There are many ways to qualify for a green card (also known as permanent residence), and even more reasons to pursue it. A green card is a direct path to citizenship and it offers numerous other benefits along the way, such as the ability to work in the United States and to bring family members into the country. You may qualify for a green card through your family members living in the United States, your employment, your status as a refugee or asylee, or if you were the victim of domestic violence, just to name a few.
The petition process
Typically, to qualify for a green card, you first need someone, such as a family member or employer, to file a petition on your behalf (see Forms I-130, I-140, or I-360). But there are some situations where you may be able to petition for yourself. For example, if you are a PhD or Postdoc, you may be able to qualify for a green card without an employer: i.e., through the priority worker EB1 category for aliens of extraordinary ability and the exceptional worker EB-2 national interest waiver (NIW) category. Additionally, if you are the victim of domestic violence, and your abuser is a U.S. citizen (or green card holder in the case of spousal abuse), you may petition for a green card on your own behalf under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Once you have completed the petition process, the next step is to determine whether an immigrant visa is immediately available.
If you are applying for a green card based on your relationship to a U.S. citizen, an immigrant visa is potentially available right away, and you do not need to wait to file your application for a green card (Form I-485).
For asylees and refugees, the rules are different, and you must apply for a green card one year after becoming an asylee or refugee. You essentially skip the petition process described above.
Other applicants will fall into a preference category and will have to wait until a visa becomes available. USCIS will give you a “priority date,” and you must check the Department of State Visa Bulletin to determine whether your priority date is current. When reading the visa bulletin, you will need to keep in mind three things: your priority date, your preference category, and your country of citizenship. How much time you wait depends on these three factors.
Once an immigrant visa becomes available, you may apply for the green card itself — a process known as adjustment of status — by filing Form I-485 with USCIS, or by applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.
The only thing left to prove is that you are admissible to the United States. There are many ways that one can become inadmissible to the United States, and they typically have to do with prior criminal convictions, prior immigration violations (such as unlawful presence, fraud, or alien smuggling), or threats to national security. In some cases, you may be able to overcome a ground of inadmissibility by requesting a waiver of inadmissibility (Forms I-601, I-601A, or I-602).
If you are interested in applying for a green card, contact me today.
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