Green Cards / Permanent Resident Status
Green cards entitle the holder—also called a permanent resident—to live and work in the United States. Green cards may be renewed as often as the green card holder wants, barring a criminal conviction that instigates deportation proceedings. After living and working long enough in the U.S., green card law permits green card holders to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Green card law recognizes five basic categories of green card immigrant:
- Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including parents, spouses, and unwed children under age 21
- Other family members of U.S. citizens, including unwed children over the age of 21 and immediate relatives of green card holders
- Preferred workers and employees, usually recruited for particular jobs for which the employer could not find a U.S. employee
- Diversity visa lottery winners who win a green card through the annual lottery designed to maintain ethnic diversity
- Special immigrants who fit into statutory categories occasionally created by Congress
How to apply for a green card
In almost all cases, you should work with an immigration attorney to ease the application process. A green card attorney can guide you through the process, ensuring that you provide United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the correct documentation and file all the right forms. USCIS provides some basic information for green card applicants, but an attorney can give you step-by-step instructions and speed the green card process.
Most green card applicants require someone to petition for them, whether it be a family member who can promise the U.S. government that you will not become a burden on public welfare or an employer who works with the Department of Labor to show that you are qualified for the position in which you will work and that you will not take the place of a U.S. citizen or resident job seeker. Only very few applicants may self-petition. A green card immigration lawyer can provide guidance as to whether a third party must petition for you.
When to apply
Most green card categories have annual caps. Green card attorneys can help ensure that you apply at the best time of year to qualify. Despite annual caps, a green card attorney can help you time your application best and make sure that everything is filed right the first time, speeding the process.