If you aspire to become a permanent resident of the United States of America, so that you can be eligible to work and stay in the country, you need to know exactly, the process of obtaining the Green Card.
After World War II, the Internal Security Act, 1950 needed all the immigrants having Alien Registration Cards to fill in green forms for the new ‘Alien Registration Receipt Cards’. These cards, later came to be known as the ‘green cards’.
A Green Card is an identification card issued by the ‘United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (that falls under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) that recognizes immigrants/aliens as permanent residents of the country. A green card holder is permitted to stay and work in the United States of America, permanently. However, a permanent resident of America is not equivalent to an American citizen, and so enjoys limited rights. For instance, he/she is neither allowed to vote or to contest elections, nor is he/she eligible to apply for government jobs. Yet, the green card is highly valued and is regarded as the first step to acquiring U.S. citizenship.
Ways to Obtain a Green Card
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has created different categories under which an individual may apply for his/her green card. The process depends on whether or not the applicant currently resides in the United States. There are four categories under which people may be eligible to apply viz.
– Green card through family
– Green card through employer
– Green card through refugee or asylum-seeker status
– Green card lottery
One must identify the category under which they fall first.
Green Card through Family
A green card may be sponsored for a person by his/her relative who is an American citizen.
Step 1: The relative who is an American citizen files the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The purpose of this petition is to establish a lawful relationship between the U.S. citizen and the relative for whom he/she is sponsoring a green card. So, a valid proof of relationship should also be submitted along with the petition. Other documents to be submitted include proof of petitioner’s legal status, documents relating to marriage and/or its nullification, colored photographs, and USCIS’s processing fees.
Step 2: Once the petition, along with all the required documents is received by the USCIS, the petitioner receives a receipt called I-797C, Notice of Action, via mail. The number on this receipt can be used to track the status of the petition, online. If the USCIS needs any further information regarding the petitioner’s application, he/she will receive the letter called RFE (Request for Further Evidence). The petition is processed only after the petitioner submits all the additional documents that are mentioned in the letter. It must be noted that a petition may take several months to a year to process. The petitions pertaining to immediate relatives such as spouse, children, dependent parents, etc. are prioritized, but even these may take a number of months to process.
Step 3: Once the petition is approved by the USCIS, the relative for whom the petition has been filed, needs to fix an appointment for acquiring an immigrant visa number with the nearest U.S. Consulate in his/her home country. Again, it must be noted that acquiring an immigrant visa number might take several months or even years after the USCIS has approved the petition. This is because there are limited number of immigrant visas that are issued every year, for different countries. Delays are bound to take place, if there are long waiting lists.
Step 4: Once a person gets an immigrant visa number, the next step is to file for an immigrant visa. If the applicant is applying for an immigrant visa outside the United States, then he/she has to go to the nearest U.S. Consulate, and fix an appointment for a visa interview. At the time of the interview, the applicant has to fulfill all the other requirements of the visa such as medical, biometrics, and so on. Once this is done, the visa is stamped and one can either fly to the United States immediately and acquire his plastic green card there, or wait in order to receive it in his home country.
On the other hand, if the applicant is already residing in the United States, and applying for the visa from the U.S. Itself, he/she should first apply for changing his/her status to a lawful permanent resident, the day he/she gets the immigrant visa number. For this, one needs to fill in the Form I-485, available at the USCIS offices.
Step 5: Having arrived in the United States on an immigrant visa, one needs to acquire a social security number as soon as possible. A social security number enables a person to work in the United States, to pay taxes and file tax returns, to carry out transactions with banks and other financial institutions, etc.
Green Card through Employer
An employer can sponsor the green card of his/her employee, if it is thought that the skills of the employee in question are beneficial to the organization.
Step 1: The process starts with the Labor Certification. The employer has to submit the application form, ETA-750 (of the Department of Labor), to the appropriate State Employment Security Agency (SESA) or State Workforce Agency (SWA). This form contains detailed information about the job profile, qualifications, experience and skills, and so on. It is reviewed by the Agency, and then send to the Department of Labor (DOL) for further scrutiny. The DOL approves or rejects the application depending on their rules and regulations. The entire process about 6 months to 3 years to complete.
Step 2: Once the Labor Certification is done, the employer must submit the Form I-140 on behalf of the employee. This is the Petition for Immigrant Worker that has to be filed with the USCIS. The completed application must be accompanied with the Labor Certificate, processing fees, documents showing the employer’s financial position, and the documents of the employee such as degree certificates, letters of experience, and so on. On receipt of the completed application and the supporting documents by the USCIS, the applicant (employer) receives a Receipt Notice as an acknowledgment of the receipt of application. Moreover, if the application is approved by the USCIS, the applicant receives the Approval Notice, after which he/she can proceed with the next step of the green card process. The completion of this process takes up to 3 months.
