Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR) status provides you the right to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis, declaring the United States as the LPRs residence. Permanent residents can also petition for residency for immediate family members. Lawful permanent residents, however, don't have all the legal rights of a U.S. citizen. For instance, lawful permanent residents can't vote in U.S. elections or sometimes get the same public benefits as U.S. citizens. Also, lawful permanent residents can lose their immigration status if they spend extended periods outside the U.S. or by being deported for violating certain laws, such as criminal laws.
There are many ways to become a lawful permanent resident in the United States, such as:
- Being sponsored by an immediate relative;
- Being granted refugee or asylum status
- Being sponsored by an employer
- Being in a certain category of special persons, like investors, religious workers, etc.
- Winning the diversity visa lottery
Which Relatives Can be a Green Card Sponsor?
There is no stipulated limit of green cards available for immediate relatives of United States citizens. As such, you may apply for a green card with no waiting period at the same time as applying for or upon approval of an immigrant visa petition.
Immediate relatives include:
- Spouses of United States citizens
- Unmarried children under the age of 21 of at least one United States citizen parent
- Parents of United States citizen children who are 21 years and older
- Biological kids
- Step-children if the marriage between the child's biological and step-parent was contracted before they turned 18 years old
- Adopted kids if the adoption took place before the kid turned 16 (with a few exceptions) and certain other requirements are met
If the family member sponsoring you isn't an immediate relative, you might still get your green card but there will be a longer waiting period. Because some of these green cards are issued on a first-come, first-served basis every year to persons who aren't immediate relatives of United States citizens, there are waiting periods. The length of the waiting period depends on what preference category your application is in. Here are the four preference categories as defined by immigration law:
- First preference: this applies to petitions filed by United States citizen parents for their unmarried children who are 21 years or older.
- Second preference: this applies to petitions for spouses, unmarried sons and daughters, and minor children aged 21 and over of legal permanent residents.
- Third preference: this applies to petitions for married daughters and sons of United States citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
- Fourth preference: this applies to petitions for sisters and brothers of United States citizens, and their minor children and spouses, provided the United States citizens are at least 21 years of age.
What is the Green Card Process?
The Green Card process for becoming a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. is guided by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Under the INA, there are two major methods of getting a Green Card.
The first is via an adjustment of status, which is usually available to people already lawfully in the United States. The second method is through consular processing and must be used by persons applying for a Green Card
while outside the U.S.
Despite which method is used, you'll usually require someone else to file the petition on your behalf. Some of the primary Green Card categories include:
- Lottery-based (officially known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program)
Again, most people will get a Green Card through a family member or employer filing an immigration petition on their behalf. However, other less common Green Card methods exist, including the humanitarian and special immigrant classes. The former involves issuing Green Cards to individuals who have received refugee or asylum status.
Who Can Get a Green Card?
Only current U.S. citizens or Green Card holders might petition for a family member to receive a Green Card and become a permanent resident of the United States. If you're a US citizen, you (as the sponsor) can petition for the following family members to receive a Green Card:
- Unmarried children under 21
- Married children or children over 21
- Parents, but only if you are 21 or older
- Siblings, but only if you are 21 or older.
If you're a Green Card holder, you can petition for the following family members to receive a Green Card:
- Your spouse
- Unmarried children under 21
- Unmarried son or daughter of any age
You, as the sponsor, will start this process by completing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. If your family member is presumed an “immediate family member,” they can start applying for permanent residency immediately once Form I-130 is approved.
However, if your family member isn't an immediate family member, they'll be placed on a visa waiting list. The waiting period can vary but is usually several years long.
Getting a Green Card if You Are in the U.S.
Whether your family member is already in the U.S. or not will determine the next few steps. If they're already in the United States, they can use the adjustment of status application process and apply for permanent residency by completing and submitting Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status. Also, they'll need to submit biometric information and attend an immigration interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office and appropriate Application Support Center. Then they will wait for the USCIS to make a decision and issue a Green Card.
Getting a U.S. Green Card From Another Country
If your family member is outside the country, then they'll need to apply for their Green Card through the consular processing and wait outside the U.S. for their name to come to the top of the waiting list. When this happens, the National Visa Center (NVC) will inform you and your family member. The right consular office will then schedule an interview for your family member. If the US consular officer finds that your family member is eligible for an immigrant visa, then they can travel to the U.S., go through the necessary arrival process, and enter the country as a permanent resident.
The process of getting permanent residency through the job-based method is similar to the family-based method, except that it's an employer who serves as the sponsor, not a United States-based family member. And instead of using Form I-130, the employer will complete Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
The US Department of State conducts the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program). This program offers 50,000 immigrant visas every year. Only persons who are from countries considered to have low immigrant rates into the United States qualify for this lottery.
If a lottery winner is already located in the country, they'll use the adjustment of status application process. If they're located outside the U.S., they'll use the consular processing application method to get a Green Card. An experienced immigration attorney can help you through the Green Card application process. Call our New York City immigration law firm today at (347) 868-6100 for a no-cost initial consultation.