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Permanent Visa or Green Cards

A permanent visa, commonly referred to as a "green card," is an immigration document that allows a person to live in the United States.

What Agency Grants Green Cards?

Before September 2002, the agency that was charged with overseeing immigration issues was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In September 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, transferring the powers of the INS to the Department of Homeland Security. The immigration service functions of the INS are now placed under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

Types of Green Card Categories

Depending on your connection to the United States, you may qualify for a different green card category. The United States puts a limit, or quota, on the amount of green cards issued for people who fall into each green card category: 

  • Immediate Family Members Visas - Immediate family members of U.S. citizens can qualify for a green card. This category of green cards is for those who are:
    • Spouses of U.S. citizens
    • Unmarried children under 21 with one U.S. citizen parent
    • Parents of a U.S. citizen under 21
    • Step children or step parents of a U.S. citizen, depending on the age of the child
    • Someone who adopted or was adopted by a U.S. citizen, depending on the age of the child at the time of adoption
  • Marriage Visas - Marriage has special procedural rules. The BCIS can grant "conditional permanent residence" for those who are married to U.S. citizens while the full green card application process is completed.
  • Work Visas - Those moving to the United States because of a certain type of skill for employment may qualify for a green card if they fall into one of the preference categories established by the United States government. These preference categories are very limited and specific about the criteria required to receive a green card. Further, quotas are established for each of these preference categories.
  • Long Term Illegal Residents - Some individuals who have resided illegally in the United States for a long period of time may be eligible for a green card if:
    • The illegal resident's immediate family members are U.S. citizens
    • The immediate family members would suffer undue hardship were the illegal resident forced to leave

Beware - See your immigration attorney before attempting to get a green card through these methods. You may bring your illegal residence in the United States to the attention of the BCIS and be forced into deportation proceedings instead of getting a green card.

The Green Card Application Process

Getting your application for a green card processed and approved by the BCIS has many steps: 

  • Get a sponsor - A sponsor can be a relative who is a United States citizen or an employer
  • Apply to a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country - if you are already in the United States on valid visa, you can apply here
  • The BCIS will check to see if you are "inadmissible" - inadmissible is defined by many categories such as: mental or physical disorders, a past conviction of a crime, or prior activity deemed subversive

Should I See an Immigration Attorney when I Apply for a Green Card?

The BCIS has many forms and procedural requirements for those who wish to apply for a green card. An immigration attorney is familiar with all these procedures and will help your application process move smoothly. An immigration attorney can also help you determine whether you would be eligible for a green card under a preference category or as an immediate family member.

Vea esta página en español: Visas Permanentes o Green Cards o visita para más información legal.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 03-05-2018 01:39 AM PST

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