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Are you considering a green card? Green cards allow you to permanently live and work in the United States and are part of the process to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. A green card also gives its holder many of the same benefits as a U.S. citizen.
Here are a few things you should know before you apply for a green card.
What Is a Green Card?
The U.S. green card, officially called the Lawful Permanent Resident Card, is a document that allows its holder to permanently live and work in the United States. A green card is also the last step towards U.S. citizenship.
Permanent residents may apply for citizenship after five years, or for at least three years if filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. Green cards must also be renewed every 10 years.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency typically grants 1 million green cards annually. About half are granted to immigrants already in the U.S. who are adjusting from another status. The remainder are issued to those outside of the U.S. In both situations, a large number of these visas require sponsorship by a relative or an employer.
How to Apply for a Green Card
The green card application process depends on the type of green card you’re applying for, where you’re applying from, and your individual situation. However, there is a general application process:
- Someone must file an immigration petition on your behalf. This is typically referred to as “sponsoring” or “petitioning” for you, but in some cases, you may be able to file for yourself.
- Once the USCIS approves the petition and if there is a visa available in your category, you must file either a Green Card application with USCIS or a visa application with the U.S. Department of State.
- You will need to go to a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature.
- You will go through an interview process, either at a USCIS field office, U.S. consulate, or embassy closest to you. An officer will review your case and ask you questions to confirm you are the person in the application.
- Finally, you will receive a decision on your application.
There are also fees associated with the green card application process. Government fees are $1,760 for the majority of applications and most applications take seven to 15 months to process.
Types of Green Cards
There are several categories of green cards. Each category has its own separate visas and requirements. Below are some of the more common types of green cards.
Family-Based Green Card
You can apply for a family-based green card if a close relative is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You may be eligible for a family-based green card if you are:
- An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen – spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, parent of a citizen who is at least 21 years old
- Other relative of U.S. citizen – unmarried son or daughter and at least 21 years old, married son or daughter, sibling and at least 21 years old
- Other relative of permanent resident – spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, unmarried son or daughter 21 years old or older
- Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child
- Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
- Victim of abuse and an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen
Employment-Based Green Card
If you found a job in the U.S., your employer may pay for the forms and application process and will sponsor you. There are multiple subcategories of workers and in some cases, their spouses and children may qualify for a green card.
Here are several employment-based subcategories:
- A First preference immigrant worker (EB-1) – an outstanding professor or researcher, a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria, or have extraordinary abilities in certain fields
- A second preference immigrant worker (EB-2) – A member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or seeking a national interest waiver
- A third preference immigrant worker (EB-3) – A skilled worker with at least two years of training or work experience, a professional with at least a bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent, and you are a member of the profession or an unskilled worker
- A physician (EB-2) who works full-time in clinical practice in a designated underserved area for a set period of time
- Immigrant investor (EB-5) with $500,000 to $1 million invested in a business in the US, creating full-time work for at least 10 people
Humanitarian Green Card
If you were granted asylum or if you entered the U.S. as a refugee over a year ago, you may be able to apply for a green card as an asylee or refugee. Check with the USCIS for eligibility requirements.
Diversity Visa Green Card
Under the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, the U.S. government randomly selects up to 50,000 people from a pool of entries it receives from countries that don’t send many immigrants to the United States. This allows individuals and families who wouldn’t have any way to legally immigrate to the United States to get a green card.
Longtime-Resident Green Card
Individuals who continually lived in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, may be able to apply for permanent residence status through a process called “registry.” You must also meet other criteria to be eligible.
What Is a Conditional Green Card?
A conditional green card is a temporary two-year resident status issued to immigrants who are receiving a green card through marriage or have been married to a U.S. citizen spouse for two years or less.
Conditional green cards cannot be renewed and must be converted to full permanent residence status. To remove the conditions, you’ll need to file a petition to remove the conditions 90 days before the conditional card expires.
Can I Get a Work Permit While Waiting for a Green Card?
If you’re living in the U.S and you’re waiting on a decision in relation to your green card application, you may likely qualify for a work permit.
If you’re the relative of a U.S. citizen, the work permit application is usually filed as part of the green card application. If you’re the relative of a green card holder, you must wait until you are eligible to file your green card application before applying for a work permit.
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