When an immigrant receives lawful permanent residence status in the U.S., it is commonly known as getting a green card. Once granted, the recipient is authorized to live and work in the country permanently and enjoy the following benefits:
- Apply for U.S. citizenship after five years;
- Sponsor immediate family members to come to the U.S.;
- Receive Social Security benefits after working for at least 10 years; and
- Travel outside the country without your status being affected.
There are different ways of obtaining permanent residency and the green card. They include sponsorship by a family member or employer, obtaining refugee or asylee status, and self-petitioning through investment. In each case, you must be:
- The beneficiary of a qualifying immigrant petition (in most cases);
- Admissible to the U.S.;
- In one of the immigrant categories referenced in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
There must also be a visa available to you at the time you petition, or you may have to wait until one becomes available.
You may qualify for a green card under the family-based sponsorship category if you are:
- An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, such as a spouse, unmarried minor child or parent of a citizen over the age of 21;
- A family member not included in the above category. This includes unmarried children over 21, married children of any age, and siblings of a U.S. citizen over the age of 21;
- A family member of a current green card holder. This includes spouses and unmarried children.
The family member sponsoring you will file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. If they are a U.S. citizen and you are an immediate family member, you will qualify for a green card immediately. Other applicants will have to wait until a visa becomes available.
Employment or Investment-Based Sponsorship
You may qualify for permanent residency if you receive a job offer or intend to invest in the U.S. economy. Like family-based immigration, this category also makes green cards available to those who currently hold a certain occupation or used to hold one, such as religious workers, NATO-6 nonimmigrants, and Afghans or Iraqis who assisted the U.S. government.
If your employer is sponsoring you, they will file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. If you are self-petitioning as an entrepreneur or investor, you must convert your E-2 or EB-5 visa by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Refugee or Asylum Status
If you are a refugee, the law requires you to apply for a green card within one year of entering the U.S. Asylees must apply within a year of being granted asylum. In both cases, you are exempt from the requirement to have someone petition on your behalf.
Special Immigrant Programs
Most immigrants become green card holders through the categories described above, but there are some special immigrant programs that provide a route to permanent residency. They include:
- The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, or “green card lottery,” which grants up to 50,000 visas a year in a random drawing;
- Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens, within a certain time period;
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which helps foreign children who have been mistreated or abandoned by their parents; and
- Amerasian children fathered by a U.S. citizen and born in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam between January 1, 1951 and October 21, 1982.
An experienced immigration attorney can guide these applicants through the required steps for their category.
In each case, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will review your petition after it is filed and schedule an interview. If your application is successful, you will receive a green card that will be valid for 2 or 10 years.
At the Law Offices of Connie Kaplan, PA, we provide skilled, experienced, and empathetic representation in the fields of immigration and naturalization law. We will help you apply for a green card, immigration visa, and even asylum so that you can enjoy a better life in the U.S. For more information, contact us today!