Obtaining permanent residency in the United States, also known as permanent residence green card, is a significant step towards building a life in the country. It provides individuals with the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. However, the process of acquiring a Green Card can be complex and requires careful navigation of the immigration system. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various pathways to obtaining permanent residency in the United States, including marriage-based sponsorship, employment-based sponsorship, and other avenues.
Marriage to a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident offers one of the most common pathways to obtaining a Green Card. The process involves sponsorship by the spouse who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
To be eligible for marriage-based sponsorship, the foreign citizen must be married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The marriage must be legally recognized and valid. The sponsoring spouse, known as the petitioner, must meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Have a bona fide marriage with the foreign citizen (not a marriage of convenience)
The process begins with the petitioner filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Along with the form, supporting documents, such as marriage certificates, proof of the petitioner’s U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, and evidence of the bona fide nature of the marriage, must be submitted.
If the marriage is less than two years old at the time the foreign spouse is granted permanent residency, they will receive conditional permanent residence. This means that the Green Card is valid for only two years.
To remove the conditions on permanent residence, the couple must jointly file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, during the 90-day period before the conditional Green Card expires. This petition serves as evidence that the marriage is genuine and not entered into for the purpose of evading immigration laws.
When filing Form I-751, the couple must provide evidence of their ongoing marital relationship. This may include joint financial documents, joint lease or mortgage agreements, joint utility bills, and other documents that demonstrate shared responsibilities and joint assets.
USCIS may request an interview with the couple to further evaluate the authenticity of the marriage. Upon approval, the conditions on permanent residence are removed, and the foreign spouse receives a 10-year Green Card.
Employment-based sponsorship is another common pathway to obtaining permanent residency in the United States. It requires an employer to sponsor the foreign employee for a Green Card based on their skills, qualifications, and job offer in the U.S.
The EB-1 category is reserved for individuals with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers or executives.
Foreign individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics may qualify for the EB-1A category. Extraordinary ability is demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim and recognition in the field of expertise. The individual must provide extensive documentation, such as awards, publications, memberships, and other evidence of their extraordinary ability.
Outstanding Professors and Researchers
The EB-1B category is for outstanding professors and researchers who have a job offer from a U.S. employer. The individual must have at least three years of experience in teaching or research and must be internationally recognized in their field. The employer must provide evidence of the job offer, the applicant’s qualifications, and the employer’s ability to support the position.
Multinational Managers and Executives
The EB-1C category is for multinational managers and executives who have been employed for at least one year by a multinational company outside the U.S. and are being transferred to a U.S. branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the same company. The employer must demonstrate that the individual has been employed in a managerial or executive capacity and will continue to fulfill similar duties in the U.S.
The EB-2 category is for professionals holding advanced degrees or individuals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business.
Advanced Degree Professionals
Foreign individuals with advanced degrees (master’s degree or higher) or exceptional ability in their field may qualify for the EB-2 category. The individual must have a job offer from a U.S. employer who is willing to sponsor their Green Card application. The employer must obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor to demonstrate that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the position.
National Interest Waiver
In certain cases, individuals with exceptional ability may qualify for a national interest waiver (NIW) under the EB-2 category. The NIW allows individuals to bypass the labor certification process if they can demonstrate that their work is in the national interest of the United States. This category is typically reserved for those who have made significant contributions to their field or whose work directly benefits the U.S. economy, culture, or society.
The EB-3 category is for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers who do not qualify for the EB-1 or EB-2 categories.
Skilled workers are individuals who have at least two years of job experience or training that is not temporary or seasonal. The job must require a minimum of two years of experience or training and cannot be filled by qualified U.S. workers.
Professionals are individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent and are members of professions that require at least a bachelor’s degree for entry. The job must be in a field related to the individual’s degree, and qualified U.S. workers should not be available to fill the position.
The other workers category is for individuals performing unskilled labor that requires less than two years of training or experience. The job must be full-time and permanent, and there must be a shortage of U.S. workers available for the position.
The EB-4 category is reserved for special immigrants, including religious workers, certain employees of international organizations, Afghan and Iraqi translators, and other eligible individuals.
Religious workers who are members of a recognized religious denomination and have been working in a religious capacity for at least two years may qualify for the EB-4 category. The religious organization must sponsor the individual for a Green Card and provide evidence of their qualifications and employment history.
Special Immigrant Juveniles
Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs) are foreign children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. They must have a valid court order determining that it is not in their best interest to return to their home country. SIJs must be under 21 years old and unmarried at the time of filing the Green Card application.
The EB-5 category is designed for immigrant investors who are willing to invest a significant amount of capital in a new commercial enterprise that creates jobs in the United States.
To qualify for the EB-5 program, individuals must invest either $900,000 in a targeted employment area (TEA) or $1.8 million in a non-TEA. They must also create or preserve at least ten full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within two years of receiving their conditional Green Card.
Family-based sponsorship allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to petition for their relatives to obtain permanent residency in the United States.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are given the highest priority in the family-based immigration system. Immediate relatives include spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
Immediate relatives are not subject to numerical limitations, which means there is no cap on the number of Green Cards issued each year in this category. The process involves submitting an I-130 petition, along with supporting documents, to establish the qualifying relationship.
Family preference categories are available for other close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who do not qualify as immediate relatives. These categories are subject to numerical limitations, and the availability of Green Cards may be limited.
The family preference categories include:
- F1: Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens
- F2A: Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of permanent residents
- F2B: Unmarried adult children of permanent residents
- F3: Married children of U.S. citizens
- F4: Siblings of U.S. citizens
The wait times for Green Cards in the family preference categories can vary significantly, with longer wait times for certain categories due to annual quotas and country-specific limitations.
