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How Do I Get a Green Card for the USA?

The United States of America is a great place to live and work. But it's also difficult for those who are not citizens, or those with non-citizen family members, to get permission to come here or remain here. The best (and most permanent) method is by getting a green card - which allows you (and your family) the right to live and work in America permanently. The three most common methods of getting a green card in the United States are thru a family member, or through an employer, or through obtaining refugee/asylee status.

                                   Getting a Green Card Through Family Relationships

Getting a green card through marriage to a US Citizen

A bona fide marriage to a US citizen is one of the quickest ways for an undocumented immigrant to obtain permanent residency in the United States. There are many steps that must be taken before marriage can qualify an individual for a green card, and it's important to work with an immigration lawyer who has experience helping people through this process.

For most people, it's easiest to get a green card for the United States through a bona fide marriage. If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you are an immediate relative and will likely be eligible for permanent residency assuming that you are not subject to one of the categories of individuals that are barred from permanent residence.  There is no limit on the number of people who can obtain a green card through marriage to US citizens. This is very different from most categories of residence that have only a limited number of immigrant visas and are often subject to backlogs that can stretch out for years. A US citizen who wishes to file for the immigration of his or her spouse starts with an I-130 visa petition. The spouse of the US citizen may be able to get a green card without leaving the country if he/she entered the country legally with a visa or if they have been paroled into the United States by Immigration. This is done by filing for adjustment of status at the same time as the I-130 petition.

Getting a Green Card Through Marriage to a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder)

U.S. immigration law allows certain individuals who are family members of lawful permanent residents to become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card) themselves. This includes husbands or wives of lawful permanent residents (green cardholders). However, being the spouse of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is very different from being the spouse of a US Citizen. The most relevant difference is that there is a limit on the number of residencies for spouses of lawful permanent residents so you might have a long wait and if you are already in the United States you must have remained in lawful status in order to file for adjustment of status.

You must not only have entered the United States legally but also you can not have overstayed or otherwise have violated your nonimmigrant status in order to adjust your status instead of doing consular processing. Consular processing is the term used when a petition or immigrant visa application goes through the process at an embassy or consular section of a U.S. diplomatic mission abroad. Once the embassy or consulate approves the case they issue an immigrant visa. When you present this immigrant visa at a US port of entry you will be admitted as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Shortly thereafter your green card will be mailed to you. This process entails many bureaucratic steps, which are different than the adjustment of status used when applying for a green card from inside the United States.

Getting a Green Card Through a Lawful Permanent Resident Parent

You can also get a green card through your parent if he or she is a lawful permanent resident. If you are under the age of twenty-one (21) and unmarried your LPR mother or father can file to get you your green card. Your lawful permanent resident stepparent can also file on your behalf assuming that you were under the age of 18 at the time that your parent and stepparent were legally married. This can often save you years of waiting if your parent is an LPR and your stepparent is a US Citizen.

If you are over the age of 21, unmarried and your parent is a lawful permanent resident then he or she can file an I-130 petition for you in order to start you on the road to getting your green card. 

There is a limit on how many green cards are distributed for children of lawful permanent residents. There might be a long wait, and if you're already in the United States you must maintain lawful status throughout the time that you are waiting to reach the top of the waiting list. This is not often possible and please keep in mind that the mere approval of your I-130 alone does not confer any status or protection upon you.

In order to adjust your status to permanent residence without consular processing, you must have entered the United States legally and not overstayed or otherwise violated your visa.

It is not easy to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. It can take years and even decades for an immigrant to be eligible for residence. But many people do not realize that if they have a parent who is an LPR, then they may be able to apply for their green card through this parent's petition.

Getting a Green Card Through a US Citizen Parent If You Are Unmarried and Under 21

Many undocumented workers, illegal aliens and noncitizens living in the US have been wondering how to get a green card through a US citizen parent if you are unmarried. The good news is that there is an opportunity for some individuals who meet specific requirements.