Step 3: The final step is the Adjustment of Status (AoS). The way this can be done, depends on where the employee currently resides. If he/she is staying in the United States, he/she may submit the Form I-485, which is the Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status, to the USCIS. It has to be supported by other documents such as birth certificate, photographs, copy of the non-immigrant visa, processing fees, etc. A medical examination done by a USCIS approved civil surgeon is mandatory for all the AoS applicants. Furthermore, he/she would also have to go through the process of biometrics. Once all the requirements are met, the applicant may or may not be asked to appear for an interview (generally, the interview is waived), after which he/she receives the green card within a few months.
If the employee does not currently reside in the United States, he/she might opt for Consular Processing (CP), which can be done in the U.S. Consulates that are located abroad. The employee’s I-140 should be approved by the USCIS before he/she can commence this step. The applicant has to first submit Form I-824 (along with the filing fee) to the USCIS, which is a formal request for CP. This should be submitted at the time of submitting the I-140 form. When the applicant’s I-140 is approved, the USCIS forwards this information to the National Visa Center (NVC), Bureau of Consular Affairs, who in turn, sends an Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants to the applicant. The forms enclosed in this package have to be completed by the applicant and sent back to the NVC. After processing these forms, the NVC asks the State Department Visa Office to allot a visa number to the applicant. Once the visa number is allotted, the applicant has to attend an interview with the U.S. Consulate, after the successful completion of which, an immigrant visa is granted to the applicant. It takes about 5 to 13 months on an average to complete this entire process.
Step 4: Once a person flies to the United States on the immigrant visa, the immigration officer reviews the documents, and issues a I-551 stamp. This is a temporary green card, and is valid for 1 year. The permanent green card is issued within a couple of months.
Green Card through Refugee or Asylum-seeker Status
Every year, the United States grants a certain number of green cards to people who come under the categories of refugees and asylum-seekers. These are the people who, due to some adverse conditions in their home countries, are either unable or unwilling to return.
Process for Refugees
Step 1: The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or the U.S. Consulate refers certain individuals/families to the United States Refugee Program (USRP). Some applicants, depending on certain conditions, may also apply for refugee status, directly to the USRP. After pre-screening interviews of these applicants by certain voluntary agencies, their case files are prepared (including necessary forms and other supporting documents) and submitted to the USCIS. The USCIS, then arranges for personal interviews with the applicants (in their home countries), designed to cross-check the applicants’ claims for refugee status.
Step 2: If the applicants succeed in the interviews, they need to undergo a number of medical and security tests. After this, refugee admissions numbers are allotted to them, and they are permitted to travel to the U.S.
Step 3: When a refugee arrives in the United States, the USCIS authorizes his/her employment. After the completion of one year of his/her stay, he/she can adjust the status to a lawful permanent resident i.e., he/she may submit Form I-485 to the USCIS, and apply for a green card.
Process for Asylum Seekers
Step 1: To begin with, an asylum-seeker needs to submit Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) to the USCIS. The processing of this form is free of cost. Once the USCIS receives the application, it will issue a notice for biometrics appointment, which will be followed by an asylum interview.
Step 2: If the asylum status is granted after the biometrics and interview, a person may apply for a green card after one year. For this, he/she will have to begin with filing Form I-485 with the USCIS, and following proper procedure after that. While the refugees have to claim for a refugee status from outside the United States, the asylum-seekers may claim for the asylum status from within the country itself.
Green Card Lottery
Every year, the United States issues 50,000 immigrant visas/green cards to people who migrate to America from countries with very low rates of immigration. These are called ‘Diversity Visas’ (DV), and are granted by a lottery system. In order to apply for a DV lottery, one has to be eligible for it.
- The applicant should be a native of the country which has sent, not more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous 5 years, and/or
- The applicant must at least have a high school diploma or equivalent or should have at least 2 years of work experience in a field that requires at least 2 years of training, in the last 5 years.
Step 1: To apply for a DV lottery, one has to follow the Department of State adverts, published in various press releases and the Federal Register. Only online applications for the lottery are accepted. Moreover, if an applicant files more than one entry, all his/her entries are rejected. There is no application fee for diversity visa.
Step 2: All the applications are processed by the Department of State and winners are randomly picked from the successful applicants. They are then notified by post. Only the winners are contacted and not the others.
Step 3: The chosen winners are eligible to apply for a green card and must follow the procedure of the USCIS for getting the same.
Added to the four main categories mentioned above, there are also some other categories under which a green card may be acquired. These include people like armed forces members, Cuban natives/citizens, diplomats, victims of criminal activities, Afghan/Iraqi translators, religious workers, battered spouses or children, and so on. A green card is, however, not a permanent document, having a lifelong validity. It is valid for a period of 10 years, after which it needs to be renewed within 6 months of its expiration date.