Green Cards

How To Get A Green Card

One of the broadest questions in U.S. immigration law is how to get a green card. Most applicants need an approved immigrant visa petition in order to obtain lawful permanent residence, and that usually requires a sponsor. Immigrant visa petitions may be employment-based or family-based. There are limited exceptions – EB1A aliens of extraordinary ability and EB-2 National Interest Waivers allow the foreign worker to self-petition, and the Diversity Visa Lottery requires a registration and winning entry, but no petition.

Employment-based applicants need sponsorship by a US employer, and family-based applicants need sponsorship by a qualifying family member. The majority of all immigrant visa categories (employment and family based), are subject to annual quotas, which may entail a wait of some years until a visa is currently available. Once the relevant quota is current, up to at least the filing date for the underlying petition, can an application be filed. Once the priority date for a petition is current, an applicant outside the US can apply for an immigrant visa, and an applicant present in the US and maintaining valid visa status can apply for adjustment of status. Only “immediate relatives” are not subject to any quota: this category is limited to spouses of US citizens, minor children of US citizens, and parents of adult US citizens. There are some narrow exceptions to this rule, so your individual case should always be discussed with counsel, especially if present in the US but not maintaining a valid status.

Employment-Based Categories: Green Cards Through Work

Most employment-based visas require a permanent, full-time job offer from an employer in the United States, but not all. Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, those who qualify for a National Interest Waiver, and Immigrant Investors are able to sponsor themselves, but all others will require a full-time, indefinite job offer from a US employer.

The most common employment-based green cards entail a test of the labor market by the US employer, who must advertise according to a strict set of rules to look for any available US workers who have all the minimum qualifications required for the offered job. If the employer fails to find a qualified American worker for the job, the employer may file an application for permanent alien labor certification with the US Department of Labor. This is known as a “labor cert” or “PERM” case. If the Department of Labor approves the application, certifying that there are no US workers qualified, willing and available to fill the position, the employer may then file an immigrant visa petition with USCIS on behalf of the worker. This will be an “EB-2” or employment-based second preference case if the job requires an advanced degree or a Bachelor’s degree and five years of progressive post-baccalaureate full-time work experience, and it will be an “EB-3” or employment-based third preference case if the job requires a bachelor’s degree, or work experience only.

Due to quota backlogs, even with a successful test of the labor market and a suitable job offer from a willing sponsor, the work-based green card process often involves a wait of several years.

Employment categories that require a job offer by a sponsor but do not involve labor certification include the Outstanding Researcher or Professor, the Multinational Manager or Executive, and certain Special Immigrants.

A breakdown of all categories of employment-based visas is provided on a separate page, listing the basic requirements for each category.

Family-Based Categories

There are green cards available through family relationships for spouses of US citizens, as well as for children, parents and siblings, and for the spouses and unmarried children of Lawful Permanent Residents. A child cannot sponsor a parent until that child reaches age 21. All of these categories entail waits of assorted lengths, depending on the relationship. They are grouped into Immediate Relatives, and the four Family-Based Preference Categories, each of which is defined in Family-Based Immigrant Visas.

A visa is always deemed “immediately available” in the Immediate Relative category, but this does not mean the process is instantaneous for the relative living abroad. However, if a foreign national obtains residence based on a recent marriage to a US citizen, they get a two-year Conditional Residence status, and must file an affirmative application to remove that condition before the two-year anniversary of the card.

Once a person is granted unconditional status as a Lawful Permanent Resident, or green card holder, he or she will receive a Form I-551 Alien Registration Card valid for 10 years. The card must be renewed at 10-year intervals, but the status itself does not expire. However, many actions can terminate residence, such as certain crimes, and absences from the United States of a year or more.

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