What is a Green Card?
A “Green Card” is a card issued by the US Immigration Service that allows certain immigrants to live and work in the United States permanently. Green card holders may also be referred to as a “Legal Permanent Resident,” “Permanent Resident” or “LPR” for short. The card issued by the US Immigration Service is no longer green but the term “Green Card” has been used to describe the card for so long that the name has stuck.
Benefits of a Green Card
A Green Card conveys many benefits to the immigrant holder. It allows them to work, travel within the US and collect most US government benefits among other things. Perhaps the biggest benefits of being a Green Card holder is that after 5 years, immigrants may apply to become a naturalized US Citizen.
Restrictions of a Green Card
There are several restrictions that Green Card holders must be aware of to avoid running into problems. For example, it is illegal for Green Card holders to vote in any American elections. Immigrants must also obey the laws of the United States. Even a relatively minor criminal conviction may result in deportation. There are also certain foreign travel restrictions that every Green Card holder must follow.
Green Card Process
The Green Card process is not an easy or quick one in most cases. An experienced immigration attorney can certainly make things move faster by avoiding the common mistakes that immigrants make when they go it alone.
Who Can Get a Green Card?
The answer to this is just about anyone can get a Green Card if they are not barred from re-entry or do not qualify as a matter of law providing they are sponsored by a close family member or employer or fall into a couple of other classes. For example, someone with a criminal record, someone who is associated with a terrorist group or someone who has been deported from the US previously and is currently not allowed to re-enter the United States, would not be granted a Green Card. However, to apply for a Green Card, you will need to be one of the following:
- Sponsored by a close family member in the US who is either a citizen or has legal status (family-based immigration).
- Sponsored by an employer (employment-based immigration).
- Winner of the Diversity Lottery
- Be a qualified Alien Entrepreneur
- Be granted Asylum
- Be granted Refugee status
- Or through “The Registry” provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act
Phases of the Green Card Process
Every case is a little different and the Green Card process will vary based on the how you may qualify but, in general the process can be broken down into the following phases:
The Immigration Petition
An immigration petition is filed by a family member, employer or, in some cases, the immigrant themselves. The most common immigration petitions are the I-140 for employment-based immigration petitions or the I-130 for family-based immigration petitions. Each immigration petition requires several other supporting forms and documents to complete the immigration petition package. The immigration petition package is then submitted to a designated processing center where it is evaluated. Anything that is missing or incomplete will cause delays in the Green Card process or outright denial of the Green Card.
Immigrant Visa Availability
If the Green Card is approved, immigrant will often not be issued a Green Card or Legal Permanent Resident status immediately. This is because most categories of Green Cards are subject to quotas and restrictions. After the immigration petition has been granted, it is sent to the National Visa Center where it will wait until a visa number for the particular immigration petition becomes available. Visa numbers are issued according to the current priority date for the immigrant.
Adjustment of Status
On the priority date, a visa number is issued and the immigrant may submit a request to adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident if they are currently in the US. If they are outside of the United States, the immigrant will need to go to the US Consulate or US Embassy in their country to apply for an immigrant visa.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Green Card
Depending on the type of immigration petition and the circumstances of the immigrant the amount of time the become a Legal Permanent Resident varies. It may range from several months to several years. It may involve a number of other steps not described here. Please take a look at each type of immigration petition that you are most interested in for more information, or contact us, we are happy to discuss your options.
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