The Diversity Visa (DV) lottery, also known as the Green Card lottery, is an annual program that provides an opportunity for individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to apply for a Green Card.
The DV lottery is administered by the U.S. Department of State, and a limited number of Green Cards are available each year. Eligible individuals must meet certain education or work experience requirements and be selected through a random computer drawing.
Winners of the DV lottery are chosen at random, and they undergo a thorough vetting process before being granted a Green Card. The lottery program aims to diversify the immigrant population by selecting individuals from a wide range of countries.
Individuals who have fled their home countries due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group may be eligible for asylum or refugee status in the United States.
Asylum seekers must be physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry to apply for asylum. They must file their application within one year of arriving in the country unless they can demonstrate changed circumstances or extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing earlier.
Refugees, on the other hand, must apply for refugee status from outside the United States. They undergo a rigorous screening process, including interviews, background checks, and medical examinations, before being admitted to the country as refugees.
Both asylum seekers and refugees may be eligible to apply for permanent residency after one year of continuous presence in the United States.
There are several special programs and circumstances that provide pathways to permanent residency for individuals who meet specific criteria.
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status is available to foreign children in the United States who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. To be eligible for SIJ status, the child must have a valid court order from a state juvenile court stating that they cannot be reunited with their parent(s) due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
Once granted SIJ status, the child can apply for permanent residency and eventually become a U.S. citizen.
Victims of certain crimes committed in the United States may be eligible for a U visa, which provides temporary legal status and the opportunity to apply for permanent residency.
To qualify for a U visa, the individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime and be willing to assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. The U visa is available to both documented and undocumented immigrants.
Individuals who were brought to the United States as children and meet certain criteria may be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While DACA does not provide a pathway to permanent residency, it offers temporary protection from deportation and the opportunity to obtain work authorization.
DACA recipients, often referred to as Dreamers, must meet specific age, education, and residency requirements. They can renew their DACA status every two years and may be eligible for other forms of relief or permanent residency through other avenues.
Adjustment of status is the process by which a nonimmigrant visa holder can apply for permanent residency without leaving the United States.
To be eligible for adjustment of status, the individual must meet certain criteria, including:
- Having entered the United States legally
- Being physically present in the United States at the time of application
- Being eligible for a Green Card through a qualifying category (family-based, employment-based, etc.)
- Having an approved immigrant petition (if required)
- Having a visa number immediately available (if required)
The application process for adjustment of status involves submitting Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with supporting documents, to USCIS. The supporting documents typically include identity and civil documents, evidence of eligibility for the permanent residence green card category, and evidence of required medical examinations.
Applicants may also need to attend an interview with USCIS to verify the information provided in the application and to assess the bona fide nature of the marriage, if applicable.
While the adjustment of status application is pending, individuals may be eligible to apply for a work permit, known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD allows them to legally work in the United States while their Green Card application is being processed.
Similarly, individuals may apply for a travel document, known as Advance Parole, which allows them to travel outside the United States and reenter while their Green Card application is pending. Without Advance Parole, leaving the country may result in the abandonment of the application.
As part of the adjustment of status process, USCIS may schedule an interview with the applicant. The purpose of the interview is to verify the information provided in the application, assess the applicant’s eligibility for permanent residency, and ensure compliance with immigration laws.
After the interview, USCIS will make a decision on the application. If approved, the applicant will receive their permanent residence green card, granting them permanent residency in the United States. If denied, the applicant may have the opportunity to appeal the decision or explore other legal options.
Permanent Resident Cards, commonly known as Green Cards, are typically valid for a period of ten years. To maintain permanent residency, individuals must ensure that their Green Cards remain valid.
To renew a permanent residence green card, individuals must file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, with USCIS. The form should be filed within six months of the Green Card’s expiration date. Supporting documents, such as photographs, identification, and evidence of continuous residency, must also be submitted.
If a permanent residence green card, stolen, or damaged, individuals must file Form I-90 to request a replacement card. They should also report the loss or theft to local law enforcement.
In some cases, individuals may need to attend an appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center to provide biometric information, such as fingerprints and photographs.
Once an individual obtains permanent residency in the United States, it is important to maintain that status to avoid the risk of losing the Green Card.
Permanent residents must establish and maintain their primary residence in the United States. They should not spend extended periods living outside the country, as this may lead to the presumption of abandonment of permanent residency.
To maintain permanent residency, individuals should aim to spend at least six months out of every year physically present in the United States. Extended absences should be accompanied by appropriate documentation and evidence of ties to the country.
When traveling outside the United States, permanent residents must present a valid permanent residence green card for reentry. It is important to ensure that the Green Card is not expired or close to expiration before planning travel.
If a Green Card is lost or expired while abroad, individuals should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance before attempting to return to the United States.
Permanent residents are required to file U.S. tax returns and report their worldwide income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Failing to meet tax obligations may have serious consequences, including the potential loss of permanent residency.
Individuals should consult with a tax professional or seek guidance from the IRS to ensure compliance with U.S. tax laws.
Obtaining permanent residence green card in the United States is a significant milestone that opens the doors to a world of opportunities. Whether through marriage-based sponsorship, employment-based sponsorship, family-based sponsorship, or other avenues, individuals can achieve their goal of building a life in the United States.
It is crucial to carefully navigate the immigration system, understand the eligibility requirements, and follow the appropriate application processes. Seeking assistance from immigration attorneys or qualified professionals can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the journey towards permanent residence green card.
Remember, each case is unique, and the information provided in this guide serves as a general overview. For specific guidance tailored to your situation, it is recommended to consult with an immigration professional who can provide personalized advice based on the current immigration laws and regulations.