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What is a Permanent Resident?

A Permanent Resident of the U.S. is a person who has been authorized to live and work permanently in the country. Though not yet fully a citizen, a permanent resident is granted proof of their status through what is known as a “green card”. An alien can obtain a green card, or permanent resident status, through many different avenues.

Who Can Apply for a Green Card?

Some common ways a person can obtain a green card are through:

  • Family sponsorship: Aliens may be sponsored by a family member, spouse or fiancé. Immigration marriage laws allow foreign nationals to apply for green cards after marrying a U.S. citizen. Closely related persons take priority over other types of relationships.
  • Employment: Permanent residency may be obtained based on employment or job offers.
  • Refugee/Asylum: Certain persons may qualify for this category, which usually involves proof of economic and political hardship in their country of origin.
  • Other ways: The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) provides other avenues by which persons can obtain a green card; check with the BCIS or with a lawyer to learn more.

What does the Green Card Application Process involve?

Green card applications are part of a preference-based system, and aside from immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, Congress has limited the number of available green cards to 675,000 each year. The application process for a green card can sometimes be quite lengthy- it involves several steps with waiting periods in between. Some of the most important steps include:

  • Obtaining a Sponsor: this can be a relative who is currently a U.S. citizen, or an employer
  • Application: Applications may be submitted at the U.S. consulate office or embassy of the person’s home country. They can also be submitted domestically if the applicant is already in the U.S. with a valid visa. Generally, immigrants will need to file one of the following petitions: Form I-130; Form I-140; or Form I-360.
  • Admissibility: After submitting the application, the BCIS will check to determine if the person is admissible based on their application. An applicant can be “inadmissible” for several reasons, including criminal records or physical/mental conditions.
  • Follow-Up: There may be several follow-up steps including appointments and interviews.

Are There Alternatives to Getting a Green Card?

One common alternative is the Green Card Diversity Lottery. The Diversity Immigrant visa program makes 55,000 lawful permanent resident visas available each year to countries that have been deemed to have low United States immigration rates. An application (Form DV-2010) must be submitted, and the chances of winning the green card lottery are incredibly low. For example, in 2008, there were over 13 million applications for the 55,000 available visas.

Should I Consult an Immigration Lawyer for my Immigration Issue?

Green card applications are incredibly complicated. Hiring an immigration lawyer is the best way to quickly navigate the process if you or a loved one needs assistance. An attorney can help meet all the requirements and ensure that you do not experience any undue delays.

Photo of page author John Kirby

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 11-06-2017 03:45 PM PST

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