What Is a Green Card?

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 What is a Green Card?

Green cards or permanent visas allow individuals to permanently live and work in the United States after they migrate from another country. It is important to note that not every immigrant is eligible for permanent residence in the United States, as a green card is typically issued in relation to certain types of immigration pathways.

These pathways may include:

  • Marriage visas;
  • Family member visas; and
  • Certain types of work visas.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency that oversees green cards. Individuals can qualify for green cards in different categories.

There is a limit, or quota, for each category on the number of green cards which may be issued to individuals in those categories. Green card categories include:

  • Immediate family members visas;
  • Marriage visas;
  • Work visas; and
  • Long term illegal residents.

What is a Permanent Resident?

Permanent residents of the United States are individuals who have been granted the right to remain in the United States on a permanent basis. Lawful permanent resident (LPR) status gives an individual the right to work as well as live in the United States.

A permanent resident, however, is not a citizen of the United States. Therefore, they do not share the same privileges as United States citizens, including the right to vote in elections.

Individuals who obtain lawful permanent residence status take important steps towards remaining in the United States permanently. Individuals are required to obtain lawful permanent resident status prior to being able to become United States citizens.

Once non-resident individuals obtain immigrant status, they can apply to adjust their status to permanent resident status. When an individual obtains permanent resident status, it is the same as obtaining a green card.

Foreign nationals can obtain green cards in a number of different ways. The process may be complex and lengthy and depends on several factors, including:

  • The individual’s country of origin;
  • Whether the individual has any immediate family members that are United States citizens and/or permanent residents; and
  • Whether they are employed in the United States.

Who Can Apply for a Green Card?

There are several common categories of foreign nationals who can acquire a green card, including:

  • Family sponsorship;
  • Employment;
  • Special immigrant;
  • Refugee or asylum;
  • Victims of human trafficking and other victims of crime; and
  • Miscellaneous.

Foreign nationals can be sponsored for green cards by family members, spouses, or fiancés who are United States citizens, which is known as family sponsorship. The categories of relatives which provide the fastest path to acquiring green cates include immediate relatives of United States citizens, including:

  • Their spouses;
  • Their unmarried children under the age of 21; and
  • Their parents, if the sponsoring citizen is at least 21 years old.

Immigration marriage laws allow a foreign national to apply for a green card after they marry a United States citizen. Usually, an individual who is closely related takes priority over other types of relationships.

Those parties noted above take first priority. Other relatives, such as married children over the age of 21 as well as siblings will take a longer time to obtain green cards.

Relatives of permanent residents will also have longer waiting periods than relatives of United States citizens. Individuals may also obtain permanent resident status if they have specific employment-related skills which are valued in the United States.

For example, an individual with special abilities in one of the following categories may be granted permanent resident status:

  • Arts;
  • Sciences;
  • Business;
  • Education; and
  • Athletic fields.

Physicians and other individuals with advanced degrees are more likely to obtain green cards as well. Certain immigrant investors may also receive preference in the process of obtaining a green card.

Special immigrant categories includes specific types of individuals, such as:

  • Religious workers;
  • Certain juvenile immigrants;
  • International broadcasters; and
  • Others.

An individual who may fit into the category of refugee or asylum is typically required to show that they are fleeing from harsh circumstances in their country of origin. Refugees are individuals who are outside of their home countries due to well-founded fears of persecution based upon one of the following:

  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Nationality;
  • Political opinion; and
  • Membership in a certain social group.

An individual who is a victim of a crime or human trafficking may seek to obtain a green card. A victim of human trafficking as well as other victims of crime include victims of rape, abuse, and other crimes which intend to injure or victimize an innocent individual.

There are also other miscellaneous categories which an individual may fit into which may allow them to apply for a green card.

How is a Green Card Obtained?

A green card application usually requires several steps. The majority of pathways include obtaining a sponsor who will petition for the applicant to travel to the United States.

The applicant’s sponsor can be a relative, spouse, employer, or other individuals with a connection to the immigrant who is seeking a green card. The individual applying for the green card will then be required to cooperate with their sponsor as well as apply at the United States embassy or consular office in their home country.

This process may involve an extensive application process which includes:

  • Many forms;
  • Legal and medical documents;
  • Fees;
  • Account statements; and
  • Other documents.

What Does Admissibility Mean in Relation to Green Card Applications?

An individual will also be evaluated based on various admissibility requirements, including issues such as:

  • Whether the person has disorders, including:
    • mental;
    • emotional; or
    • physical;
  • Past convictions of crimes, as many different crimes can disqualify a person for green card eligibility;
  • Past instances of deportation/removal or bans on reentry; and
  • Whether the individual may become a public charge, which means that they will end up creating various problems for the community or becoming dependent on public welfare.

Based on these factors, green card status is typically granted to an immigrant with a good behavior record who has the potential to become an independent contributor to their community as well as to the economy.

Are There Alternatives to Getting a Green Card?

Yes, there may be alternatives available to obtaining a green card. One of the most commonly used is the Green Card Diversity Lottery, which is a program that provides up to 50,000 visas each year.

These visas are intended for individuals from countries that have low rates of immigration to the United States. An application is also required for this program.

As the name of the program suggests, it is a lottery, or game of change. Because of this, although it is possible for an individual to obtain a green card in this manner, it is not likely to occur.

Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Me with a Green Card Application?

It is essential to have the assistance of an immigration lawyer for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to a green card application. These applications can often be complex and lengthy due to the amount of requirements involved.

Your lawyer can advise you of the requirements, assist you with ensuring that they are all being met, and help the process go as quickly as possible for you. In addition, if you are required to attend an immigration hearing or meeting, your lawyer will represent you during the process.


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