If you are under the age of twenty-one (21) and the child of a US Citizen then congratulations! You are considered an "Immediate Relative" under U.S. Immigration laws. Immediate family members are able to immigrate to the United States or adjust their status to lawful permanent residence without quotas. Therefore, cases like yours can often be completed (from the filing of the petition to receipt of the green card) in one year or less. Your US citizen stepparent can also file on your behalf assuming that you were under the age of 18 at the time that your parent and stepparent were legally married. 

If you do have a US Citizen parent or parents...Before filing for your green card your attorney also should do an analysis to see if you might already a US Citizen through birth or derivation. Not all children of US Citizens are automatically citizens. 

Getting a Green Card Through a US Citizen Parent if you are Over 21

US citizens can apply for green cards for their sons and daughters who are 21 years of age or older. They may apply whether their child is currently unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Their grandchildren may also immigrate at the same time as their parent, providing they are under the age of 21 and unmarried. Only 23,400 people annually receive a green card for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. The category for married sons or daughters also has 23,400 visas available on an annual basis. Currently, the waiting list for married sons or daughters is almost twice as long as the one for unmarried sons or daughters.

Getting a Green Card Through a US Citizen Brother or Sister

US citizens can also petition for a green card on behalf of their brothers or sisters. The waiting period for this category is currently almost 15 years long. This is by far the slowest way to get a green card through a family relationship.

Getting a Green Card Through Employment

Getting a Green Card Through a Labor Certificate (PERM)

Do you have a job offer from an employer in the United States and want to know how to get a green card? A labor certificate is one way that you can apply for permanent residency. The Labor Certification process, also known as PERM, requires three steps: (1) filing of a labor application with the Department of Labor; (2) acceptance by the DOL; and (3) approval by USCIS.

A US employer wishing to sponsor a foreign worker for US permanent residence or citizenship must (with a few exceptions) complete the process of labor certification or PERM. PERM is an immigration document issued by the Department of Labor that allows a foreign worker to work permanently in America. In most instances, before an employer can submit a petition to USCIS for a foreign worker, the employer must obtain labor certification from DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA). To obtain a green card, it must be shown that there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing and qualified for an available job opportunity and that the hiring of said foreign worker would negatively impact the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. citizens

Employers must perform several detailed and specific tasks in order to ensure to the Department of Labor (DOL) that no US worker was denied the position after they applied. Essentially, the employer must circulate several advertisements for the prospective job through different sources, along with a few other tasks that include submitting forms (most commonly an I-140) and supporting evidence to the Department of Labor and United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS).

The labor certification process can be difficult, with strict time frames and rules involving advertisement and recruitment efforts. The employer is responsible for paying the fees associated with PERM. The foreign worker applying for the green card can't contribute to those fees in any way.

Getting a Green Card Through Extraordinary Ability

A green card is an immigrant's right to live and work in the United States. It is not easy but can be obtained through extraordinary ability for those who are highly skilled or are of exceptional talent.

Persons of extraordinary ability (EB-1) may get their green cards even without going through the PERM process. It is possible for those of extraordinary ability to apply for a green card without having an employer formally petition on their behalf. This is called self-petitioning.

Those seeking such a green card must be able to demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, or business through sustained national or international acclaim. The process to get a green card in the United States can be daunting. Their achievements must be documented through extensive and detailed documentation. While no offer of employment is required, the person must either be coming to or be staying in the United States in order to continue work in the area of their extraordinary ability.

Getting a Green Card as an Outstanding Professor or Researcher

Foreign-born outstanding professors and researchers are similar to those of extraordinary ability since they also may obtain permanent residence in the United States without having to get a labor certification. 

In order to be approved for this residency card, a professor or researcher must be internationally recognized as outstanding in his or her academic field and must meet certain other requirements such as three years of teaching or research experience in their field and arriving to take a faculty position at an institution of higher education.

Multinational Executives and Managers

Multinational executives and managers are also exempt from any labor certification requirement. Multinational executives and managers who are working for start-up business operations in the U.S. for foreign corporations as well those being transferred to the U.S. by better known and more established international corporations qualify for this green card.

