Critical Steps to Becoming a Green Card Holder
There are many considerations to keep in mind when applying for a green card. Applicants must determine if they are indeed eligible for the permanent residence card and if so, under which category they qualify.
To help you better understand the process, we’ve created a handy guide regarding the various categories and their requirements.
What is a Green Card? What are the Rights Associated with Green Cards?
Commonly referred to as a green card, the ID is actually called a permanent resident card. A green card holder, officially called a lawful permanent resident or LPR, has many rights including the right to live and work in the United States. LPRs can also travel and return from the country and petition for close family members to receive permanent resident cards as well.
Being a green card holder does not make you a citizen, meaning the holder cannot vote in U.S. elections or remain outside the country for unlimited amounts of time. They are however required to file state and federal income taxes and can still face deportation if convicted of certain offenses.
What are the Different Categories for Obtaining Green Cards?
The three most common categories for obtaining permanent residence cards are through family, employment or by refugee/asylee status. Other categories include the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (also known as the “green card lottery”), K Nonimmigrant (known as a fiancé(e) visa), the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
What are the Eligibility Requirements for Each Category?
Green card eligibility requirements vary widely by category and require different forms and documentation.
The following people may be eligible for a green card through family:
- Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens
- Other family members of U.S. citizens who fit into preference categories
- Certain family members of green card holders
- Family Members of defined special categories
People who immigrate to the U.S. through employment must fit into the following subcategories:
- Job offer of permanent employment
- Investment into enterprise
- Self-petition for foreigners with extraordinary talent or ability or for recipients of a National Interest Waiver
- Special job categories including armed forces members and religious workers
To obtain a green card through refugee or asylee status, you must first be in the country as a refugee or be qualifying family member of an asylee and/or have been granted asylum in the U.S., and then meet physical presence requirements.
Winners of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program must immigrate through consular processing in their own country.
K Nonimmigrant and Legal Immigration Family Equity Act categories apply to applicants who are:
- Fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens (k1)
- Minor children of U.S. citizens (k2)
- Spouses of U.S. citizens (k3)
- Stepchildren of U.S. citizens (k4)
Applicants who receive a green card through the Special Immigrate Juvenile Status must:
- Be foreign children residing in the U.S. who have a state court order finding that they have been victims of abuse, neglect or were abandoned by one or both of their parents
- Be unable to return to their previous country of residence
- Be unmarried and under the case of 21
- Not petition for green cards for siblings until U.S. citizenship is granted
How Do You Obtain a Green Card Legally Within the U.S. and Outside of the Country?
Individuals who already reside within the U.S. and wish to obtain permanent residency must apply for an adjustment of status. This processing allows applicants to stay in the country through the process, but they can also be granted work authorization and permission to leave the country for a short period of time.
If you are ineligible to stay in the country during the adjustment process, you must leave the country and apply for an adjustment of status through consular processing at your local embassy or consulate abroad. The process typically begins after your sponsor, be it a fiancé(e), family member or employer, has first submitted all the requirements to USCIS.
To determine if you must apply in or outside of the U.S., review the USCIS website and contact an attorney who specializes in immigration law.