What Is a Green Card?

Once you have obtained a "Green Card" you will have the ability to legally work and live in the United States on a permanent basis. For this reason, permanent residency status in the United States is a valuable commodity that many individuals try to seek. That said, not everyone obtains their Green Cards in the same way and there may be different pathways available to you depending on your situation. In most cases, Green Card seekers are sponsored by a family member. In other cases, an individual is sponsored by an employer. Alternative routes to permanent residency include asylum, refugee status and more.

Family Sponsored Green Card

Family sponsorship is the most common way for an individual to obtain permanent residency status. Family sponsorship generally applies to relatives of U.S. citizens and relatives of Green Card holders.

Those who can typically qualify for family sponsorship fit into four main categories:

  • The first category includes immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives are spouses, parents of U.S. citizenship applicants who are 21 or older, and unmarried children who are under 21.
  • The second category includes family members of U.S. citizens who fit in a preference category. Preference category individuals are married children of all ages, unmarried children over 21 years of age, and siblings of citizenship petitioners who are 21 years of age and over.
  • The third category includes relatives of green card holders. Those who qualify for this category are unmarried offspring of the green card holder and spouses.
  • The fourth category includes relatives of U.S. citizens who can qualify for one of several special programs. These can include K nonimmigrants (or fiancés of U.S. Citizens and their children), battered children or spouses of U.S. citizens, children of foreign diplomats born on U.S. soil, and the spouses of deceased U.S. citizens.

Employment-Based Green Card

Many individuals obtain their green cards by way of employer sponsorship. If you have a job offer for permanent work by a United States-based employer, the employer can file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker form after obtaining a labor certification.

However, you do not need to have an employer to obtain a work-based Green Card in all cases. Some independent investors and entrepreneurs can also secure permanent residency if they are willing to make a large enough investment in a business that will create new jobs in the United States. This is known as the EB-5 visa.

"Self-Petition" is another job-based pathway toward permanent residency. This applies to "Aliens of Extraordinary Ability" and other types of individuals who can gain their Green Card through what is called a National Interest Waiver. Furthermore, if you have skills in any number of specialized jobs, it could help you independently secure a Green Card. Some of these specializations include Afghan/Iraqi translator, Panama Canal employee, Iraqi who is helping the United States government, religious worker and more.

Asylum and Refugee Status

Individuals can apply to stay in the United States as refugees or asylum seekers too. To qualify for asylum or refugee status, the conditions in your home country will be evaluated to determine the level of danger involved in your returning there.

Getting Legal Help with Your Green Card

There are more, less known, ways of obtaining a Green Card, but the above strategies are by far the most common. If you would like to live and work in the United States long-term, contact an immigration law attorney to find out what legal options are available to you. An immigration attorney can evaluate your unique situation and determine the pathway toward permanent residency that fits you best. Your attorney can also help you prepare and file the necessary applications so that you have the highest likelihood of success.

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