Five Main Ways to Get a U.S. Green Card
There are many benefits of obtaining a U.S. green card. Also known as permanent residency, a green card entitles one to a number of important benefits, including: the freedom of movement, freedom to work and live in the U.S., the ability to sponsor relatives into the U.S., the ability to obtain U.S. citizenship, possession of certain legal rights, and, most importantly, permanent legal immigration status. With many non-immigrant visas, a foreign national is only allowed a specific status for a short period of time. A green card, however, confers permanent status on an immigrant so that, generally, he or she does not need to worry about reapplying for extension of status, instead, only having to renew green card every 10 years. There are Five Main Ways to Get a Green Card allowing a foreign national to remain in the United States permanently.
Family – Based Sponsorship
The most common way to get a green card is through family based sponsorship, where an immediate U.S. Citizen relative (spouse, parents and minor children of U.S. citizens) files a petition for the foreign national. There are two ways allowing a U.S. Citizen to file a petition for a relative who intends to immigrate to the US:
1. File a petition with USCIS if the intending immigrant is residing in the U.S. and if he or she has entered by lawful means through a U.S. port of entry and was properly inspected upon their entry.
2. When the intending immigrant resides outside the U.S., he will need to go through consular processing to obtain a visa at a U.S. embassy abroad after his US Citizen relative files a petition in the U.S.
Extended family members may also petition for their foreign national relatives, however, these types of visas are limited and are subject to a waiting period defined by the Visa Bulletin. The visa bulletin lets you know when it’s time to claim your green card. Because the number of intending immigrants generally exceeds the available immigrant visas, there is virtually always a wait for family preference categories (non-immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens).
In this case, the available immigrant visas (green cards) will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis for each category. Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems and priority dates on the Visa Bulletin. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until a visa becomes available to them in order to proceed with their immigrant visa applications. When the immigrant’s priority date becomes current based on the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can continue with their immigrant visa application.
Individuals who are subject to numerical limitations should be familiar with the term “priority date”. A priority date is the date when the relative or employer filed the immigrant visa petition on the foreign national’s behalf with the USCIS. The visa waiting list refers to those cases where the petition from the US sponsor has been approved, but the process cannot continue because of the limits on the number of visas and the per country limits. Based on the Department of State, family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year.
Employment – Based Sponsorship
If one has the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and is otherwise eligible, he or she may be able to live permanently in the United States. If a foreign national has a job offer in the U.S., he or she may obtain a work visa, such as an H, L, or any other work visa, and that same employer may petition for their green card by following the process known as labor certification (PERM).
Every fiscal year (October 1st – September 30th), approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are made available to qualified applicants. Employment based immigrant visas are divided into five preference categories. Certain spouses and children may accompany or follow-to-join employment-based immigrants. To be considered for an immigrant visa under some of the employment-based categories below, the applicant's prospective employer or agent must first obtain a labor certification approval from the Department of Labor. When received, the employer then files an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140, with the USCIS for the appropriate employment-based preference category.
These employment-based (EB) “preference immigrant” categories include:
Employment First Preference (E1) Priority Workers, Employment Second Preference (E2): Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability; Employment Third Preference (E3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and unskilled workers (other workers); Employment Fourth Preference (E4): Certain Special Immigrants; Employment Fifth Preference (E5): Immigrant Investors.
Some immigrant visa preferences require a foreign national to already have a job offer from a U.S. employer. This employer will be considered a sponsor. For some visa categories, before the U.S. employer can submit an immigration petition to USCIS, the employer must obtain an approved labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL labor certification verifies the following: that there are insufficient available, qualified, and willing U.S. workers to fill the position being offered at the prevailing wage, that hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers
Investment – Based Immigration EB-5
One employment-based (EB) “preference immigrant” category includes foreign nationals who have invested or are actively in the process of investing $1 million (or $500,000 in targeted employment areas) in a new commercial enterprise that will benefit the U.S. economy and create at least 10 full-time positions for qualifying employees. These foreign nationals are also called “EB-5 immigrant investors” because they are in the employment-based fifth preference visa category.
Under EB-5 category, 10,000 visas are available annually to qualified individuals seeking permanent resident status on the basis of their engagement in a new commercial enterprise.
An investor can either get a green card alone or along with the spouse and unmarried minor children. He must have either already invested or actively in the process if investing the required amount of capital into a new commercial enterprise established by them. It must also be shown that the investment will benefit the U.S. economy and create the requisite number of full-time jobs for qualified persons within the US. Eligible individuals are those who: create a new business; purchase an existing business with simultaneous or subsequent restructuring or reorganization resulting in a new commercial enterprise; or investment of the amount required for a substantial change such as expansion.
The form that needs to be submitted to apply for EB-5 visa is I-526 Immigration Petition by Alien Entrepreneur along with the supporting documents and filing fee. Once the petition is approved, the alien may become a conditional resident either by Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing. Conditional green card received initially will expire within two years, after which, in order to become a lawful permanent resident, eligible investor must file Form I-829 within 90 days before the second anniversary of his admission to the U.S. as a conditional resident.
Diversity Green Card Lottery
Diversity Lottery Program is intended to give an immigration opportunity to the persons from the countries that do not send too many people to the United States.
Every year the Department of State allocates up to 50,000 immigrant visas to a special class of immigrants knows as “diversity immigrants” for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. This Program is designed to allow nationals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to come to the U.S. In order to qualify for a diversity visa (and a green card) you must be a native of a country participating in the Diversity Visa Program. Participants are drawn form the randomly selected entries from the persons who meet strict eligibility requirements.
There is, however, a small number of lottery winners each year who, at the time of “winning the lottery,” are residing in the United States in a nonimmigrant or other legal status. For these winners residing inside the United States, USCIS processes adjustment of status applications.
To adjust status under the DV Program, an applicant must establish that you:
• He has been selected for a diversity visa by DOS’s lottery;
• Has an immigrant visa immediately available at the time of filing an adjustment application (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status); and
• Is admissible to the United States.
Asylum and Special Immigrant Visas
To obtain a green card based on asylum, the foreign national must demonstrate that he is a refugee who is either unable or unwilling to return to his country of nationality or country of last habitual residence, as a result of persecution on the basis of one of the five statutorily protected grounds including: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Upon grant of asylum, a petitioner will be allowed to live and work in the U.S. and to apply for permanent resident status one year later. One may apply for asylum regardless of his or her immigration status, meaning that you may apply even if you are illegally in the U.S., however, you must always qualify for asylum under the definition of refugee. The USCIS will determine your eligibility based on information you provide on your application and during an interview with an Asylum Officer or Immigration Judge. To apply for asylum, you will need to complete a USCIS Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal). There is no fee for this application. To apply with the USCIS send your application to the USCIS Center that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. If you are in proceedings before an Immigration Judge, you should file the form with the Immigration Court.
In order to travel abroad when you are in the process of applying for asylum, you must receive advance permission before you leave the US to return. This petition is called Advance Parole, if you do not submit application for advance parole prior to leaving the country your application for asylum will be deemed abandoned and you may not be allowed to return to the U.S.
Work authorization: Asylum applicants may only apply for employment authorization 150 days after the USCIS received a complete application for asylum. The USCIS will have 30 days to either grant or deny your request for employment.
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