It is the dream of many noncitizens to live and work in the United States permanently and enjoy the freedom and rights like natural-born United States citizens. The problem is that the immigration laws in the U.S. are very tough on people applying for permanent residency. Obtaining a green card is not a walk in the park, but the Orange County Immigration Attorney will help you understand the process and eligibility requirements for a successful green card application.
Immigration laws in the U.S. are highly sophisticated. These laws are federal laws, which means the process of acquiring a green card is similar in all states. These laws cover all persons from a foreign country visiting the U.S. either temporarily or permanently. You can become a United States citizen through:
- Permanent residency
Foreigners who fall under this category are green card holders, and they are known as lawful permanent residents. They are permanent citizens of the U.S. and are allowed by the law to work without any additional documentation aside from the residency document. If you hold a green card, you can enter and leave the United States as you wish. For one to obtain residency status, a family member or employer must make an application. One can apply for residency only in a few circumstances. The condition can be revoked in situations where the beneficiary violates the status or commits an offense.
- Residency through family
To acquire residency through family, one does not have anything that can bar them from obtaining residency like prior criminal conviction and violation of immigration status. You might receive the green card immediately or wait for a more extended period depending on how you relate with the petitioner.
- Residency through employment
For residency through family, the petitioner is a family member, but for this case, it is your employer. If you are looking for a green card through employment, you must ensure you have no bars. The processing can be slow or fast, but it doesn’t depend on your relationship with the petitioner. Instead, it depends on your experience and the type of job you will be doing.
- Residency through investment
Foreigners who have invested a lot of money in the economy of the United States and have created job opportunities or helps keep many people employed can acquire residency. No third party petitioners are required in this case, which makes it easy to qualify.
- Diversity lottery
In this case, applicants can receive green cards without having a family member or employer as the petitioner. Fifty thousand visas are issued, but they are meant for applicants from countries with immigrants in the U.S.
What is a Green Card or Lawful Permanent Residency?
A green card is an identification card that contains personal details as a foreigner in the United States and your immigration status. The status proves that you can stay in the U.S. indefinitely, work, or study without seeking additional documentation and enter and exit the country at your will and with minimal restrictions. The cardholder should carry it all over because if you fail to do so, you might end up spending 30 days in jail. Failure to renew the card can get you deported from the country.
If you are a non-resident but a holder of the lawful permanent residency status, then you can acquire an employment authorization document and another permit that allows you to travel and come back to the U.S. without many restrictions. These two act like a visa. Acquiring a green card involves a lot of hassle, so before making an application, find out whether you are eligible.
Who Qualifies For Permanent Resident Card Application?
You qualify for a permanent residence application in the following scenarios:
- You are an Immediate Relative of a U.S. Citizen
If you have an immediate relative in the United States, you will qualify and acquire a green card faster than anyone else as long as all the paperwork is filed. You will be eligible to make an application under this category if you are a spouse of a U.S. citizen, and the marriage is legal in California. Alternatively, if you are below 21 years of age and unmarried with one of your parents a U.S. resident, or you are a parent to a son or daughter who is below 21 years of age and is a U.S. citizen, then you are eligible.
Additionally, a person will qualify for application under this category if he or she is a stepchild or stepparent of a U.S. citizen. However, this applies if the marriage that created the stepparent or stepchild took place before the child was 18 years of age. An adopted child of a U.S. resident falls under this category as well, but only if the adoption took place before the age of 16.
- Other Family Members
Extended family members of U.S. permanent residents also qualify for the application of green cards. The only difference is that there lawful permanent residency status doesn’t come immediately; it takes longer than for immediate relatives. Forty-eight thousand residents get green cards annually under this category. Those who apply first are always considered first, so if you are planning to make an application under this category, do it on time.
The applicants under this category are classified under various preference categories. Under the first preference category, the applicants who qualify are the unmarried adults with 21 years and above who have one parent as a U.S. citizen.
The second preference is for spouses or unmarried children of a permanent resident card holder. The children should be below 21 years of age under category F2A. For category F2B, unmarried children of a green card holder with 21 years and above can qualify as applicants.
The third preference is for married people who have one of their parents as a U.S. citizen. The fourth preference, on the other hand, is for those brothers and sisters of U.S. residents who are aged above 21 years. When applying under the extended family members category, much uncertainty is experienced, and the time you will wait for the green card to be processed will depend on the workload at the immigration agency, the number of applicants from your country, and the category of your application.
