Who is a Green Card Holder?
Please Note: This post was published in 2015 and may not contain current information.
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A US Green Card Holder is a permanent resident. The term “green card” is commonly used in place of “permanent resident card”; both terms mean the same thing and refer to the same card.
A permanent resident is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, a person is granted a permanent resident card or a green card.
You can become a permanent resident several different ways. Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or employer in the United States. Other individuals may become permanent residents through refugee or asylee status, or other humanitarian programs. In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself. As the majority of our clients obtain green cards through family members, this blog post will discuss how to get a green card through your family member.
You may be eligible to get a green card if you are an an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen is any spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent of a U.S. citizen (provided the U.S. citizen is 21 or older). Immediate relatives are immediately eligible to receive an immigrant visa. Unlike other relatives, they do not have to “wait in line” for their petitions to become current in the Visa Bulletin.
Indeed, other family members of U.S. citizens may be eligible to get a green card, but they may have to wait in line. These relatives include the unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are over the age of 21, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, so long as the U.S. citizen is 21 years old or older.
Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate each year under these categories. As a result, there is usually a waiting period before an immigrant visa becomes available. Immigrants can determine their place in the waiting line by checking the Visa Bulletin. To read the Visa Bulletin, an immigrant first finds which preference category he or she belongs to; these categories are determined by the type of relative he or she is. Then, the immigrant compares the priority date listed on the Receipt Notice for his or her immigrant petition with the date listed for his or her category. If his or her date matches the priority date, or came earlier, then the immigrant visa is current. The immigrant visa is available and the immigrant can take the next step in the immigration process.
The family members of green card holders are also eligible to obtain a green card, but only the spouses and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of green card holders. These family members also have to wait in line for their immigrant visas to become current, and can monitor their progress by checking the Visa Bulletin.
Special family members can also immigrate. These unique categories include:
- battered spouses or children
- persons engaged to U.S. citizens
- those born to foreign diplomats while in the United States
- V nonimmigrants
- a widow(ers) of a U.S. Citizen.
What Is The Process Of Getting A Green Card?
If you determine that you are a family member who qualifies to apply for a green card, you can begin the process. If you are already in the United States, and entered legally, you may be eligible to adjust your status here in the United States.
How that process works: your relative will file an I-130 Petition on your behalf with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If USCIS approves the petition, it means that the government accepts your qualifying family relationship as true and correct. For example, if USCIS denies a petition based on marriage, typically it is because the couple did not submit adequate evidence demonstrating that their marriage is legitimate and not based on fraud.
You will also file an application to adjust your status (I-485). In that application, you are basically applying to be accepted into the United States as a green card holder. USCIS can deny your application if it finds you are unsuitable for permanent resident status, usually because of fraud or criminal convictions in your past.
The other process, called consular processing, occurs if you are outside of the United States or you if you entered the United States illegally. In that instance, your relative will still file an I-130 Petition on your behalf, but your petition will be forwarded to the National Visa Center, and eventually the U.S. consulate located in your country of citizenship.
You eventually obtain your green card after attending an immigrant visa interview at that consulate. Oftentimes, if you entered illegally, you will have to file a waiver of unlawful presence during this process. This waiver forgives you for the time you have spent in the United States without any lawful immigration status. As with adjustment of status, you may be unable to get a green card via consular processing if you are found unsuitable for permanent resident status, usually because of fraud or criminal convictions in your past.
In conclusion, there are various ways an immigrant can obtain a green card through his or her family member. Please note that the processes discussed in this blog are oversimplified to provide a big-picture view of how the system works. Always seek legal advice to ensure that no complications or issues come up that could hurt your chances of success.
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