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Submitting a Visa Petition for a Family or Employment Green Card

Note: Someone must first petition the U.S. government on your behalf before you can get a green card as an employee or family member. This process is referred to as a visa petition.

The first step towards obtaining a green card is to have someone sponsor you. This could be a family member who is a U.S. citizen. Or it could be a U.S. employer who wants you to work for them. After filing the petition and determining your eligibility, your sponsor is known as the "petitioner," and you become a "beneficiary." Once someone agrees to sponsor you, they must file a petition to get the ball rolling. While family members need to fill out a Petition for Alien Relative (I-130), there are a number of different employment-based petitions for immigrant or non-immigrant visas.

Continue reading for more about the green card application process, or the process by which you become a lawful permanent resident. Whether you obtain a green card through your employer or family, your green card will also provide you with employment authorization. Holding a green card, you will be able to remain in the United States and work as a legally documented person. It will, in some cases, protect against removal processes and deportation.

About The Petition for a Visa

You can obtain a green card through a variety of means, which the USCIS lays out here and the U.S. Department of State lays out here. One of these is family-based. Another is as an employment-based immigrant. You may also qualify to apply as a “special immigrant," which are immigrants that fall within certain religious and age-related categories. Whatever category you choose, you will end up with permanent resident status after you have been granted your green card, regardless of your category. Your immigrant status will become that of a green card holder.

The petition demonstrates your petitioner's interest in helping you immigrate. It also proves your sponsor's right and ability to do so. For family members, this often means establishing that the relationship is legitimate (often through a birth certificate or other legal document).

If your sponsor is a company, it typically must:

  • Prove that a labor certificate was granted
  • Show that it can actually employ you (often by submitting tax returns)
  • Attach a list of degrees or certifications required for the job
  • Include any other information necessary to demonstrate its intent to employ you

Finally, the petition will set forth how the application will proceed, whether through a consulate outside of the U.S. or through the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lays out the filing fees on the USCIS website. In your country of origin, you can obtain more information and handle various aspects of the application at a U.S. embassy wherever you are located.

Be Prepared To Wait in Line

When the USCIS approves your petition, it sets your place on the waiting list. Some categories of immigrants only receive a certain amount of green cards per year. Establishing your place in line is extremely important. Other categories of immigrants, such as close relatives of US citizens, typically don't have limits on the number of green cards offered.

The date your sponsor sent in the visa petition is your "priority date." It is advised that you check the State Department's website in the Visa Bulletin section to see which priority dates are allowed to move forward with filing for a Green Card. What date you'll need to reference depends on your preference category, determined by your relationship to the sponsor.

Backlogs have been reported. Processing times can vary. Expect longer than normal wait times. If you self-petition, be particularly mindful that additional delays may be part of your process in obtaining a green card.

Immediate Relatives Get Priority

Immediate relatives such as parents, minor children, spouses, or minors of a U.S. citizen don't have priority dates. They usually don't have to wait like those in other immigrant categories. If the visa applicant is already living inside the U.S. legally, the entire process can be completed under an "adjustment of status." This procedure lets the entire process be completed entirely in the U.S. Applicants can even submit the adjustment of status paperwork at the same time as the petition. Note that immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally cannot normally benefit from the adjustment of status option. In family-based immigration, foreign nationals receive priority in immigration processes.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

Under this program, the United States runs a lottery. Immigrants are granted visas based on a random selection of any given migrant pooled in the lottery. If you are picked in this lottery, you will receive a Permanent Resident Card. The Immigration Act of 1990 established this program. Each year, 50,000 randomly selected immigrants are chosen for Permanent Resident Cards in this way. You can learn more about this lottery here. Immigrants applying for work authorization in the United States should be mindful of deadlines for submitting a request to be pooled into this lottery. In this lottery, recipients of the Permanent Resident Card also receive a diversity visa, detailed in the FindLaw article linked immediately above.

In any process for obtaining work authorization, it is beneficial for work applicants to hold advanced degrees, have participated in athletics programs in schools in their home country, and/or demonstrate some extraordinary ability. Receiving a job offer in the United States is also obviously beneficial. Holding such a Permanent Resident Card can also be a huge milestone if you intend to try to become a United States citizen. With the resident card, you can speed up your naturalization process in various ways. Keep in mind that evidence of exceptional ability will be favorable.

Getting Started With the Visa Petition and Immigrant Petition

To get started, your sponsor needs to draft a visa petition. Consider an immigration attorney. You can also learn more about the visa process at the State Department's website.

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