- You are a Preferred Employee in the U.S.
If you possess skills that are in high demand in the U.S., you qualify to be issued with a green card. One hundred forty thousand green cards are released each year for preferred employees, and due to the limited opportunities, applicants are also classified in preference categories. The employer hiring a foreigner as an employee must show proof to the state that the job position had no qualified or interested U.S. citizen to fill, hence the reason for recruiting a foreigner. The applicant is also required to prove that there is a job offer.
The first preference is for priority workers — employees with unique skills, talents, and education. If you are outstanding in arts, athletics, or business, you will fall under the priority workers category. Executives in global companies and outstanding researchers also come under this category.
If you are an advanced degree holder or possess outstanding abilities, your green card will be availed under the employment second preference category. The third preference is for skilled and qualified employees. Unskilled workers and professionals belong to this category.
Special immigrants and religious workers belong to the fourth employment category. The last classification under this category is a fifth preference, which is for investors who are ready to inject $500,000 in depressed economies.
- Diversity Lotteries
Fifty thousand people from countries with the fewest immigrants in the U.S get the chance to obtain green cards to create ethnic diversity.
- Refuge and Asylum
Refuge means protection for foreigners or non-citizen who are running away from their home country due to fear of being subjected to persecution. Those who are already in the U.S. or at the border and fear or have experienced hardship in their country get asylum. Not just any non-citizen qualifies for shelter and refuge. Those who are eligible are those who fear being prosecuted because of their race, being a member or affiliation to a particular group, religion, or political opinion.
If you are seeking protection in the U.S. because of fear of exposure to violence or poverty, then you will be disqualified to qualify for residency under this category. For a refugee, you should stay in the U.S. for over a year before applying for a green card. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, must wait for a certain period but for this case, the earlier you make the application, the better. If you delay and calm returns in your country, then you might lose your residency status and return home.
- You are a Longtime Resident
Illegal immigrants who are facing deportation in the U.S. after living in the country for over ten years and are facing eviction in an immigration court can request permanent residency as a defense. However, this happens if the non-resident has a spouse or children who are U.S citizens, and if the person is deported, the people left behind would face exceptional difficulties.
A foreigner who has lived in the U.S. persistently from January 1, 1972, can apply for a green card. If you entered the country legally or illegally, you qualify for application under this category. The only thing that can limit you is a bad moral character.
- Special Cases
If you are applying for a green card because of humanitarian reasons, members of Congress can assist you in getting one even if immigration laws doesn’t qualify you.
The Difference Between a Visa and Green Card
It is easy to get confused between these two documents. Visa documents indicate that you have permission to enter the U.S. borders. They are prepared by the Department of State for purposes of entry to the U.S. When gaining admission to the country; you present these documents to the U.S. customs who decide whether to allow or deny you entry. Visas come in two forms, the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa. The immigrant visa enables the holder to a permanent stay in the U.S. once they have entered the country. For nonimmigrant visas, the visit is temporary, and after the stated duration of stay, you are expected to leave.
The green card, on the other hand, is for immigrant visa holders and other non-citizens who had applied for permanent residency. With this identity card, you become a lawful permanent resident enjoying freedom and rights like the natural-born residents.
On the issue of expiry, a nonimmigrant visa only lasts for a few years. The period stated on the i-94 record states the date you arrived and when you should leave the country. If you have children below the age of 21 years and are not married, you can enjoy the same stay indicated in your visa. If they turn 21 years of age or get married while your visa is not expired, you must apply to change your status; otherwise, you might be forced to leave the country.
For green cards, the expiry time is ten years after which you are expected to renew. For those foreigners who obtain a green card because of marriage or due to their investments, they get a condition to stay for two years. After the end of this period, they are expected to file an application, showing that they qualify for permanent residency. For permanent residents with green cards, even after ten years, you remain a citizen unless you break the law and you are deported.
The Role of Conditional Residency
Most non-citizens know that the immigration laws allow permanent residency by issuing a green card for non-residents. Thus, some might get into fake marriages to obtain permanent residency status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services understand many weddings can be fake and as a result, they have introduced conditional residency so that they can first assess the validity of the marriage before issuing permanent residency.
