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Who May Obtain a Green Card?

A U.S. Permanent Resident Card is your ticket to living and working in the United States as a noncitizen. Although its color changes over time, the iconic green color of the card gave it its infamous nickname, the "green card." This card proves your immigration status and gives you access to various benefits while living in the United States.

The green card often remains valid for a certain number of years, and you must renew it as required to receive the benefits of permanent residency continuously. If you, the lawful permanent resident (LPR), don't renew, authorities may remove or deport you from the country.

Is your family member a U.S. citizen?

If you process the green card through a family-based petition, obtaining lawful permanent residence can be a relatively smooth process. Immediate family members of U.S. citizens, like their spouses or children under 21 years of age, have a more direct route.

The following relations qualify under this category, in no particular order:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers
  • Unmarried children under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • Parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is at least age 21
  • Stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child's 18th birthday, and
  • Adopted children of U.S. citizens, if the adoption took place before the child reached age 16

Extended family members are eligible to file a green card application, but it takes longer than immediate relatives. Under this category, they grant green cards to only 480,000 non-citizens annually on a first-come, first-served basis. So, the sooner the citizen relative turns in the petition, the sooner the non-citizen can file their green card application and obtain a green card. The wait in this category can be lengthy, varying from three to twenty-four years.

For detailed information on immigration eligibility and preference categories, you may visit this article by FindLaw.

Is your family member a lawful permanent resident?

LPRs may also petition certain family members to come to the U.S. as permanent residents. However, the family members they can petition are more limited than that of a U.S. Citizen. Here are the categories of family members that LPRs can petition:

  • Spouses of LPRs: They can petition their spouses to join them in the U.S. as LPRs
  • Unmarried children of LPs: They can petition their unmarried children under 21 years of age
  • Unmarried children of any age

If you are an LPR and want to obtain a green card for your family members mentioned above, you must do the following:

  • File Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
  • Provide proof that shows your status as a lawful permanent resident
  • Submit evidence that qualifies the relationship. These documents include a marriage certificate, birth certificate, divorce decrees, etc.
  • Submit evidence to show proof of any legal name change for you or your family member

How can I work in the U.S. while waiting for my green card?

If you are a foreign national already inside the United States, you may obtain a permit called the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This permit will allow you to work in the U.S. while processing your green card application. It functions the same as an employment-based nonimmigrant visa. The EAD card will also allow you to travel in and out of the country while processing your LPR application.

Do you have notable talent in your profession?

Non-citizens whose skills are needed in the USA may also file to obtain a green card. Like the extended family members, this classification also uses a preference category system. They admit only 140,000 workers yearly and use the preference category system. Like extended family members, workers can expect to wait years before their green card application gains permanent residency. Usually, the non-citizens must show proof that there is a job offer. In those cases, the employer must show that they recruited for the position in the USA and that no qualified US citizens could fill the position.

You may be eligible for a green card if you are a foreign national with notable talent or skills. This green card application is known as employment-based immigrants. Here, the U.S. immigration law gives foreign nationals various ways to obtain LPR status through employment.

Non-citizens who want to obtain a green card based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

First Preference (EB-1): Priority Workers. Priority workers include those with unique and advanced skills, education, or talents, such as:

  • Individuals who excel in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, or education
  • Exceptional professors and researchers
  • Supervisors and executives of global companies

Second Preference (EB-2): Professionals with extraordinary ability or advanced academic degrees

Third Preference (EB-3): Skilled Workers, professionals, and other qualified workers

Fourth Preference (EB-4): People in religious vocations and special immigrants, including:

  • Religious workers of legitimate religious organizations
  • Foreign medical graduates who have been in the USA since 1978
  • Former Panama Canal Zone employees
  • Foreign workers who were longtime employees of the U.S. government
  • Retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have lived in the USA for a certain period
  • Non-citizen workers employed by the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong for at least three years
  • Non-citizen children who have been declared dependent in juvenile courts in the United States
  • International broadcasting employees
  • Certain U.S. Armed Forces enlisted overseas have served for at least twelve years

Fifth Preference (EB-5): Investors wishing to invest at least $1,050,000  into a US business (or $800,000 in depressed economies). This investor must also have at least ten employees.

