A green card, also known as a permanent residence visa, is a type of government identification document that allows a foreign citizen to live and work permanently in the United States. Green card holders have nearly all of the rights and responsibilities that citizens share.
How to Get a Green Card?
How Do I Qualify for a Green Card?
There are 5 ways to qualify for a green card:
- Family Member-Based Permanent Residency: Family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for green cards based on their relationship to the U.S. individual and their relation to them. Permanent residents can apply for their spouse and any unmarried child under the age of 21. Citizens can apply for both married and unmarried children. Children may be any age; a child’s age will determine how fast they will get their card, not whether they qualify. Citizens can also apply on behalf of their brothers and sisters.
- Employment-based Permanent Residency: Individuals hired in the U.S. for qualified positions can be sponsored by their employer for a green card.
- First, the employer must obtain certification from the Department of Labor (DOL), establishing that no U.S. workers are available, willing, and qualified to fill the position. This is done by the employer conducting a supervised advertising search to find an American worker for the position.
- Second, the employer must petition the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the foreign worker.
- Third, the foreigner applies an “adjustment of status” from their current visa to a green card. If the foreigner is outside the U.S., when the employer’s petition is granted, the foreigner must make an appointment with the closest U.S. consulate or embassy to get the visa.
- The petition will be a carefully crafted letter from the employer, describing in detail the nature of the company, its business, and the position being offered. This demonstrates that the company qualifies as the type of business for the particular visa category. It will also contain paragraphs describing the foreigner’s education, work history, and skill set. That will qualify the proposed employee as having the right characteristics for the visa.
- Fiancé(e) Visa: A fiancé(e) of a citizen or permanent resident is granted conditional resident status when they first arrive in the United States. This is a K-1 visa, and it is valid for only 90 days. The foreigner must go home if the couple does not marry within that period. If they marry, the non-U.S. spouse may file for a green card.
- Refugees and Individuals Seeking Asylum: Persons filing for permanent residency status as asylees or refugees can usually apply for permanent residence after being in the U.S. for one year. These people have demonstrated that they have been persecuted or endangered in their country based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The process of obtaining permanent residency status for refugees and asylees is different than for other groups; thus, an experienced immigration attorney should be consulted in these matters.
- Diversity Visa Lottery Program: There is a lottery that allows immigrants to obtain permanent residence without going through the normal sponsorship, fiancé(e), or asylum/refugee processes. All they have to do is win the lottery. Around 50,000 diversity visas are granted each year. People sign up online during the three “open months,” usually late fall and early winter. The selection of who receives these visas is randomized from a computer program. Only citizens of certain countries may participate; the list of what countries qualify changes frequently, particularly when there is a change of presidency.
The Process for Getting a Green Card
The process involves the following steps:
- Prepare a green card application (Form I-485)
- Gather all the supporting materials you need to submit (medical records, birth certificates, marriage certificates, bank statements, etc.)
- Obtain passport-style photographs
- Pay the corresponding fees. Your application may be denied or delayed if you fail to pay the accompanying fee and any other fees, such as a biometrics (fingerprint) fee.
- If your status in the U.S. is questionable or you have a criminal record, you should speak with a lawyer before attempting to obtain a green card. Instead of getting a green card, your application might subject you to legal issues, such as criminal charges for green card fraud or deportation/removal.
If you do not obtain a green card with your first application, do not panic. There may be options available to you. For instance, some green card application denials can be appealed. Or, you may be able to apply for an extension of your current visa, depending on your visa type and your overall immigration record.
However, not all applicants are allowed to obtain a green card under immigration law. For instance, a green card may not be available to persons with certain types of criminal charges on their record, or who have recently been removed (deported) from the U.S., You may wish to contact a lawyer if you have questions about green card renewal.
Backlogs of Visas
There can be a long wait between getting approved for a green card and getting one.
The government limits the number of green cards issued each year. More people want to get permanent residence visas than there are visas, so there is a backlog. As of 2023, more than 1.4 million people are waiting for a permanent residence visa to become available. There are per-country limits, so the wait time on the list differs depending on where the foreigner is from. In general, people from countries with many requests for permanent residence visas will have to wait longer than those from a country where it is uncommon to apply for a U.S. green card.
People from India and China have the longest waits. According to the Cato Institute, Indians with advanced degrees looking to be permanent residents in the U.S. are looking at a wait time of 151 years (this estimate is based on current rates of visa issuance and the number of applicants). The government is now processing green card applications for Chinese travelers who received their approval for a green card in 2016 or earlier.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Green Card Application?
Understanding how to get a green card can be quite challenging. There are key documents to draft, such as a letter from your sponsor to the immigration authorities. The petition and application forms must be completed. It is important to gather all supporting documents; the application will be denied if any are missing. You may need a lawyer if you or a loved one needs help with a green card application.
Your green card attorney will be able to advise you on how to proceed with the application process. Also, your lawyer can assist you if you need to attend an immigration interview or any immigration hearings. These hearings can be complex, but a lawyer can guide you through the process and inform you of what your rights and options are.
Lastly, if there are any changes to immigration laws, your lawyer can keep you updated on what your next steps are in the process.
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