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A Guide to Obtaining a Green Card in the United States

Are you dreaming of permanently residing in the United States? Understanding the process of obtaining a Green Card is essential for making that dream a reality. A Green Card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, grants individuals the privilege of living and working in the United States permanently. With various ways of obtaining a Green Card and eligibility criteria, navigating through the application process can be complex. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of obtaining a Green Card in the United States, including the different types, eligibility requirements, application procedures, and the significance of immigration laws and policies.

In the United States, a Green Card is a gateway to permanent residency and opens doors to numerous opportunities. There are different types of Green Cards, such as employment-based, family-based, and special immigrant Green Cards, each independently having specific eligibility criteria. Understanding the eligibility requirements for each type of Green Card is crucial in determining which path to choose towards permanent residency. In this article, we will explore the various types and eligibility requirements of Green Cards.

Navigating the application process for a Green Card involves understanding the filing procedures, documentation requirements, and the intricacies of immigration laws and policies. From filing the immigrant petition to choosing between consular processing and adjustment of status, each step in the process is vital and can significantly impact the outcome of the application. This article aims to shed light on the complexities of the application process, providing understanding of the necessary forms and supporting documentation to submit and the role of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as the agency that issues the Green Cards. If you are considering applying for a Green Card, this guide will provide you with sufficient information to determine which pathway to go towards and potentially seek legal help from a U.S. immigration attorney.


What is a Green Card?

A Green Card, formally known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document that grants an individual the right to live and work permanently in the United States. As of 2019, an estimated 13.9 million people have become U.S. lawful permanent residents and fulfilled their long-term dream.

Green Card holders or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) gain several rights; one of them being that they become eligible to apply for naturalization or U.S. citizenship after meeting certain requirements. The road to obtaining a Green Card typically involves a sponsorship, either by a family member who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, or by an employer. Other paths include refugee or asylee status and humanitarian programs.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency responsible for processing Green Card applications. Throughout this complex process, applicants may choose to consult an immigration lawyer to navigate the various forms and requirements. Green Cards can be classified into several categories, such as employment-based or diversity lottery. Each category serves a different population of foreign nationals, reflecting the diverse tapestry of individuals who seek a new life in the United States.

Types of Green Cards

There are multiple ways in which foreign nationals can obtain their permanent residence in the U.S. The primary categories for obtaining a Green Card encompass employment-based, family-based, and special immigrant classifications, each with its unique set of criteria and processes. These categories are designed to cater to a diverse array of individuals, ranging from professional workers to those with extraordinary abilities to relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as members of special groups such as religious workers or citizens of certain countries.

Employment-Based Green Cards

Employment-based green cards offer foreign nationals an opportunity to settle and work in the United States while contributing to its economy. There are five distinct employment-based visa preference categories, known as EB1 to EB5, catering to professionals with varying levels of skills, experience, and investments. The EB1 Visa, dedicated to ‘Priority Workers,’ is reserved for individuals who demonstrate outstanding expertise, internationally recognized professors and researchers, or certain multinational executives and managers.

The process for obtaining an employment-based green card generally involves three key steps. Some of the preference categories require a job offer from an U.S. employer and a labor certification by the U.S. Dept. of Labor before applying with immigration. Then followed by the U.S. employer or self-petitioner (for example, EB-1As) filing an immigrant petition with USCIS. With certain exceptions, majority of these employment-based preference categories requires receiving a bona job offer from a U.S. individual employer or entity.

Family-Based Green Cards

Family-based green cards represent a path to permanent residency for the family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, including spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, parents, and siblings. Depending on whether the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident will determine on how to apply for the green card.

Same-sex couples enjoy the same rights as opposite-sex couples when applying for a family-based green card, if they can prove that the marriage ls legitimate. Additionally, even widows and widowers of U.S. citizens may still receive their green cards despite, their spouses passing away.

Immediate relatives (spouses, children under 21 in some scenarios, and parents) of U.S. citizens have a particularly advantageous position within family-based green cards since there are no numerical caps on green cards for these applicants, which typically results in faster processing times.

