What does having a green card entail?
Green cards grant a holder lawful permanent residency in the United States (U.S.). Green card holders are not citizens, but they can live and work in the U.S. indefinitely. The card is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Green cards are not visas.
Who is eligible for a green card?
When someone holds a legal permanent resident (LPR) status, with patience and practice they can eventually become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In order to be eligible to apply for consideration for a green card, the person or a loved one should fit into one of these categories.
Below we list the specific green card eligibility categories found on the USCIS’s website:
- Family: A person may be eligible to apply for a green card through family if they are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or LPR, a fiancé/e of a U.S. citizen, a widow/er of a U.S. citizen, or an abused relative of a U.S. citizen or LPR. The person should have a sponsor that is an immediate family member.
- Employment: A person can acquire a green card as an immigrant worker. But first priority for these green cards is available to a very specific group of foreign professionals.
- Special Immigrant Status: These include certain religious workers, special immigrant juveniles who have suffered abuse, international broadcasters, and members of select international organizations like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- Refugee or Asylee Status: Anyone applying for a green card via this eligibility category must already have been awarded either refugee or asylee status. Asylees and refugees can apply to become lawful permanent residents after 1 year of relevant status.
- Human Trafficking or Crime Victims: This very special category of green cards is only available to those who are already in possession of specific nonimmigrant visas. For human trafficking victims, this is a T nonimmigrant visa, and for crime victims, a U nonimmigrant visa.
- Victims of Abuse: These include Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners, who are also eligible via the “family” category. Another group of immigrants eligible under this category are “special immigrant juveniles.” Other victims of abuse qualifying under certain government acts, like the Cuban Adjustment Act or Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act (HRIFA), may also be eligible.
- Other Categories: This section compromises all various foreign nationals who may be eligible to apply for a green card but do not fit any other category. One notable group within this category are those who receive diversity visas. Diversity visas are awarded via the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, and provide a path to a permanent life in the U.S. for those who otherwise have no way to apply.
- Through Registry: A unique category, some people who have “been present in the U.S. since January 1, 1972” may be eligible for a green card. According to the USCIS, to apply via this category, the candidate must: (1) Have lived continuously in the U.S. since January 1972; (2) Be of upstanding moral character; (3) Be eligible for naturalization; and (4) Not be deportable or inadmissible or hold any bars to adjustment.
- Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000: If the immigrant is a native or citizen of Vietnam, Kampuchea (Cambodia), or Laos who was paroled into the U.S. on or before Oct. 1, 1997 from Vietnam under the Orderly Departure Program, a refugee camp in East Asia, or a displaced person camp administered by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand.
- American Indian born in Canada: If the immigrant has 50 percent or more of blood of the American Indian race and were born in Canada.
- Person born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomat: If the immigrant was born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomatic officer who was stationed in the U.S. when he or she was born.
- Section 13 (diplomat): If the immigrant is stationed in the U.S. as a foreign diplomat or high ranking official and is unable to return home.
Which are the responsibilities of green card sponsorship?
In nearly every situation, the USCIS requires that immigrants seeking permanent residency have a sponsor. For example, a sponsor can be a family member or employer.
The path to green card sponsorship begins with completing a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130).
A sponsor may need to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), accepting financial responsibility for the petitioner. The most important is to assure complete financial responsibility for the candidate until they either become a U.S. citizen or have proven to work for 40 quarters, or 10 years. Sponsors must certify that their income levels are at least 25% above the existing Federal Poverty Guidelines.
A sponsor for any immigrant candidate for green card status must be at least 21-years and a U.S. citizen or a LPR. The sponsor must maintain a primary domicile in the U.S. or a U.S. territory.
What are bars to adjustment?
Green card holders undergo rigorous screening and application processes, and there are several reasons that someone may be ineligible to apply. These are called “bars to adjustment.”
Some examples of bars to adjustment include:
- Criminal convictions within the U.S. or abroad;
- Previous terroristic ties or activities;
- Violation of visa terms or restrictions; and/or
- Engagement in unauthorized employment.
How to obtain a green card?
Regardless of how a person applies for a green card, they will complete one of two processes:
- Adjustment of status: If the person is already present in the U.S., they can apply to adjust their current immigration status to LPR. An immigrant within the U.S. who already has an approved immigrant petition can file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS when an immigrant visa is available. An immigrant in the U.S. who does not have an approved immigrant petition must check the eligibility requirements for his/her green card category to see if he/she can file the petition and the Form I‑485 together at the same time (also known as concurrent filing).
- Consular processing: If the person is outside the U.S., they can visit a U.S. consulate abroad to apply for a green card.
Which are the benefits of a green card?
As a green card holder, a person can:
- Apply for citizenship after five (5) years;
- Sponsor certain relatives for visas or green cards;
- Travel in and out of the U.S. more easily;
- Spend less on college, university, or vocational school tuition;
- Renew their green card every ten (10) years; and/or
- Make financial contributions to U.S. election campaigns.