One of the most coveted documents in the world is a green card issued from the United States. Formally recognized as a “permanent resident card”, this document renders any recipient a legal permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. Once you receive a green card, you are exposed to a world of possibilities in the United States: legal authorization to work, the ability to enter and leave the country without issue, and most importantly, being able to call the United States your permanent home.
To apply for a green card, you must be eligible under at least 1 eligibility categories as defined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereinafter USCIS). USCIS defines 8 broad categories of eligibility for a green card application:
– Family – Victims of Abuse
– Employment – Special Immigrants
– Refugee or asylee Status – Registry (in the U.S. before 1/1/1972)
– Human Trafficking and Crime Victims – Other (diversity visa, parolee programs etc.)
Each eligibility category has their own specific requirements in order to successfully apply for a green card. For example, if you are applying through family, you must have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. If you do, the potential applicant must be a fiancé, spouse, widower, unmarried child under 21, parent over 21, or a sibling.
If you want to apply for a green card through employment, a common pathway exists with a permanent labor certification. With collaboration from both the Department of Labor and USCIS, this option lets employers essentially sponsor an employee so that they can permanently work and live in the United States.
If you don’t have options through family or work, you could possibly be eligible through other categories. For example, if you suffered abuse, were the victim of certain crimes or endured trafficking, you may be eligible to apply for a T nonimmigrant visa, a U nonimmigrant visa, or a VAWA application. The T and U visa provisions offer applicants visas that eventually leads to an application permanent residency. Those granted asylee or refugee status are also eventually able to convert their status into permanent residency.
I’m Eligible for a Green Card! What’s Next?
If you or an attorney determines you are eligible for a green card through 1 or more of the 8 categories, it’s also critical that you are not found inadmissible to live in the United States. USCIS defines 8 categories of inadmissibility, including inadmissibility due to health, criminal reasons, lack of labor certification, fraud or misrepresentation and more.
Once again, in most categories of inadmissibility, there are further specifications that can jeopardize the approval of your green card application.
Some categories of inadmissibility are eligible for multiple waivers, which act as a sort of “forgiveness” application. Waivers are an additional application that sometimes help applicant’s get approved for a green card, even if found inadmissible in certain categories.
The only categories eligible for waivers include applicants found inadmissible due to: health related grounds, certain but not all criminal grounds, certain immigration fraud, the 3-year or 10-year bar due to unlawful presence and a few more.
However, not all grounds of inadmissibility may qualify for a waiver. If you are found inadmissible and also not allowed to apply for a waiver, it’s likely the path to a green card ends here.
I’m eligible and admissible. I want to get started!
Once your eligibility and admissibility for legal permanent residency are confirmed, the green card process begins!
Your immigration path includes a variety of forms, long lists of required documents and lots of patience. If you are inside the United States, you are likely able to apply from within the country and remain here while your application is pending. This is called an “Adjustment of Status.”
For those eligible for an Adjustment of Status, the one form they have in common is Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This is the primary form required for every green card application.
With any green card application, documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, visas, proof of presence in the United States and more are the norm. Your eligibility category determines the type of documentation you are required to submit. Thus, every green card application varies significantly.
Your eligibility category also indicates the additional specific forms needed for your application. Each category has its own separate set of forms and required information.
For example, if eligible through family, you must include Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Applying as U-visa applicant? You need form I-918 approved before even filling out Form I-485. Qualification through certain employment requires Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
If you are in the United States, once your application has been submitted, you just need to wait to be scheduled for your interview with an immigration officer in your city. In the meanwhile, you can obtain an employment authorization document (EAD) to legally work while waiting for your green card. You can even get permission to travel while waiting. Once you attend your interview and get approved, you receive your green card!
Not in the United States? No problem, but this means you undergo a different process known as Consular Processing.
First, you need an approved immigrant petition, such Form I-130. Assuming there are enough visas available to hand out that year, you submit a visa application to the Department of State for an immigrant visa. After an interview at a U.S. consulate in your home country and upon approval, you are issued a visa to legally enter and live the United States. From there, your green card arrives by mail!
FYI’s for LPR’s
Congratulations! With a green card, you are now permitted to legally reside in the United States and call the country your new permanent home. You must abide by the laws of the country and pay your taxes. You are free to travel with your birth country’s passport and you are also able to legally work.
A majority of green cards are issued for 10 years. If you achieved residency through your spouse, but were married for less then 2 years at the time, you will only receive a 2-year green card. Once the 2 years are up, you must apply to remove the conditions on your residency. Upon approval, a 10-year green card is granted.
Once you’ve had your green card for a certain amount of years, you can decide to naturalize and become a U.S. citizen! If a green card holder through marriage to a U.S. citizen spouse, you can apply after 3 years. The rest must wait for 5 years.
If you don’t naturalize, just continue to renew your green card when necessary!
Welcome to the United States!
Please note: None of the above should be construed as personal legal advice. Considering the complexity of immigration applications, and if you are interested in applying for a green card, please consult with an immigration attorney.