Special Immigrant Green Cards

In addition, there are special immigrant green cards dedicated to specific groups. These include certain religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, employees of international organizations, American Indians born in Canada, as well as citizens of countries like Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan who have held roles serving the U.S. government.

To qualify for a special immigrant green card, applicants must satisfy criteria related to their employment, religious affiliation, or historical service to the U.S. One special immigrant group is religious workers – among the various requirements, they coming to the U.S. to work full-time as a minister or in a religious vocation and employed by an organization. If a foreign national qualifies, the process starts by the U.S. employer filing Form I-360 – Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. These groups provide alternative pathways to obtain U.S. permanent residency for those who may not qualify for other types of green cards.

The green card process varies significantly across categories and individual circumstances, affecting processing times which can span months to over a decade. Exploring all available options and understanding each category’s specific criteria is crucial for those seeking to navigate the complexities of U.S. immigration laws and realize their aspirations for residency and citizenship.

Eligibility and Criteria

Navigating the eligibility and criteria for obtaining a U.S. Green Card may appear daunting, but understanding the distinct paths and their respective requirements can make the process straightforward. With various routes available, from employment-based excellence to special abilities and family ties, immigrants must evaluate which criteria they meet. Prospective applicants should consider factors such as extraordinary or exceptional abilities, achievements in academia, religious work qualifications, or the nature of their familial relationships with U.S. residents or citizens. Thorough assessment and adherence to immigration laws pave the way toward achieving permanent resident status.

Employment-based Preference Category: EB-1A, Extraordinary Ability

For foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in their field, the EB-1A visa preference category is an attractive option, because they can apply by themselves by filing the Form I-140 petition; no job offers required.

To qualify, individuals must possess exceptional talents and achievements in their respective fields (sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics). Also, coming to the U.S. to continue working in their field and this will bring substantial benefits to the U.S.

Employment-based Preference Category EB-2: National Interest Waiver

Individuals with an advanced degree or those with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business, can seek their permanent residence through this employment-based immigrant visa. Just like EB-1A professionals, there are certain professionals that can self-petition under a national interest waiver and do not need an employer to sponsor them. This means that they are requesting that the job offer (and labor certification) be waived because it is in the interest of the U.S. The process begins by filing the Form I-140 petition and including evidence of the individual’s advanced degree or exceptional ability as well as their proposed plan to open a business that will be of national importance and substantial merit.

Employment-based Preference Category: EB-1B, Outstanding Professors and Researchers

Outstanding professors and researchers in the academy field can gain permanent residence through the EB-1(B) category. Applicants must show international recognition for their outstanding achievements in their field. Additionally, they must have several years of experience in teaching or performing research in their academic area. Like most of the employment-based immigrant categories, the EB-1B requires an offer of employment at a university, institution of higher education or private employer. However, it does not require a labor certification.

Employment-based Preference Category: EB-4, Religious Workers

Religious workers have a unique place within the green card system, eligible under the EB4 category and required to have a minimum of two years of affiliation with a recognized U.S. religious organization. The application process commences with the filing of Form I-360, which may be submitted by an employer or directly by the applicant. The role of religious workers serves a distinct societal contribution, which U.S. immigration policy acknowledges and supports by offering this special immigrant category.

Family-based Green Cards through Foreign Spouses

Getting married with a U.S. citizen enables a direct path to the green card for foreign spouses, allowing them to apply immediately for both the I-130 immigrant petition and the green card application upon marriage, provided that the marriage is proven to be legitimate.

Spouses of green card holders (LPRs) do not have this advantage and must first verify that the priority date assigned to the Form I-130 immigrant petition is current before the foreign spouse can apply for the green card either in the U.S. or through consular processing.

Moreover, those engaged to U.S. citizens can be sponsored under a fiancé/fiancée visa, which would then allow them to enter the U.S. rapidly within 90 days to get married and later apply for their green card within the U.S.