Is your country in this year's diversity visa lottery?

Every year, 50,000 immigrant visas are given through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program(DV Program). Here, a diversity visa lottery occurs, which is drawn randomly from a selection of foreign nationals from countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. The U.S. Department of State manages the DV Program.

Most diversity visa lottery winners are visa applicants outside of the country. They immigrate through the issuance of an immigrant visa and consular processing. However, there are a small number of individuals who, at the time of winning, are living in the U.S. with a nonimmigrant status. For these individuals, USCIS administers their adjustment of status.

Is your home country unsafe?

Asylum is used to refer to the protection of those noncitizens who are already currently living in the United States, whereas refugee refers to foreign nationals who live outside the U.S. and seek protection from the country. In most cases, these individuals are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to credible fear of persecution.

The U.S. immigration law allows an asylum seeker to apply for LPR status after being present in the U.S. for at least one year since being granted asylum status. For more information about how to get a green card as an asylee, you may visit this article by FindLaw.

Sometimes, members of Congress have helped non-citizens obtain permanent residence where the law would not allow it. These incidents have all been extraordinary cases that involved humanitarian reasons.

Would deportation cause major hardship?

Long-time residents who have lived in the USA for more than ten years can request permanent residence. This typically happens in deportation court proceedings, where the non-citizen requests permanent residence as a defense. The non-citizen must show that their U.S. citizen children or spouse would face extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship if deported. If this could apply to you, consult a lawyer. Going to USCIS to ask about this is dangerous because they could deport you.

Have you been living continuously in the U.S. since January 1st, 1972?

Non-citizens who have lived continuously in the USA since January 1, 1972, may apply for a green card. A green card through the registry is a part of immigration law that allows individuals living continuously in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, to apply for a green card. This applies even when the individual is living in the U.S. unlawfully.

However, the individual should meet the following eligibility requirements to avail of this benefit:

  • You are a person of good moral character
  • You are not ineligible for naturalization (citizenship)
  • You entered the United States before Jan. 1, 1972
  • You have lived in the United States continuously since you entered
  • You are not removable (deportable) under Section 237(a)(4)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). You are not inadmissible under Section 212(a)(3)(E) of the INA or as a criminal, procurer, other immoral person, subversive, violator of the narcotics laws, or noncitizen smuggler

For more information about the application process for a green card through the registry, you may visit this USCIS website.

Do you already have a non-immigrant visa?

You may be eligible for lawful permanent resident status if you have successfully qualified for a nonimmigrant temporary visa. This applies in particular in cases wherein the criteria of your green card align closely with your temporary visa. 

For instance, if you have an H-1B or work visa, you may temporarily live and work in the United States. However, foreign nationals with H1-B visas may transition to permanent resident status. The process to adjust status often involves a series of steps.

First, your employer will need to file an I-140 to sponsor you. Then, when your priority date becomes current, you should file form I-485 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This will allow you to maintain your lawful immigration status while processing your green card application. Also, to qualify for an employment-based green card, there should be a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you for that status.

Other types of nonimmigrant visas may allow you to transition your immigration status into LPR status. For more information, it is best to contact an immigration law attorney near you.

More questions about who may obtain a green card? Contact an Attorney

Green card holders enjoy various benefits as a permanent residents in the country, but the process of understanding this U.S. visa petition can be challenging and overwhelming. If you have any questions, you might want to contact an immigration law attorney.

Immigration attorneys can assist you with understanding the visa category applicable to your case. They can assist you in filing and processing your immigrant petition and provide you with updates such as recent visa bulletins. Due to their expertise, they can look at applicable waivers from requirements that may apply to your case.

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