How to Become Legal: Green Cards

A green card reveals the non-citizen’s permanent resident status in the United States.  Here are the eligibility requirements, according to FindLaw:

Categories of Those Eligible for Green Card Applications:

Immediate relatives of US citizens 
Relatives in the immediate family of U.S. citizens are eligible to file a green card application, so long as the citizen-relative petitions for them.  The following relations qualify under this category:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers
  • unmarried children under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is at least age 21
  • stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday, and
  • adopted children of U.S. citizens, if the adoption took place before the child reached age 16

Other family members of citizens and permanent residents 
Only 480,000 non-citizens are granted green cards under this category per year, and it is based on a first come, first served basis.  The wait in this category can be lengthy, varying from three to even twenty-four years.  This type of classification is called a “preference category” because these family members are classified and prioritized accordingly:

  • First Preference: Unmarried adults, age 21 or older, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried children of a permanent resident, so long as the children are younger than age 21; and unmarried children age 21 or older of a permanent resident.
  • Third Preference: Married people who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Fourth Preference: Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, where the citizen is age 21 or older.

Workers whose skills are needed in the USA 
There are only 140,000 workers who are admitted each year, which is why the preference category system is used.  Usually, the non-citizens must show proof that there is a job offer.  In those cases, the employer must show that he or she recruited for the position in the USA and that there were no qualified US citizens who could fill the position.   Non-citizens who want to obtain a green card based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Priority Workers.  Priority workers include those with unique and advanced skills, education, or talents such as
    • those who excel in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, or education,
    • exceptional professors and researchers, and
    • supervisors and executives of global companies.
  • Second Preference: Professionals with extraordinary ability or advanced academic degrees
  • Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals, and other qualified workers
  • Fourth Preference: People in religious vocations and special immigrants including
    • religious workers of legitimate religious organizations
    • foreign medical graduates who have been in the USA since 1978
    • former Panama Canal Zone employees
    • foreign workers who were longtime employees of the U.S. government
    • retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have lived in the USA for a certain period of time
    • non-citizen workers employed by the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong for at least three years
    • non-citizen children who have been declared dependent in juvenile courts in the United States
    • international broadcasting employees, and
    • certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces who enlisted overseas and have served for at least twelve years.
  • Fifth Preference: Investors wishing to invest at least a million dollars into a US business (or $500,000 in depressed economies). This investor must also have at least ten employees.

Green card lotteries that create ethnic diversity 
Green card lotteries, whose purpose is to create ethnic diversity, make 50,000 green cards available to non-citizens from countries that have had the fewest immigrants come to the USA. 

Asylum and refuge 
“Asylum” is used to refer to the protection of those non-citizens who are already currently living in the USA; whereas, “refuge” is used to refer to the protection of those non-citizens who live outside the USA, and move to the USA for protection.  Asylum and refuge are available to those non-citizens who fear that living in their native country would threaten their safety or subject them to persecution.  This persecution must be based on a protected category such as race, nationality, religion, political stance, or affiliation with a certain group.  Fearing poverty or random violence does not qualify non-citizens for asylum or refuge.

Amnesty is the basis for non-citizens, living in the USA illegally, to obtain a green card.  Years ago, amnesty green cards were offered to those illegal non-citizens who had been living in the USA since January 1, 1985.  Similarly, between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986, amnesty green cards were offered to field workers who had worked for at least ninety days.  These deadlines have passed, but because the green card application process can be lengthy, there are still pending applications.

Long-Time Residents
Long-time residents who have lived in the USA for more than ten years are allowed to request permanent residence.  This typically happens in deportation court proceedings, where the non-citizen requests permanent residence as a defense.  To do this, the non-citizen must show that his or her U.S. citizen children or spouse would face “extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship if the non-citizen were deported.  Going to USCIS in order to ask about this is dangerous because they could deport you.

Non-citizens who have lived continuously in the USA since January 1, 1972, may apply to obtain a green card.  The requirements include showing that you are of good moral character and are not inadmissible.  All of your time in the USA qualifies, even if it was not legal or was on a visa.

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