you reach the five or three-year mark.

How long can you stay out of the US with a Green Card?

Permanent Residents are allowed to travel outside of the United States freely, but not for longer than a year. Conditional Permanent Residents can only be out of the country for up to six months.

If you do not intend to make the United States your permanent home and are outside of the country for more than a year, you will lose your permanent resident status. However, if you intend to make the United States your permanent home, but do need to be away for more than a year, you will need to apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131).

Note: Staying out of the country for six months or more could disrupt your residency status, so it is best to avoid long-term travel abroad if possible.

Find out more about international travel as a Green Card holder and maintaining permanent residence.

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Which documents do you need to apply for a Green Card?

To apply for a Green Card, you will need to fill out several forms and submit a number of supporting documents. Most people will need to complete at least two forms:

  • Immigrant petition (this is usually filled out by your sponsor)
  • Green Card application (Form I-485)

The other most common forms are:

  • Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative
  • Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
  • Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition
  • Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal

Some of the most common supporting documents that will need to accompany your application are:

  • Proof of your petitioner’s legal status in the US
  • Birth certificates of you and your petitioner
  • Proof of your relationship to the family member living in the US (if applicable)
  • Banking details and proof of income
  • Police clearance certificate
  • Certified marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • Previous marriage termination records (if applicable)
  • Tertiary education records (if applicable)
  • Record of previous employment (if applicable)
  • Court, police or prison records (if applicable)

Note: The documents you will need to submit depend on which category you are eligible for.


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What is the application process for a Green Card?

  1. Find out if you are eligible for a Green Card
  2. Complete and file Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) with USCIS.
  3. Submit all relevant supporting documents.
  4. Pay the associated application fees.
  5. Schedule and attend a medical exam with an accredited physician.
  6. USCIS will review your application and schedule an interview.
  7. Attend your interview.

Note: You should read the instructions for Form I-485 before you apply.

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What is the Green Card lottery?

The Green Card lottery, officially called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, was created to diversify the population of America. It is basically an annual lucky draw that grants 50,000 people a Green Card to live and work in the United States. Only people from certain countries are eligible. These countries are usually ones with poor immigration rates. There are certain eligibility requirements and the application is done online.

Find out more about the Green Card Lottery.

What is the EB-5 visa?

It is a programme that allows investors to obtain a Green Card by investing $500,000 into a project that creates 10 full-time jobs for South Africans. Investors, their spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 gain permanent residency in the US.

However, a proposal by the US government to increase the investment amount from $500,000 to $1,350,000 is pending. The waiting period for EB-5 visas could also change from three to seven years in 2019.

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How do you renew your Green Card?

If you have one and it has expired or will expire within the next six months, you will need to renew it by:

Read more about renewing your Green Card.

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Applying for a Green Card is not a quick and easy process, but being able to live amongst the cosmopolitan energy of Chicago or call the strange streets of New Orleans home is a dream held by many. And it is a dream that is entirely possible with a little planning and patience.

And if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and move across the world just yet, you could always book cheap flights to the USA and take a short trip to see what all the fuss is about.

Would you consider moving to America? Share your thoughts about this legendary country in the comments below!

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Our Readers Comments

  1. Hi my dream is to live in Los Angeles in About 5years time i’m living in South Africa and 3 of my friends want to join me there how do i start and what do i need to become a citizin of America

    • Hi Nico,

      Thanks for reaching out. For the most up do date information you would need to contact the American Embassy direct.

      They will advise if you are eligible to apply for a Green Card.

  2. Hi I would like to know when you book a return does it double the ticket price??To go to NewYork it’s R15k single or return is that the website mulfuction??

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      The price of a single ticket does not double in price is you purchase a round trip ticket.

      Fares are quite complicated. Fares will depend on the availability of the booking class available for the dates the passenger has selected as well as the rules.

  3. Would diabetes make you Inadmissible for a Green Card?

    • Hi Kobus,

      For this you would need to contact the Embassy direct. They are the ones who grant Green Cards and will be able to provide you with further information.

  4. where do i collect my green card in jhb cbd am in south africa need if for work am doing fashion shows overseas for jfm agency i need it soon

    • Hi there,

      Please contact the Embassy direct for this. If you have been granted a Green Card, they will be able to advise where it needs to be collected.

  5. Thank you for your information. It is very helpful,
    I have always dream of working in USA and stay there but I am afraid of starting the application process.
    I still want to even but many people say it is not easy. My dream place is New Jersey.
    How do I start?

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for contacting us.

      For this you would need to contact the Embassy direct. They will advise on the correct procedures to follow, what the cost would be, what documents you would need to submit from your employer in the US as well as personal documents.

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