U.S Green Cards Explained  | A Comprehensive Guide to Permanent Residency
If you are a non-U.S. citizen looking to establish your roots in the United States, understanding the intricacies of the Green Card (aka the Alien Registration Receipt Card) process is crucial.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency responsible for overseeing immigration-related matters, issues Green Cards. Holding a Green Card offers numerous benefits to immigrants, such as living and working in the United States and taking advantage of government assistance programs.
However, the U.S. Green Card process can be daunting, but with the proper knowledge and guidance, it becomes more manageable. Consulting an immigration law firm, such as the Hans Burgos Law Offices, can provide valuable support throughout your journey toward permanent residency.
Hans Burgos Law Firm can also help Green Card applicants secure permanent residency through its immigration and naturalization service, among many others.
What Is a Permanent Resident Green Card?
With more than a million Green Cards issued each year by the U.S. government, it’s essential to understand what they are and how people inside and outside the United States can apply for them too.
The two primary application forms for a permanent resident Green Card are:
- Form I-485 (Application to Adjust Status) is for individuals already inside the U.S.
- Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application) is for those outside the United States.
Both forms are used to apply for a Green Card but cater to different circumstances and requirements.
Let’s start with Form I-485, primarily designed for non-U.S. citizens or immigrants already residing in the United States.
This form is often used by individuals who have won the Diversity Visa Lottery or anyone eligible to stay and work in the U.S. through family or employment-based opportunities. By submitting Form I-485, applicants can apply for a Green Card and secure lawful permanent resident status.
On the other hand, if you are outside the United States and wish to apply for a Green Card through sponsorship, you’ll need to complete Form DS-260. This form is commonly used for Family-based Green Cards or Employment-based Green Cards.
It allows applicants to initiate the Green Card application process through the USCIS service center even if they are not physically present in the country.
Green Card holders and lawful permanent residents enjoy several benefits in the United States. They have the right to live and work permanently, travel freely in and out of the country, and access federal benefits and protections.
Moreover, holding a Green Card is a significant step towards qualifying for citizenship, which can be pursued after maintaining permanent resident status for three or five years, depending on the circumstances.
Who Can Become a Green Card Holder?
Becoming a Green Card holder is a significant step towards establishing permanent residency in the United States. By understanding the different types of Green Cards available and following the appropriate procedures, immigrants and non-U.S. citizens can set themselves on the path to lawful permanent resident status.
Remember, each Green Card category has its requirements, so it is better for candidates to consult with an immigration expert or visit the USCIS website for accurate and up-to-date information.
1. Family-based Green Cards
Family members or immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents with Green Cards can apply for the F-2A visa. Those in the eligibility category include:
Also, spouses, siblings, and adult children of the fore-mentioned spouses in the eligible category can apply for a Family-based Green Card through the same visa.
Other immigrants or non-U.S. citizens who fall in the category include widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. However, to become Green Card holders, widows and widowers must prove the authenticity of their marriages before applying for a permanent resident card.
Note that extended family members do not qualify for Family-based Green Cards. The list includes:
However, the abovementioned individuals can still apply for a permanent resident card if they already have a Green Card holder or U.S. citizen immediate relative residing in the country.
2. Employment-based Green Cards
Unlike the previous type of Green Card category, anyone applying for an Employment-based Green Card can go through different subcategories and jobs to tick off eligibility requirements. Eventually, spouses and children of immigrant workers can also apply for Green Cards through this section.
- EB-1: Priority Workers
This subcategory is for immigrant workers given moderately high priority during the immigrant visa application process.
Jobs under this section include the arts, business, sciences, general education, professors, researchers, executives, managers (multinational companies), and athletes with extraordinary abilities.
- EB-2: Advanced Degrees and Exceptional Abilities
The second subcategory is specifically for individuals who demonstrate personal capabilities of high national interest.
Professions and positions included in this section are:
- Applicants with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
- Candidates with the abovementioned degrees plus five years of practical, relevant experience.
- Anyone involved in the sciences, arts, and business while demonstrating exceptional ability.
- EB-2 (Special or National Interest Waiver): Physicians
This immigrant visa category allows medical professionals to work lawfully and full-time in specific areas via an Employment-based Green Card.
- EB-3: Skilled, Unskilled, and Professional Workers
Next, we have the EB-3 visa status that caters to individuals of different skill levels. In this case, skilled workers include candidates with at least two years of permanent experience in any sector.
On the other hand, unskilled positions are applicable for immigrants with less than two years of seasonal or temporary experience in any job sector.
Finally, professional work positions are ideal for applicants with a baccalaureate degree from a U.S.-based college/university or an equivalent to the same degree from a non-U.S. college/university.
