Numerous foreigners come to this country for various reasons. Some come here to work, while others come here in the hopes of finding a better life. There are four basic legal statuses for whether you can live in the United States or not. One is a foreigner with no legal residency rights at all. Second, you can obtain a temporary visa that would allow you to stay in the country for a limited time. Third, is a permanent legal residency. And lastly, you can to be born a U.S. citizen which, of course, comes with the benefit of automatic legal status. For those of you that want to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis, you will need to obtain lawful permanent residence status, also known as a green card.
There are three ways to get a green card: through your employer, through your immediate family, or win the lottery. Whichever way you go about it, you have to follow the strict procedures and regulations laid out by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Get Your Employer to Sponsor You
Of all the ways to get a green card, this is probably the hardest and most complex. If you are working in the United States on a permanent basis, you can try to get your employer to sponsor you. First, you need to have an employer that likes you well enough and feels that you are enough of an asset that they will go through the trouble of all the paperwork. Basically, you do all the paperwork but your employer will have to sign the signature on several documents and arrange for you to have copies of your company records such as work history and hire date.
There are four main categories of workers who can apply for green cards.
1. EB-1 Priority Workers: These workers are all professionals from the areas such as the sciences, arts, education, and business. These priority positions include professors, respected athletes, researchers, or company executives.
2. EB-2 Professionals with advanced degrees and exceptional abilities: These are workers, educators, and anyone else in the sciences, arts, and business that have a degree in their chosen field, such as doctors.
3. EB-3 Professional Workers: This category includes degreed professionals with at least a bachelor’s degree and two years minimum experience. It also includes unskilled workers.
4. EB-4 Special Immigrants: This category includes all religious workers as well as U.S. employees and former U.S. employees working abroad.
In cases where your employer is sponsoring you, they will need to fill out Form i-40 and submit it along with a processing fee. If you qualify for EB-4 Special Immigrant, then only you will need to fill out form 1-360. Applying through your employer can be a lengthy process. There are three steps to go through: The Labor Certification Application, The Immigrant Petition, and the Adjustment of Status. The first step can take up to six months, the second step up to three months, and the third step can take a year. The best thing about applying through your employer is that after the first two steps are completed, you can begin working while you wait for the finalization fo the last step.
Get One Through Your Family
You can also get a green card through your immediate family if they are a permanent citizen of the United States. The most common method, and the one that everyone usually thinks of, is to marry a U.S. citizen. However, if you have immediate family, such as parents or siblings, who are permanent citizens, you can apply through them as well. Sponsors must fill out Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative.
The family member must have documentation to prove that they are a citizen. Also, they must prove that they can support you at 125% above the poverty level. They have to fill out what is called an Affidavit of Support that is more of a financial statement that proves they can actually support you. In this type of green card application, the family member does most of the paperwork. If the sponsor is a citizen of the United States, they are allowed to petition only the following members: husbands and wives, unmarried children, married children of any age, a sibling (but only if the sponsor is 21 years old or over), and parents (again, only if they are over 21). If the sponsor is a permanent resident, then they may only petition for an unmarried child or a spouse.
Through all of this, the government will give preference to who it will allow to have residency. If you are a spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen, then there is no waiting period for your green card. However, the U.S. government gives preferences to its applicants in this particular order:
First Preference: Goes to unmarried children over 21.
Second Preference: Goes to spouses of permanent residents, their unmarried children, and the unmarried children of permanent residents.
Third Preference: This preference goes to married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens.
Fourth Preference: Goes to brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over 21.
The process is long and depending on where you stand as far as family membership goes, the wait can take several months to several years. There is even a waiting list. But some applicants may qualify for K-3 or K-4 visas which will allow them to come to the U.S. while they wait for their visas.
Believe it or not, there is a lottery for obtaining a permanent green card to the U.S., known as the Diversity Lottery. Each year, 50,000 green cards are issued to candidates from countries that have a low rate of immigration to the U.S. To be considered for it, you must file your application for permanent residency with the State Department, not Immigration Services. To qualify, you must originate from one of the countries on the list such as the United Kingdom, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and Peru, to name a few. All candidates must have either a high school degree (or equivalent) or proof of employment in a job that required two years of training.
Application for the lottery for a green card can be found at the official State Department website. There is no fee to apply and you can only do it online. There is a two-month time period for applying, between October and December of every year.