If you are eligible, you could acquire a United States green card that would give you permanent residency. Having a green card gives you the right to enter and the leave the country, work, and live in the United States for the duration of your life. With a green card, you are also eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship in time.
However, there are several variables that qualify a person to be eligible for a green card.
1. Are you an immediate relative to a U.S. citizen?
An immediate relative includes:
a. Parents of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21
b. Spouse of a U.S. citizen, including widows and widowers
c. Children of a U.S. citizen if under age 21 and unmarried
i. Stepchildren if the marriage that created the stepchild/parent relationship occurred before the child’s 18th birthday
ii. Adopted children, if the child was under age 16 when legal adoption took place
For immediate relatives, green cards are available with an uncapped limit. However, the U.S. must initiate the green card process and petition for the relative.
2. Other relatives
Referred to as “preference categories,” other relatives of a U.S. citizen can apply for a green card if the U.S. relative petitions for them. In the U.S., only 480,000 “preference” green cards are awarded a year. The approval wait times range from four to 24 years. These categories, includes:
a. Family First Preference: Adult age 21 or older. Unmarried, with at least one U.S. citizen parent.
b. Family Second Preference: Section 2A – unmarried children and spouses of a green card holder, as long as the children are younger than 21 years of age. Section 2B – Unmarried children age 21 or older of a green card holder.
c. Family Third Preference: Married individuals of any age who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
d. Family Fourth Preference: Siblings of U.S. citizens, if the citizen is age 21 of older.
The waits for individuals from China, India, the Philippines, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic tend to be longer because of increased demand.
3. Basis of Employment
Each year, 140,000 employment-based green cards are offered. Typically, a job offer must be made to an individual before a green card is issued. Even more, the employer must prove that no U.S. citizens were qualified for the job first. Because this a “preference” category, applicants usually must wait a few years before receiving a green card. To find the specifics of the employment based green card qualifications, please visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
4. Ethnic Diversity Green Cards
If a country has sent very few immigrants to the U.S. in recent years, green cards may be made available to the people of that country. The U.S. currently gives out 50,000 green cards annually for its Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program).
5. Refuge and Asylum
If an individual has faced or fears persecution in their native country, the U.S. may offer refuge. If a person outside the U.S. applies for U.S. protection, they would apply to be a refugee; if an individual is already in the U.S., the individual would apply for asylum. This category is not based on poverty or violence, but rather an individual’s persecution in their home country as a result of their religion, political opinion, or race. A refugee may apply for a green card after one year in the country, and an individual in the U.S. for asylum may apply at any time, though earlier is typically better.
6. Amnesty or Special Worker Status
Between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986, there was a special amnesty for agricultural laborers. While applications for approval are no longer available, class action lawsuits are still in effect for these individuals who missed the opportunity to apply. If you should have qualified for this amnesty, contact an attorney for assistance regarding your claim.
7. Long-Time Residents
If an individual has lived in the U.S. illegally for more than 10 years, permanent residency may be requested. This option is referred to as “cancellation of removal.” In order to qualify, you must prove that your children, spouse, or parent (who must be a permanent resident or U.S. citizen) would face extreme hardship if you were removed from the country.
8. Special Circumstances
In certain rare cases, green cards are available to individuals in special situations. These may include:
a. Young individuals under care of legal court
b. International broadcasters
c. Retired employees of the U.S. government who worked abroad
If you believe that you qualify for a green card based on any of the above categories, contact an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your legal options.