- EB-4: Special Workers
This United States citizenship category targets religious workers, media professionals, Iraq and Afghanistan nationals serving in the U.S. government, etc.
- EB-5: Investors
Lastly, we have the EB-5 immigrant visas, ideal for non-U.S. citizens investing a minimum of $1,000,000 in new businesses/companies. The investment should also ensure full-time job opportunities for at least 10 employees.
3. Humanitarian Green Cards
This category has four subcategories:
- Refugees and Asylees
A refugee or anyone seeking protection (asylum) in the U.S. can apply for a Green Card to become a lawful permanent resident. Candidates eligible for Humanitarian Green Cards usually fear for their lives in their home countries due to:
- Political backlash
- Social group
Asylum seekers and refugees must stay in the U.S. for at least one year to fulfill the eligibility requirements set by the USCIS. The candidates in this category can apply for Green Cards for their spouses and children after becoming Green Card holders.
- Human-trafficking Victims
This subcategory is for human trafficking victims living in the U.S., either lawfully or undocumented. Such immigrants can apply for a T-visa to reside in the country for up to four years. However, victims above 18 must also assist with investigating and prosecuting the human trafficking perpetrators to qualify for permanent residence status.
In a nutshell, anyone wishing to fulfill the requirements for a permanent resident card and eventually become a Green Card holder must tick off the aforementioned criteria.
Additionally, candidates must demonstrate good moral character and prove their worth to the government, including the grave personal consequences of their departure if they were to leave the U.S.
- Crime Victims
Lawful and undocumented immigrants suffering from constant physical or mental abuse can seek protection from the U.S. government under the U-visa status.
In order to secure a U-visa number, a reputed law firm, such as the Hans Burgos Law Firm, must process and certify the candidates’ applications. On top of that, the immigrants must also assist with investigating and prosecuting the criminals responsible for harming the victims.
The eligibility criteria for crime victims applying for Green Cards include the following:
- Living in the U.S. for at least three years after securing the U-visa number.
- Not leaving the country starting from the Green Card application date to when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves or denies the process.
- Not refusing to actively help or assist with the investigation and prosecution of the responsible parties from the date of the U-visa activation until the USCIS approves or denies the Green Card application.
Spouses, children, parents, and siblings can also apply and become Green Card holders only after the victim(s) fulfills all the criteria.
- Abuse Victims
The last subcategory in this section caters to battery and cruelty victims applying for Green or permanent resident cards. Victims (men and women) can also seek protection and relief through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Physical and mental abuse victims can apply for permanent residence without the permission of the abusive relative/partner, usually including:
- Any current or former U.S. citizens/Green Card holders.
- The biological or legal parent(s) of U.S. citizens or Green Card holders.
- Any child of a current U.S. citizen.
- Diversity Lottery Green Cards
Also known as the Green Card Lottery section, the U.S. government selects up to 50,000 random immigrants yearly from six different regions, including:
- South and Central America
- North America
Candidates should know that each country caps at only 7% in the Green Card Lottery system. Immigrants can apply for a Green Card while residing in the country or abroad. Family members and immediate relatives (currently living in the U.S.) of applicants can also apply for a Family-based Green Card or Diversity Lottery Green Card.
4. Longtime-resident Green Cards
This immigration law is for people living in the United States, lawfully or undocumented, since January 1, 1972. However, candidates applying for permanent residence through this system must qualify via a “registry.”
Applicants wanting to become Green Card holders or permanent residents of the U.S. through this process must fulfill the following requirements:
- The candidates must prove their entry to the United States before January 1, 1972. They can usually show evidence of this by presenting Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record to the USCIS.
- Also, the immigrants must stay in the country after their arrival.
- They must show “good moral character” and their eligibility for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Hans Burgos Firm can help candidates throughout the naturalization process.
- The applicants must prove they are not “deportable,” which means steering clear of drug abuse, marriage fraud, smuggling, overstaying in the country with an expired visa, murder, etc.
Applicants ticking off all the abovementioned requirements can apply to become Green Card holders in the United States.
Green Card Application Timeline
If you are an immigrant or a non-U.S. citizen looking to become a permanent resident in the United States, understanding the Green Card application timeline is crucial. The process can vary from a few months to a few years.
Firstly, for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (parents, children, spouses, and siblings), the application process begins with Form I-485.
The wait time for these family-based Green Cards is generally around 12.5 to 22.5 months, depending on various factors. This timeline includes the application review and interview stage conducted by the USCIS.
On the other hand, the wait time for immigrant visas through consular processing outside of the U.S. is 13.5 to 15.5 months.