The Green Card Application Process: Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing

The path of applying for the green card is a multi-step process that begins with first choosing what type of green card the individual will apply under and then ending with obtaining U.S. permanent residence. Depending on where the foreign national will apply for their U.S. permanent residence will determine if they apply for Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing.

The general application process often includes filing an immigrant petition, such as an I-130 for family-based visa, or an I-140 for employment-based visa. Then if that petition’s visa priority date is current, which is determined by the Dept. of State’s monthly visa bulletin, that individual can apply for adjustment of status if he or she resides within the U.S. or if abroad then it is through consular processing.

Those applying through consular processing, file their immigrant visa application, submit their civil documentation, and then attend an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Those applying for adjustment of status, here in the U.S. after filing the Form I-485, Application must attend a biometrics appointment at a local USCIS office. At this biometrics appointment, USCIS officials will take your fingerprints, photo, and signature. They use these to run background checks and for identification purposes. Once USCIS determines that the applicant has submitted all the requirements, depending on the type of green card being sought will determine if the applicant is scheduled an interview at a local USCIS field office or not.

Regardless of which way the foreign national applies under, in addition to the immigration forms, he or she must submit civil documentation (such as birth certificate, marriage certificate – if applicable, passport, visa, Form I-94 -if applicable) and undergo a medical examination performed by a designated physician.

Filing the I-130 Petition

The path to a marriage-based green card starts with filing the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) must complete this form to establish the relationship with the foreign family member. For spouses or other immediate relatives of U.S. citizens present in the U.S., the Form I-130 can be filed concurrently with the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, facilitating an expedited process as they do not have to wait for a visa to become available. Spouses of LPRs may also file the I-485 concurrently if the F2A category in the Visa Bulletin is current. For foreign spouses residing outside the U.S., the concurrent filing of I-130 and I-485 is not applicable, and they must wait for consular processing.

Immigration Laws and Policies

U.S. immigration laws and policies are complex and therefore, requires the guidance and advice of an immigration attorney that will assist in determining the best pathway to obtaining a green card.

With policies ranging from family-based immigration to employment opportunities, as well as humanitarian programs such as refugee/asylum status, the Diversity Visa Program, and visas for victims of crime, etc.

Visa Bulletin

The Visa Bulletin, a critical tool for anyone pursuing a green card either as adjustment of status, or through consular processing and it is issued monthly by the Department of State. The Visa Bulletin informs applicants of the current priority dates, which determines when they can either file for adjustment of status or initiate consular processing. It’s essential for applicants to consult the bulletin regularly as it shows two key tables: Application Final Action Dates and Dates for Filing. Note that Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Philippines’ nationals have a separate table designated for each of their countries within each of the lists. For either family-based or employment-based visa categories, there have been backlogs recently due to a higher demand for visas, and thus applicants in certain categories could be waiting extended period to become current again.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

USCIS is the agency of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security that oversees the country’s naturalization and immigration system. USCIS processes immigrant visa petitions, naturalization applications, asylum applications, green card applications and refugee applications. It is also responsible for administering other immigration services and benefits such as employment authorization documents, and petitions for temporary workers (H-1B, O-1, etc.).

Because immigration laws and policies are constantly changing, it is advised to follow USCIS’ website and other immigration designated websites for these updates.

Working with an Immigration Lawyer

Working with an Immigration Lawyer

Immigration attorneys assist clients in interpreting immigration laws and understanding their rights and options. Also, they guide clients through the entire immigration process including the green card application and preparing the necessary documentation to file with USCIS. If the client’s case is transferred to immigration court, an immigration attorney can represent them in legal proceedings related to immigration matters.

Because U.S. immigration law is federal and is administered by the federal government, immigration attorneys can practice in any state within the U.S. Here, at Gondim Law Corp. although we are in California, we are ready to assist you with any type of immigration legal matter anywhere within the U.S.

Services Offered by Immigration Lawyers
– Guidance in Naturalization and Green card applications
– Assistance with complex immigration eligibility issues
– Representation in removals proceedings
– Filing temporary visas



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