The rights and freedom of conditional residents are similar to those of permanent residents. The only difference is that it expires after two years. Before the close of this period, a person should apply for permanent residency and provide evidence to show the marriage is real, and it is ongoing. If you aren’t sure of what happens to people whose marriages end before two years before the close of the limited period, then the answer is that there are certain exceptions. Despite the marriage ending, some situations can allow you to acquire permanent residency.
The Process of Application to Remove the Conditions on Residence
If the conditional residence period is coming to an end, you and your U.S. citizen spouse should make an application 90 days earlier. A petition should be filed by completing form i-751, which can be downloaded from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
Proof of the validity of marriage such as birth certificates of children born in the union, joint bank accounts of the couple, and lease contracts should be filed. After the submission, the USCIS interviews the two spouses, and if they are satisfied with the marriage, permanent residency is granted. However, if something doesn’t add up during the interview, you might be forced to leave the country.
If you divorce or lose a partner within this period, you can apply for a waiver. It will allow you to apply for a petition alone. You will, however, be required to document evidence showing the reasons why the exemption should be granted.
When a foreigner makes an application for a green card, he or she must be willing to make the U.S. the place of permanent residence. If you are acquiring the green card just for hassle-free entry into and exit from the U.S., then the permanent residency status might be canceled under the basis that you abandoned your residency.
Can Foreign U.S. Employees Qualify for a Green Card?
The United States has employees all over, especially in the host countries where they have set up embassies and military bases. Some of these workers are from the host country or nonresidents of the host country and perform essential duties. Most of these workers are security guards, procurement officers, and advisors. These people are paid directly by the U.S. and can serve in the same place for many years, hence proving loyalty. To recognize such employees, these foreigners are allowed to apply for green cards, but under the employment fourth preference.
How to Obtain a Foreign Employee Green Card
A current employee or a retired one who served the U.S. government abroad faithfully for 15 years gets a recommendation from the ambassador or consul. The proposal is approved by the state department headquarters after which the foreigner, accompanied by a spouse and children, qualify for a special immigrant visa.
Not everyone who served the U.S. government qualifies for this. First, you must have been laid off or reached the maximum age of serving. In case you were fired or resigned before being fired, you don’t qualify as honorably retired.
Not every employee who served the U.S. government abroad faithfully qualifies for the special immigrant visa. Only a few cases do. These exceptional circumstances include putting your life in danger for the benefit of the U.S. and serving in a position of enormous responsibility but not a citizen of the host country. Again, if the relationship of the U.S. government and the host country is severed and U.S. employees abroad are likely to face prosecution, then these employees can be considered under exceptional circumstances.
If you qualify under any of the above categories, signal the principal officer in your place of work about your interest to live in the states. If you work or used to work in a U.S. embassy, ask the ambassador for a recommendation, and if they agree to recommend you, then you are lucky. The recommendation, however, must be sent to the Advisory Opinions Division of the State along with all evidence that justifies the recommendation.
In the event the recommendation is approved, you must petition to the local consulate by submitting Form DS-1884 as a worker or former worker of the United States government. If the petition is granted, you must be ready to relocate to the U.S. within a short time.
Conditions You Must Meet to Keep Your Green Card
Not everyone who manages to get a green card keeps it. Specific actions can get you deported. If you commit a criminal offense and the court finds you guilty, whether the offense was a misdemeanor or felony, you might become deportable. The law is not specific on the kind of crimes that are deportable, so it is good to have both a criminal and immigration attorney at your defense. Criminal lawyers know very little about immigration laws; thus, the need for an immigration attorney by your side.
Apart from criminal acts, other things can have you lose the green card. In case the USCIS realizes after a review that you acquired lawful permanent residency status through a sham marriage, then you can be deported. For those who enter the U.S. and change the address within ten days, then they can be removed from the country. However, if the USCIS is informed of the changes in advance, you are not deportable.
If you would like to commute to the U.S. to work, and live in a neighboring country like Canada, you will not be deportable if you have a commuter exception. Those who spend more than a year outside the U.S. should have a returning resident visa or re-entry permit. However, if you want peace of mind, you can apply for U.S. citizenship that can be done after five years of obtaining a green card.
Contact an Orange County Immigration Attorney Near Me
If you have a dream of living and working in Orange County or the US, it is a dream you should not be willing to let go. Call 714-909-0426 to speak to the Orange County Immigration Attorney to help with your green card issues.