A green card is a permanent residence card that identifies its holder as a permanent resident of the United States. It grants them the right to enter, exit, work, and live in the United States for the rest of their lives -and eventually obtain naturalized citizenship. Before deciding to apply for permanent residence in the U.S., make sure that you’re eligible under one of the following categories;

  1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

When it comes to getting a U.S. green card and qualifying for it quickly, immediate relatives are at the top of the list. Immediate relatives include:

  • The spouses of U.S. citizens, including newly widowed or widowed individuals and same-sex spouses, are legally married as per the laws and rules of the state or country.
  • Spouse, Unmarried 
  • Child (under 21) & Parent of a U.S. Citizen.
  • Children have 21 years old age.
  • Unless the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child reached his 18th birthday, stepparents and stepchildren of U.S. citizens.
  • A child adopted from another country is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, provided that the adoption occurred before the child reached age 16 and other conditions are met.

Green cards are available to an unlimited number of relatives of U.S. citizens whose relatives submitted petitions on their behalf — applicants can receive their green cards immediately after completing the necessary paperwork and application process.

  1. Other Family Members of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents

Green cards can also be obtained by family members of citizens or permanent residents of the United States, but it takes time. Only a certain number of them (480,000 in total) will qualify for green cards each year because they fall into the “preference immigrant” categories listed below;

  1. Family First Preference (F1):
  • A U.S. citizen’s parents and unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of U.S. citizens.
  1. Family Second Preference (F2): 
  • F2A: Lawful permanent residents’ spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age).
  • F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of lawful permanent residents.
  1. Family Third Preference (F3:
  • Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  1. Family Fourth Preference (F4):
  • Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older).

Applicants’ “priority date” determines when an immigrant can apply for a green card – the sooner an immigrant submits form I-130, the sooner the immigrant can apply for a green card. Wait times are, however, impossible to predict. Waiting times may vary depending on the type of visa you’re applying for, your country of origin, how many other people in your country are applying for the same visa category, and the intensity of workload at the immigration agencies. 

Families of U.S. citizens who are citizens of the Philippines can get visa approvals within a short period (as is sometimes the case for spouses and minor children of permanent residents) or in 20 years (especially for siblings of Filipino citizens who are U.S. citizens). 

Note: Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and Philippine citizens tend to have the longest waits due to high demand.

  1. Preferred Employees and Workers, mainly with U.S. Job Offers

There are approximately 140,000 green cards available to individuals whose job skills are in demand in the U.S. market every year. Generally, employers must provide a job offer to immigrant candidates and a recruitment statement after confirming that no U.S. workers are qualified enough or willing to replace the immigrant. Applicants have to wait for years to apply for a green card due to the annual limit and preference categories given as below;

  1. Employment First Preference (E1)

Priority workers include;

  • People with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
  • Professors and researchers who are outstanding in their fields.
  • Multinational executives and managers.
  1. Employment Second Preference (E2)
  • Advanced degree holders or exceptionally capable professionals.
  1. Employment Third Preference (E3)
  • Skilled workers, professionals, or other workers. 

Employment Fourth Preference (E4)

  • There are also “special immigrants” who are religious workers, miscellaneous workers, and others.

Employment Fifth Preference (E5)

  • Foreign investors are interested in new commercial enterprises and ready to invest in them. It includes one-million-dollar investors who are likely to put $500,000 and five hundred-thousand-dollar investors willing to put $1 million into a U.S. business. They must have ten employees or more.
  1. Refuge and Asylum

In the United States, people who fear persecution or have been victims of it can seek refuge. If you are outside the United States, you have to submit a refugee claim, and if you are inside the U.S. or on the border, you have to submit an asylum claim. Persecution must be based on ethnicity, political opinion, nationality, religion, or membership in a particular social group. You do not qualify in either category if you only flee poverty or violence. A criminal record also hampers asylum eligibility.

If you have been granted asylum or refugee status for one year, you may apply for a green card. According to the law, refugees must apply for green cards within a year of receiving their status and physically residing in the U.S. But it is not compulsory for asylum seekers; they can wait as long as they like, but applying earlier is best. While your asylum status can be taken away if conditions in your home country change and your government determines it’s safe to return there.

  1. Annual Diversity Green Card Lottery

The People who belong to the countries where the lowest number of immigrants (currently 50,000) moved to the United States are eligible for green cards. 

  1. Special Immigrants

It is occasionally passed legislation providing green cards to people with special circumstances, such as young adults under the care of juvenile courts, international broadcasters, and retired federal employees abroad. 

  1. Long-Time Residents in the U.S.

In immigration court proceedings, individuals who have lived unlawfully (commonly referred to as illegally) in the U.S. for more than ten years may request permanent residence as a defense. These specific green cards are often called “cancellations of removal” or “ten-year green cards.”

In addition, if you were to be forced to leave and your spouse, child, or parent must face “exceptional hardship,” you can apply for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. 

For this, you should contact an attorney if you are unsure whether you qualify or not for a green card. Avoid contacting USCIS directly, as this may result in your deportation (removal). It is possible to apply for a green card if you have lived continuously in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, by using a procedure called “registry.” Applicants must review their moral character and prove that they are not inadmissible. 

  1. Special Cases

Various members of the U.S. legislature have intervened in extraordinary cases for humanitarian reasons, allowing someone to gain permanent residency despite laws to prevent it.

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