How Do I Qualify for a Green Card?

If you’re seeking to live or work in the United States, or are living in uncertainty as an undocumented immigrant, you see getting a green card as a crucial goal. Although you’re not yet a U.S. citizen by virtue of having your green card – which can be revoked and cause deportation – you are considered a lawful permanent resident, which is a key step on your path to citizenship.

Green card holders have the right to enter, live, work, and exit the United States for as long as their green card remains valid. There are several different ways to qualify as a lawful permanent resident, which we’ll examine below.

You Are an Immediate Relative Of a U.S. Citizen

When it comes to who gets priority for a green card, it’s often the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens upon which the U.S. government places the most value.

The following are considered immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen:

  • Spouses (legally married abroad or in the U.S., and in the U.S. when a fiancé entered on a valid K-1 visa and the marriage occurred within 90 days of entry)
  • Children younger than 21
  • Parents (if the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old)
  • Stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens (in the case of stepparents, such a relationship to a U.S. citizen must have been established before the citizen turned 18).
  • Children 16 or younger adopted by U.S. citizens

While people in other categories are placed on a waiting list for a limited number of annual green cards, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens face no such restrictions.

You Are Another Relative of a U.S. Citizen

Although immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are given an unlimited priority for green cards and entry into the U.S., there are approximately 480,000 available to other family members each year – some of them are even available to relatives of green card holders.

These visas are distributed on a four-tiered preference scale, which breaks down as follows:

  • Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried adult children of at least 21 years of age who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses of green card holders; children with a green card holder parent; unmarried sons and daughters (21 or older) with a green card holder parent.
  • Family Third Preference (F3): Married people of any age who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4): Siblings of U.S. citizens, as long as the latter is at least 21 years old.

Your Labor Skills Are Needed in the U.S.

Each year, 140,000 green cards are issued to people whose labor skills are needed in the U.S. economy. Most cases require a job offer for a successful application, and employers are additionally required to demonstrate that they could not find a qualified U.S. worker to hire.

These visas are also distributed on a tiered system:

  • Employment First Preference: Priority workers of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; managers and executives of multinational companies
  • Employment Second Preference: Professionals with advanced degrees and/or of exceptional ability
  • Employment Third Preference: Professionals and skilled/unskilled workers
  • Employment Fourth Preference: Religious workers and other “special immigrants” from miscellaneous categories
  • Employment Fifth Preference: Investors who intend to fund a U.S. business with $1.8 million or $900,000 in a Targeted Employment Area.

You Can Help Diversify the United States

The U.S. government sets aside a relatively small number of visas for people who come from countries with the fewest recent immigrants. This is a green card lottery, with immigrant visas designated for immigrants “from countries with low admissions during the previous five years.”

You Are a Refugee or Are Seeking Asylum

If you live in fear of or have already experienced persecution in your home country, the U.S. allows people in your situation to apply for asylum. The persecution against you must be based on your race, religion, political opinions, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. In most cases, fleeing from economic hardship or random violence is not recognized as a valid reason to seek asylum.

After successfully gaining asylum to live in the U.S., you must wait one year before you can apply for a green card.

You Have Lived in the U.S. for a Long Period of Time

If you are an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, you may be able to successfully request permanent residence after the U.S. government has placed you in removal proceedings. Cancellation of removal for non-permanent residents must be requested as a defense in immigration court, which means your undocumented status has been discovered and removal proceedings are underway. However, seeking to be placed in removal proceedings for the sole purpose of applying for a Green Card is extremely risky and almost never advisable.

If you have lived in the U.S. since 1972 without documentation, you may be able to apply for a green card pursuant to legislation at the time that made this possible. Still consult with an attorney who can advise you of your rights throughout this process and evaluate your eligibility before you apply.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there’s more than one way to get your green card and become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. While the waiting periods can be long for some, the prospect of rejoining with family in the U.S. is undoubtedly motivation to stick it out through the process.

If you need assistance or legal counsel concerning your green card application or your desire to apply for permanent residence, reach out to the Law Offices of Timothy D. Widman for help. We have more than 20 years of experience providing comprehensive representation to people seeking green cards for any of the aforementioned reasons – and more. If you need help from an immigration attorney who has proven experience getting clients like you the results they needed, reach out to the Law Offices of Timothy D. Widman for help.

Contact us online or call (408) 780-1684 for help.

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