How Do I Get A Green Card?

August 24, 2010

With all the current controversy over immigration law and illegal immigration, we lose sight of hard-working, legal immigrants trying to secure permanent residence in the country. How do you become authorized to live and work in the U.S., and obtain proof of that status: your “green card?”

so-called "Green card"
Image via Wikipedia

As outlined in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website (, there are a number of ways for immigrants to become permanent residents of the United States:

Through Family

In order to promote family unity, U.S. immigration law allows citizens and permanent residents to petition for certain relatives to live permanently in the country.

If your family member is a U.S. citizen, you may be able to obtain a green card as an “Immediate Relative,” a “Family Member of a U.S. Citizen in a Preference Category,” or a “Family Member of a Permanent Resident in a Preference Category” if that relative files a “Petition for Alien Relative” (a form available from the Immigration Services) for you.

You’re considered an “Immediate Relative” if you are the child (unmarried and under 21 years of age), the spouse, or the parent of a U.S. citizen (if the citizen is 21 years or older). You’re considered a “Family Member in a Preference Category” if you are an unmarried child (21 years or older), the married child or the sibling of a U.S. citizen. You’re considered a “Family Member of a Permanent Resident in a Preference Category” if you are the spouse, the child (unmarried and under 21) or the unmarried child (21 years and older) of a permanent resident.

Through Job

Permanent residence status is often secured through a job or offer of employment, and requires your employer to obtain a labor certification, then file an “Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker” (also available from Immigration Services) for you.

You can also file for a green card yourself (self-petition) if you’re considered an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” or granted a National Interest Waiver. Green cards may also be available to entrepreneurs who are investing in an enterprise that generates new U.S. jobs.

Through Refugee or Asylee Status
If you are were admitted to the U.S. as a refugee or as a qualified family member of an asylee, you are eligible to apply for a green card one year after your entry into the country. If you were granted asylum in the U.S., you are eligible to apply for permanent residence one year after being granted that status.

There are many paths to legal permanent residence for immigrants. It’s just a matter of identifying and following the proper process.

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