The application timeline for Employment-based Green Cards tends to be longer than 22.5 months, with variations depending on country caps. Employment-based Green Cards are available to foreign nationals with a job offer or an employer-sponsored petition.
This process involves various stages, including Labor Certification through the Department of Labor (DoL) and employer sponsorship. Wait times can fluctuate depending on factors such as the backlog of applications and country-specific quotas.
How Much Do Green Cards Cost?
The government filing fees for Family-based Green Cards typically total around $1,700 for family members applying within the country.
However, applicants outside the United States must pay approximately $1,200. These fees cover the application processing and are subject to change, so checking the USCIS website for the most up-to-date information is recommended.
Medical exams usually range between $100 and $500, depending on the country and the complexity of the examination. Police clearances vary from country to country, and the relevant authorities determine the associated costs.
On the other hand, costs can be higher for those pursuing Employment-based Green Cards, with fees totaling over $2,500.
Additionally, expedited processing, known as premium processing, can be requested for an additional payment.
This option allows for a shorter processing time, but the associated fee can range from $1,440 to $1,500. It is crucial to consult with an immigration attorney or the USCIS to determine which option is best suited to your circumstances.
Do Green Card Holders Have to Immigrate Immediately?
It is crucial to note that Immigrants who have been approved at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy, must enter the U.S. before the expiration of their issued immigrant visa. Once in the U.S., Green Card holders are considered permanent residents which ensures that individuals can enjoy the benefits of living and working in the United States indefinitely.
While many Green Card holders aspire to become U.S. citizens eventually, the decision to pursue citizenship is a personal one that should be made based on individual circumstances and aspirations.
When Does the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Grant Green Cards?
To qualify for citizenship, permanent residents must typically wait a specific time. In this case, most individuals’ waiting period is three to five years, depending on how well they meet the eligibility requirements.
During this time, immigrants must maintain their permanent residency and abide by U.S. laws to remain in good standing.
While waiting for the eligibility to apply for citizenship, permanent residents and their family members can engage in various activities to make the most of their status. They can explore different employment opportunities, start businesses, pursue higher education, and enjoy the privileges of living in the United States.
The lawful status provides stability and enough time for immigrants to establish themselves and contribute to their communities.
It is important to note that maintaining your permanent resident status requires that you meet specific obligations. This includes residing in the United States (of course), diligently filing income tax returns, and avoiding actions that could jeopardize your status, such as committing serious crimes or engaging in fraudulent activities.
A person with good moral character or reputation is likelier to become a U.S. citizen than someone with a shady background.
Special immigrants, such as religious workers, media professionals, and more listed above, are also prioritized in the Green Card application process.
On the other hand, any candidate with extraordinary ability can also expect prioritization in the Green Card lottery system or through the Employment-based Green Card application process.
Green Card Holders Must Carry Their IDs Everywhere
Your Green Card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, is proof of your lawful permanent resident status in the United States. Failing to have your ID with you can lead to potential complications and even legal consequences.
Carrying your Green Card allows you to identify yourself in various situations. Whether opening a bank account, completing a job application, or applying for a driver’s license, having your ID readily available expedites these processes.
You may encounter obstacles and delays that could have otherwise been avoided without proper identification.
If your Green Card is lost, stolen, or damaged, it is essential to replace it immediately. Delaying the replacement process can result in legal issues and complications. The USCIS strongly advises Green Card holders to file for a replacement as soon as possible to ensure they comply with the law.
Furthermore, being caught without your Green Card can lead to a fine of up to $100 and up to 30 days in jail. This fine can be imposed if you fail to show your Green Card when requested by authorized immigration officials. Depending on the State, you may run into other problems. Therefore, ALWAYS CARRY YOU PERMANENT RESIDENT CARD.
Securing a Green Card is a significant milestone for immigrants seeking permanent residence in the United States.
It offers a variety of benefits and opens up opportunities for a better future. By understanding the Green Card application system, maintaining lawful permanent residency, and complying with the rights and responsibilities, you can experience the advantages of being a Green Card holder.
The Green Card application system can be complex and time-consuming. It involves multiple steps, such as filing a petition, attending interviews, and undergoing medical examinations. Candidates must also demonstrate their eligibility and provide supporting documentation to complete the application successfully.
As mentioned earlier in this post, depending on your situation, you may qualify for a Green Card through Form I-485 or DS-260.
Navigating the Green Card system and understanding the intricacies of immigration law can be challenging. It is advisable to seek professional guidance and specialized services from the attorneys at LiveInTheUS.com.
The experts can provide tailored advice, ensure your Green Card application goes smoothly, and help you stay in line with complex immigration laws. Contact us here if you need personalized legal assistance with your immigration status.