As a general rule, if a multinational executive or manager is here in the United States on an L-1 visa he or she will also usually qualify for residency since the two statutes are almost identical. 

To obtain a green card, multinational executives and managers must have been employed outside the United States for at least 1 year in the three years preceding the petition or the most recent lawful nonimmigrant admission if they are already working for their U.S. petitioning employer. The U.S. petitioner company must have been doing business for at least 1 year, have a qualifying relationship (such as being a subsidiary, parent company, or affiliate) to the entity the person worked for outside the U.S., and have the means and intent to employ the person in a managerial or executive capacity.

Persons of Exceptional Ability

Persons of exceptional ability can also qualify for green cards without getting a PERM/Labor Certificate.  However, a job offer from an employer is required.

In order to qualify as a person of exceptional ability you must substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States because of your exceptional ability in either the sciences, arts, or business. The job offer you have received from a U.S. employer must be to provide services in the sciences, arts, professions, or business.

Exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business means having a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered.

The job offer must be a full-time position for which you will receive annual compensation in accordance with the company's usual and customary pay practices. The employer should provide an explanation of how your qualifications meet this requirement, as well as any other evidence to support their determination that such services are needed or beneficial.

You may also submit documentary evidence.

Religious Workers

To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, you must:

Have been a member of a religious denomination that has a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least two years immediately before filing a petition for this status with USCIS;

Seek to enter the United States to work in a full-time, compensated position (Full-time work is considered to be an average of 35 hours per week. Compensated may mean salaried or unsalaried). in one of the following occupations:
As a minister of that religious denomination;
A religious vocation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity; or
A religious occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
Be coming to work as a minister of that religious denomination, or to work in a religious vocation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity;
Have been working as one of these for the two years immediately before filing the petition.
- You must be coming to work for either:
A bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States; or
A bona fide organization that is affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States; and
Have been working in one of the positions described above after the age of 14,  for at least two continuous years immediately before the filing of a petition with USCIS. The prior religious work does not need to correspond precisely to the type of work you will perform. A break in the continuity of the work during the preceding two years won't affect eligibility so long as:
You remained employed as a religious worker;
The break did not exceed two years; and
The nature of the break was for further religious training or sabbatical. However, you must have remained a member of the petitioner's denomination throughout the two years of qualifying employment.

Investor Green Cards (The EB5 Program)

EB5 investors are those who invest $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise, and create at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers with that investment However, it is possible to get a green card in the United States for less than $900,000 if you're willing to set up your business in an area that is rural and/or suffers high unemployment.

Most people who invest in the EB-5 visa program do not have or start their own business. Instead, they usually invest $900,000 in what are known as Regional Centers. An EB-5 regional center is an economic unit, public or private, in the United States that is involved with promoting economic growth. In order to qualify for an EB5 residency through a regional center you must use one that has been designated by USCIS for participation in the Immigrant Investor Program.

10,000 immigrant visas are available to qualified individuals in this residency category. 

Getting a green card as a Refugee/Asylee

U.S. immigration law requires refugees to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status after they have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year. 

You were previously admitted into the United States as a refugee under Section 207 of The Immigration and Naturalization Act;
You are physically present in the United States at the time you file for your residency;
You have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after your admission as a refugee;
Your refugee status has not been terminated;


You are otherwise admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility.

If you have been granted political asylum by the US government, you are eligible to apply for a Green Card (Permanent Resident Card) one year after receiving your grant of asylum.

You are eligible for this green card if:

You are in the United States when you file the residency application and you have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after being granted asylum;
You continue to meet the definition of an asylee (or continue to be the spouse or child of an asylee);
You have not abandoned your asylee status;
Your grant of asylum has not been terminated;
You are not firmly resettled in another country; and
You continue to be admissible to the United States.

It's not easy to become a permanent resident of the U.S., but it is possible if you have an employer willing to sponsor your application. It's important that you are fully prepared and fully informed before you start on this long and arduous journey. There are many steps in the process and without fulfilling each of the requirements fully and in great detail, all of them will be much more difficult and you could be endangering yourself and your family.

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