Green cards (the documents that signify lawful permanent residence) have many different benefits. You can travel more freely outside the U.S., work anywhere in the United States for (almost) any employer, help certain family members obtain green cards, and more. As the name suggests, lawful permanent residence gives you the right to live and work permanently in the U.S. (so long as you replace your green card every ten years). Perhaps most importantly, you may qualify for citizenship through the naturalization process after a certain number of years.
There are many different paths to lawful permanent residence, however, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Each path has its own timeline, requirements, and procedures.
To help clarify this area of immigration law, here is a brief overview of all the different ways you may become a green card holder in the United States.
Through a Family Member
One of the most common ways to get a green card is through a family member who is already a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens can sponsor a wider range of family members than lawful permanent residents, and the process is faster for them, as well. Different relatives have different preference levels.
Learn more about family-based immigration here.
Another common way to get a green card is through a U.S. employer. Employment-based immigration is divided into five preference categories, organized by specialization and the level of need for each worker in the United States.
For most of these categories, you will need a bona fide job offer, and your prospective employer will need to sponsor you by filing a petition on your behalf. However, the fifth category (EB-5 visas) is for immigrant investors, and they can self-petition (i.e. file without a sponsor).
Through Asylum or Refugee Status
If you came to the United States fleeing violence or persecution in your home country, you may qualify for asylum. Once you obtain asylum status, you can apply for a green card after one year.
Refugees can also apply for green cards at least one year after being admitted to the U.S. as a refugee. Both refugees and asylees can self-petition—in other words, they don’t need a sponsor.
Through a T or U Visa
Survivors of human trafficking and other serious crimes can obtain T or U nonimmigrant visas. While these grant temporary status, T and U visa holders can qualify for green cards if they meet all the requirements.
Through the VAWA & Other Humanitarian Programs
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows foreign citizens who have been abused by certain U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members to self-petition for a green card. Special Immigrant Juveniles and certain individuals under the Cuban Adjustment Act or Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act can benefit from similar opportunities.
Through Registry or Other Categories
If you have lived in the U.S. continuously since 1971, you may qualify for a green card.
Visit the USCIS green card eligibility categories page for other ways you may be eligible for a green card.
Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing
One critical factor that dictates how you might acquire a green card is whether or not you are already in the United States (lawfully). If you are, you can most likely adjust your status without leaving the country.
If you are out of the country, you will need to go through consular processing. Once you obtain your immigrant visa (a travel document that allows you to move permanently to the U.S.), you can go to a U.S. port of entry. There, the CBP officer will choose whether or not to let you into the United States. If you enter successfully, USCIS will mail you your green card.
Learn More from Our Dedicated Attorney
At the Simon Law Group, PLLC, our attorney has years of experience helping clients become lawful permanent residents. With his assistance, you can navigate this complex process as efficiently and painlessly as possible. We know the stakes may be extraordinarily high for you and your loved ones, which is why we are ready to work tirelessly toward your immigration goals.