In the United States, obtaining a permanent resident card—also known as a green card—is vital for individuals who seek to legally reside in the country for an extended period. An individual with a permanent resident card can live and work inside the United States on a permanent basis. Securing permanent residency is also a critical step in the process of ultimately obtaining United States citizenship. In most cases, a permanent resident who has lawfully resided in the United States for five years is eligible to apply for citizenship.
How to Get a Permanent Residency Card
There are several common ways an individual may seek to obtain a permanent residency card. The two most common approaches are to be sponsored by a qualified employer or family member in the United States. Additionally, individuals may also get a permanent residency card through various humanitarian programs such as asylum or refugee status.
Permanent Residency Through a Family Member
If you are the immediate relative of a United States citizen, you may be eligible for a permanent residency card. An “immediate relative” is defined as any of the following:
- Any unmarried child, under the age of 21, of a United States Citizen;
- A parent of a United States citizen;
- A spouse of a United States citizen;
Individuals who are classified as an immediate relative will be eligible for an immigrant visa. This allows immediate relatives to forgo the wait of the Visa Bulletin and have their petition heard immediately
If you are not classified as an immediate relative you may still be eligible to get a permanent residency card if you are willing to wait in line. Individuals in this classification include the following:
- Siblings, over the age of 21, of United States citizens;
- Unmarried children, over the age of 21, of a United States citizen;
- Married children of a United States citizen.
There are also special circumstances that may exist in which the United States government can issue permanent resident cards to individuals that fit one of the following criteria:
- A battered woman or child;
- An individual that is engaged to a United States citizen;
- Widows or Widowers of a United States citizen;
- Children of foreign diplomats born inside the United States.
What to Do if You are Eligible to Apply?
If you fit one of the categories above and you determine that you are a family member who is eligible to apply for a permanent resident card, you can begin the green card process. For individuals who legally reside in the United States, they can adjust their statuses by having their relatives (who are citizens) file a I-130 Petition on their behalf with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). I-130 petition is approval is a notification that the United States government acknowledges that your relationship is a qualifies you to proceed in the permanent resident process.
Following I-130 approval, you will proceed by filling out a I-485 form to adjust your current immigration status. The purpose of this application is to apply for final acceptance of permanent residence status. Typically, individuals will be denied if the USCIS determines they are unfit for personal resident status based on their criminal history or potential fraud found in their applications.
Individuals who fit the above categories but reside outside the United States, or reside in the United States illegally, must go through the consular processing system. During this process, their relative should still file an I-130 on their behalf, but this petition will go through the National Visa Center and the United States Consulate in their country of citizenship. Following the I-130, the individuasl will be interviewed at the consulate in their country of origin and then will be issued a permanent residence card. Individuals who were already in the United States illegally must file a waiver which essentially asks for forgiveness for the time spent illegally inside the country. Like domestic applicants, if the immigration office suspects fraud or discovers a criminal history, then the application will likely be denied.
What are the Limitations?
Unfortunately, Congress has placed a limit on how many relatives may qualify and immigrate under these classifications. Therefore, there can be a waiting period before an immigrant visa can become available. Fortunately, the Visa Bulletin acts as an up to date waitlist by which potential immigrants can determine their place in the immigrant visa line.
Seeking a Green Card?
If you are seeking permanent residency status in the United States it is important to understand the methods by which you can receive a green card. The process is complex and it is imperative that you receive proper guidance during this process to ensure that going through it efficiently and effectively. If you need assistance, an immigration attorney can be a vital asset as you perpetuate your claim. Your attorney can guide you and your family through the process making sure that you successfully progress through the system in a timely manner.
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