How Can I get a Green Card?
That is a basic question many people ask. They want to live in the United States permanently and know that a green card gives them that right. If they qualify and they are already in the United States, it is a matter of filing an application to adjust their status from whatever status they have, such as a work visa, a student visa, or a visitor’s visa, to permanent residence. They file a Form I-485 to accomplish this task, adding all the required documents and paying all the relevant fees. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require them to go to a biometric appointment where they must provide finger prints and a facial scan to get a police and security clearance. In addition, they have to pass a medical, and also have to appear at an interview to qualify for the green card. The process will take about a year or more, and at the end they get their green card which will be evidence of their permanent resident status for ten years. They will then be able to renew the green card for another ten years and so on. But that is just a mechanical answer that outlines the procedure without talking about how hard it is to get a green card and eligibility to get one.
How hard is it to get a green card?
Getting a green card is not an easy task, no matter which way it is done. The process can be very difficult and complicated, particularly if the applicant does it incorrectly —wasting a lot of time and money in the process. Applicants can also expose themselves to deportation, criminal charges and even being barred from ever entering the United States if they have been in the U.S. illegally, committed offences while in the country or abroad, or entered the country improperly. It is wise to beware of the dangers involved and take the process seriously. This is not a process for the uneducated or those with a checkered past.
What is the easiest way to get a green card to the USA?
The easiest way to get a green card is probably the green card diversity lottery program. The U.S. State Department gives away 55,000 green cards to applicants who apply from countries that are underrepresented in the yearly flow of immigrants to the United States, countries such as Fiji or Estonia for example. The purpose of the green card lottery is to promote the diversity of the pool of fresh immigrants entering the United States each year. To apply for a green card in this category all an applicant has to do is enter their name in the lottery and follow the basic rules involved. But they cannot be from countries like Mexico, China, India or the Philippines to qualify, since those countries are already over-represented in the flow of immigrants to the United States yearly. You can learn more about the diversity green card lottery here.
What are some other ways I can get a green card?
Apart from the diversity green card program, there are basically five ways to get a green card. Let us discuss each of these.
Family Based Immigration
A popular way to get a green card is to be sponsored by a close family member who is either a U.S. citizen or someone who has a green card. For example, spouses, parents or unmarried children of U.S. citizens can get green cards by being sponsored. Similarly, spouses and children of green card holders can apply to come to the U.S. as permanent residents. Eligibility depends on the status of the sponsor and the nature of the relationship of the applicant to the sponsor. Applicants who are sponsored by American citizens get priority to those sponsored by green card holders. More details about these sponsorships can be found here.
Studying your way in involves getting accepted at a college or university. To do that you need to talk with the international student advisor on campus. These individuals are paid to help students qualify and to get them their visas. Briefly the process involves getting an I-20 letter confirming you have registered at the school and can afford the cost of studying there, and then apply for the student visa abroad through a U.S. Consulate or at the border in the case of Canada. You can find out more here.
Claiming asylum means that you can prove you are outside your country of citizenship and have a well founded fear of persecution by your home government if you return there based on well accepted grounds of persecution, such as race, religion, political opinion, etc. Few people will qualify for this way of getting a green card in the USA, but for those who qualify, it is a viable option. See here for more information.
Employment Based Immigration
Working your way in will depend on you qualifying for a work visa. The basic way to do that is through the process of labor certification where your employer establishes that there are no U.S. workers who are ready, willing and able to take the job being offered and thus it should be offered to a foreign worker. Avoiding this agonizing and painstaking process is wise, if at all possible. It can take years.
Work visas such as a TN visa under the USMCA free trade agreement, or an H1B visa will avoid labor certification. Other more difficult work visas you could still apply for are O or P visas for individuals with extraordinary skills, L visas for inter-corporate transferees and R visas for religious workers. These do not involve labor certification and are therefore to be preferred. Once you obtain such a work visa, in time you can transition to green card status. See here for more details.
Investment Based Immigration
Finally, you can invest your way into the U.S. The EB-5 program is the best way to do that. You invest $ 800,000 for a period of five years in a regional centre project and you get your green card. The E-2 visa can be an interim step towards getting a green card as well, for those applicants who are from a country that has a trade agreeement with the USA.
How long can you stay in the U.S. on a green card?
Green cards are granted for ten years and then require renewal. In some instances, such as persons who have been married for less than two years, they get a conditional green card for two years. At the two-year mark they are required to apply to remove the condition by proving they are still married and living with their spouse. Similarly, EB-5 investors who are granted a conditional green card at the two year mark must show that their money is still invested in the business and that they have created not less than ten new jobs. If they prove that the condition on the green card is removed.
How long does it take to get a green card?
That depends. However, it is probably safe to say an application for a green card will likely take at least a year to be approved and in some cases can take as long as four or even five years to be processed depending on the category. The quicker green card categories are those for exceptional immigrants and for the closest family members.
Hopefully this summary about green cards will be helpful in your efforts to immigrate to the United States.