As a non-US national either living in the USA or looking to establish a new life there, you may want to apply for lawful permanent residence, otherwise known as a getting a Green Card. The following guide looks at green card eligibility, from the most popular categories under which to make an application to how to apply.
A green card, or permanent resident card, is the permission provided by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to live and work in the USA on a lawful permanent basis. As a lawful permanent resident you will be given a photo ID card, namely your green card, to prove your status.
There are various different ways in which you can obtain a green card, although the highest numbers are issued annually to family members of US citizens and current green card holders, followed by workers from other countries seeking employment in the United States.
Other green card routes include the following:
- As a special immigrant
- Through refugee or asylum status
- For human trafficking and crime victims
- For victims of abuse
- Through other categories
- Through registry.
Under the “special immigrant” category you can apply as a religious worker; an Afghanistan or Iraqi national; an international broadcaster; an employee of an international organisation or family member, or NATO-6 employee or family member; and as a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ), ie; you are a child who has been abused, abandoned or neglected by your parent and you have SIJ status.
The “other categories” route again includes various specific subcategories, such as applicants selected for a diversity visa in the Department of State’s diversity visa lottery, otherwise known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.
Finally, under the “registry” category, you may be eligible for a green card where you have resided continuously in the United States since before 1 January 1972.
Family-based green card
The family route is where you are applying for a green card on the basis of your relationship with either a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident living in the United States who is prepared to file a petition on your behalf to sponsor you.
If you are the “immediate relative” of a US citizen you may be eligible to apply for a green card. The definition of immediate relative includes the following:
- The spouse of a US citizen, including the widows or widowers who were married to a US citizen at the time the citizen died
- The unmarried child under the age of 21 of a US citizen
- The parent of a US citizen where that citizen is over the age of 21.
You may also be eligible as a different family member of a US citizen, or as a relative of a lawful permanent resident, although extended family members, such as grandparents, will not qualify for a family-sponsored green card.
To be eligible as a relative other than an immediate relative of a US citizen, you will need to fall into one of the following five immigrant family-based preference categories:
- F1 first preference – for unmarried sons and daughters, aged 21 or more, of US citizens
- F2A second preference – for spouses and unmarried children, under 21 years of age, of lawful permanent residents
- F2B second preference – for unmarried sons and daughters, aged 21 or more, of lawful permanent residents
- F3 third preference – for married sons and daughters of US citizens
- F4 fourth preference – for brothers and sisters of US citizens, if the US citizen is aged 21 or more.
Employment-based green card
The employment route covers a number of different subcategories based, in most cases, on the applicant being sponsored by a US employer to remain in the country indefinitely on the basis of their work.
Under the employment-based green card route, as with the family-based route, there are various immigrant preference categories, namely:
- EB-1 first preference immigrant workers – for priority workers such as those with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim; or an outstanding professor or researcher; or a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria.
- EB-2 second preference immigrant workers – for members of a profession that requires an advanced degree; or have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; or are seeking a national interest waiver.
- EB-3 third preference immigrant workers – for skilled workers for jobs requiring a minimum of 2 years training or work experience; or workers performing unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience; or a professional whose job requires at least a US bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent, and is a member of the profession.
- EB-4 fourth preference immigrant workers – for special workers, including religious workers, broadcasters, armed forces members, and international employees of the US government overseas.
- EB-5 fifth preference immigrants – for immigrant investors, with a $1 million investment threshold in a new commercial enterprise in the United States, or $500,000 in a targeted employment area. The enterprise must also create jobs for 10 qualifying employees.
Under the EB-2 route, for second preference immigrant workers, a “national interest waiver” refers to where the usual labor certification requirement is waived on the basis that the applicant’s admission into the United States is in the national interest.
Am I eligible for a green card from within the USA?
It is entirely possible to make an application for a green card from within the United States. This is known as “adjustment of status”. This is where you adjust status from a temporary or nonimmigrant visa to an immigrant visa.
However, you will be barred from adjusting status unless you satisfy the following green card eligibility criteria:
- You were lawfully admitted into the United States in the first place
- Your existing nonimmigrant visa status remains valid
- You have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
- You have not violated the conditions of your admission.
How do I apply for a green card?
The application process for a green card will usually require completion of two main forms. First, your US sponsor will need to file an immigrant petition on your behalf, typically either Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
In the case of an EB-5 application, as an immigrant investor, you will need to file the petition for yourself, using Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor.
Once your petition has been approved by USCIS, you will then be able to file your actual green card application using Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, to go through consular processing from abroad, or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status from within the United States.
You may also be required to enrol your biometric information, namely, your fingerprints, signature and a photograph of your face, as well attend an interview where you will be questioned in detail about your green card eligibility.
How long will my green card application take?
The timescales involved for getting a green card can vary significantly depending on the category in which you are applying. For the preference based categories there can be significant wait times of up to several years. This is because the visa numbers are limited for each category on an annual basis.
Although in those categories where the green card eligibility criteria is especially stringent, thereby resulting in low applicant numbers, the wait time can still run into several months. Similarly, even though there is no quota for the immediate relative visa category, an application can take weeks if not months to process.
If you are applying under a preference-based category you will need to visit the monthly “Visa Bulletin” released by the Department of State on its website. This contains up-to-date information on the current availability of immigrant visa numbers, giving prospective applicants some indication of when best to apply.
NNU Immigration can help if you have a question about a Green Card
NNU Immigration’s specialist US immigration attorneys can help with all Green Card applications, including advice on eligibility and the application process.
If you have a specific question or require support with your application, please get in touch contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.