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Green Card 101: Everything There is to Know

A lawful permanent resident (LPR) is a non-U.S. citizen who lives and works in the country and has the legal documentation to do so. In this case, a Green Card

A Green Card is the document that allows LPRs to stay in the U.S., and they retain these privileges as long as they do not leave the country for more than twelve consecutive months. In this article, you’ll learn important details on applying for your Green Card and becoming a lawful permanent resident.

What is a Green Card?

A Green Card, or Permanent Residency Card is a document that allows you to live and work legally in the U.S. for an indefinite period of time. To get one, you have to meet a series of requirements and complete a case-specific multi-step process. There are different ways to apply for a Green Card. We’ll explain the most common cases below.

Permanent residence by family or marriage

If you’re married to someone with U.S. permanent residence or citizenship, you may be eligible to apply for a Green Card. The same applies to minor children and parents of U.S. residents or citizens. In this case, your sponsoring relative files a petition on your behalf. For more information about obtaining permanent residence for immediate relatives of citizens or residents, check out the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

Visa lottery 

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, better known as the visa lottery, grants permanent residence to up to 55,000 people of different nationalities each year. In order to apply for this type of permanent residence, you must be a citizen of one of the countries on the list that’s published each year on the USCIS website. You’ll also need to show that you completed at least twelve years of primary and secondary education and that you spent at least two of the last five years working in one of the eligible professions. You can find the list of eligible countries for the 2023 visa lottery at this link.

Permanent residency through employment 

If you have specific job skills or employment opportunities in the US, you may be able to apply for an employment-based (EB) visa. These types of visas are divided into five classifications depending on the degree of priority that their potential employment has for the country’s development:

  • EB-1 visa (first preference).This type of visa is granted to priority workers—you don’t need a current job offer in the US to apply. The types of workers who can apply for this type of visa are:
    • People with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
    • Outstanding professors and researchers
    • Executives or managers of multinational corporations
  • EB-2 visa (second preference).This type of visa applies to people who work in a position that requires an advanced degree or who have exceptional abilities. To apply for this type of visa, you need a job offer from an employer in the US. If your qualifications are considered to be of national interest, you can apply for an exception to this requirement.
  • EB-3 visa (third preference).This visa applies to skilled workers, professionals, and other workers. You must have a job offer within the US, and your potential employer must present a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) for this visa. This certification affirms that there are an insufficient number of workers that are qualified, available, and willing to take the position you’re applying for, and that your employment won’t have an adverse effect on the wages or working conditions of other workers in the US.
  • EB-4 visa (fourth preference). Fourth preference employment-based visas are granted to certain classes of immigrants known as special immigrants. This category includes:
    • Religious workers
    • Special Immigrant Juveniles 
    • Certain broadcasters 
    • Certain retired officers or employees of a G-4 international organizations or NATO-6 civilian employees and their family members;
    • Certain U.S. government employees who are abroad and their family members;
    • Members of the U.S. armed forces 
    • Panama Canal company or Canal Zone government employees
    • Some licensed physicians who practiced their profession in any state up until January 9, 1978
    • Iraqi or Afghan translators or interpreters
    • Iraqi citizens who worked for or on behalf of the US government;
    • Afghan citizens who worked for or on behalf of the US government or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
  • EB-5 visa (fifth preference) This applies to people who invest money in a for-profit company in the U.S. and can demonstrate that they’ll create at least 10 full-time positions for qualifying employees.

Humanitarian programs 

The US government is known for maintaining a culture of respecting human rights, both inside and outside the country. The USCIS maintains humanitarian programs to grant permanent residency to qualifying refugees and asylum seekers

Refugee and asylum status have similar characteristics, but the application procedure is different. In both cases, the applicant must demonstrate that they have been a victim of persecution or that they have a credible fear of being persecuted or killed if they return to their country of origin. However, the process for applying for adjustment of status differs as follows:

  • People who are already within the United States can apply for asylum, which must be done during their first year of stay in the country.
  • Individuals who apply for refugee status almost always must do so in their country of origin. There are some occasions where refugees can enter the U.S. if conditions in their country are unstable and dangerous.

Keep in mind: To apply for asylum or refugee status, you’ll need to have strong evidence to prove that you have credible fear of persecution and/or for your life. In these cases, we recommended that you seek legal advice from an immigration or asylum lawyer who specializes in these cases. They will be able to assist you in writing an error-free petition and carrying out the process correctly.

Steps for applying for residency in the US

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The green card application process can be done in several ways depending on your reason for applying. If you plan to request residency through a family relationship or employer for example, your sponsor will be the one to initiate the process. On the other hand, other types of visas such as refugee visas and those provided by the Diversity Visa Program require that the applicant initiate the process. To learn more about the necessary steps according to your particular case, visit this site.

How long will I have to wait to get my Green Card?

The time it takes to get a Permanent Resident Card varies greatly by case. It depends on the type of application you choose, where you currently live and the number of people who are applying for the same type of visa, among other factors. 

For example, applicants who apply for a Green Card through marriage might have to wait between 10 and 38 months to receive their Green Card. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the sooner you start your application, the faster you can establish legal immigration status.

What laws govern US residency and immigation?

The main law that governs the US immigration system is the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). All immigration-related laws, statutes, and policies in the US country are federal. This means that they are applied throughout the country and the states cannot modify them or have their own individual laws.

How do I renew my Green Card?

Most Green Cards are valid for ten years. You should apply to renew or replace your Green Card if it will expire in less than six months, if you need to change any information on it, if it’s lost or stolen, or if the physical document is damaged. Similarly, if you became a permanent resident before your 14th birthday, you’ll need to replace your card as soon as you turn 14.

You’ll need to fill out an I-90 form to renew or replace your Green Card. You can print the document and mail it to USCIS or fill out the form electronically by creating an account on this site. Depending on your particular case, you might need to pay fees and submit supporting documentation in order for your renewal to be approved.

Keep in mind: If you’re a conditional resident (with a green card that’s valid for two years), you can petition to have the conditions removed when you renew your card. To do this, you will need to fill out an I-751 form or I-829 form.

What happens if my Green Card expires? 

The consequences of letting your Green Card expire vary depending on the country you're in. Your status as a legal permanent resident doesn’t change if your green card expires, but you should apply for a replacement as soon as possible. If you are out of the country when your card expires, re-entering the United States may become complicated. To re-enter the country, you must request an appointment at the nearest US consulate and process a Transportation Letter. In addition, you will have to present the following: 

  • Two passport size photos
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • A valid copy of the boarding pass you are using to travel to the US
  • Your expired Permanent Resident Card.

A Path to Citizenship

We know that not everyone in our community can get permanent legal status, but if you have the chance and the means to carry out this process, we recommend that you start it as soon as possible!

The goal of SABEResPODER is to empower the Latino community, so if you need help during this process or have any questions do not hesitate to contact our team of experts.