For a foreign alien wishing to live, work, and/or build a life in the United States, a green card, also known as Law Permanent Residency, is the most coveted status there is.
A green card holder has nearly equal rights as a U.S. citizen, being allowed the most expansive privileges and rights that can be granted under current U.S. immigration laws.
Even though a green card holder is technically called a Lawful Permanent Resident, a green card does in fact expire after ten years. Renewal is generally a straightforward process unless one of the following situations has occurred:
- The green card holder has committed a serious crime
- The green card application was later to discovered to be fraudulent or in omission of important information
- Being out of the country for over 180 days in any 12-month period.
Should any of the above situations occur, green card status comes under review.
How To Get a Green Card
Getting a green card is generally a multi-step process. There is usually an immigrant petition to be approved by the USCIS, typically filed by an employer or relative. Then an immigrant visa number is issued, at which point the applicant can petition for a change of status.
In most cases, here are the four most common pathways to obtaining a green card:
- Family member sponsorship – A relative living in the U.S. who is either a citizen or a lawful permanent resident may sponsor the green card applicant. A spouse or unmarried child under 21 can apply for an immediate green card.
- Employee sponsorship – A U.S. company having a need for the talents and abilities of foreign workers can sponsor an alien for green card status. In cases where a foreign national meets the criteria of “alien of extraordinary ability,” he/she can self-petition without requiring employee sponsorship.
- Be selected in the Green Card Lottery – Also called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program), this “lottery” grants up to 50,000 visas to random petitioners from countries that have lower than typical U.S. immigration rates. The U.S Department of State oversees the DV Program.
- Refugee Status – Foreigners who can prove that they are being persecuted in their home country can qualify as a refugee. The burden of proof of persecution falls lies with the foreigner who desires refugee status, who must prove persecution on the grounds of one of the following:
- National origin
- Political affiliation
- Social status
The USCIS has created a “preference system” that determines the order in which certain categories of foreign alien are granted green card status. The preference order is as follows:
- Unmarried children of United States citizens who have reached the age of 21.
- Spouses of lawful permanent residents and their unmarried dependents under the age of 21
- Married, adult children of U.S. citizens
- Siblings of U.S. citizens
The Visa Bulletin at the U.S. DOS displays the wait length necessary to apply for a green card, based on the preference category you fall into. This stipulation does not apply to immediate relatives, who may apply immediately.