What Is A Green Card?

The term green card is used regularly in the United States, but I often wonder how many people understand what it signifies.

Green card is a colloquialism for what is really called lawful permanent resident or LPR status in U.S. immigration law.

A person having LPR status has the right to permanently reside in the United States, to work anywhere she or he chooses, and to seek entry into the United States after international travel without requiring a unique visa.

Also, LPRs can sponsor spouses and unmarried children to immigrate to the United States in the same status through the petition process.

In this article, we will analyze options for a person who intends to live in the United States permanently to accomplish that goal.

For a man or woman to become an LPR, generally they must be sponsored, either by an employer or a qualifying family member. An employer can sponsor an employee or a person targeted for employment through a process called labor certification.

During that process, the employer must recruit for the position as though it were available to the public.

If all applicants who respond to the job offer through the recruitment process were legally disqualified, the application is sent to the Department of Labor for consideration. Then if approved, the company can continue with the actual green card verification for the person being sponsored.

There are some exceptions to the labor certification requirement.

People of spectacular ability who have obtained international recognition or acclaim for the work that they do, world-class professors or and researchers, and multinational managers or executives can file petitions for permanent residence with the U.S. immigration authorities (USCIS) without a labor certification.

Also, there are three occupations that are pre-certified as being in labor shortage in the United States– registered nurse, occupational and physical therapists, and sheepherders. In addition, there is a waiver to the labor certification requirement for job offers that do not lend themselves to the labor certification process called a national interest waiver.

These petitions demand that the position itself be in the national interest (for example cancer or Alzheimer’s research positions) and that the person seeking to fill the position itself be in the national interest.

People can also acquire green cards through the sponsorship of qualifying family members. Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, parents when the petitioning child is over age 20, children, regardless of the child’s age or marital status, and siblings for permanent residence.

Permanent residents can sponsor spouses and unmarried children. Spouses, unmarried children under age 21 and parents of U.S. citizens over age 20 are regarded as immediate relatives under the law.

There is no limitation to the number of immediate relatives that can immigrate to the United States– no annual quotas.

For all other relationships, including spouses and minor children of LPRs, there are annual quotas that create in some cases wait times of over two decades.

Although these are the most common ways to immigrate to the United States on a permanent basis, there are other opportunities. Such as, refugees resettled in the United States and those approved for political asylum can apply for permanent residence after one year.

The U.S. government has a diversity visa program designed to promote diversity among the immigrant population in the United States.

Each year, 50,000 green cards are given to foreign nationals of countries who have a lower rate of sending immigrants to the United States than others. Countries sending large numbers of people to the United States for LPR status are excluded from the program, such as China and India.

In addition, a person facing deportation from the United States who meets specific criteria can seek permanent residence in the United States as relief from the deportation process. This is called cancellation of removal and adjustment of status for certain nonpermanent residents.

The requirements are that the person facing deportation, or technically removal, from the United States; be in the United States for over 10 years without leaving (with some exceptions); have no serious criminal past; and have a qualifying family member– either a spouse, parent or child who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who would suffer remarkable and extremely unusual difficulty in the event of the deportation of their relative.

Another option is to seek a green card through investment. On an investment of $500,000 or $1 million depending on the specific investment vehicle the investor chooses, a foreign national can request permanent residence in the United States.

The investment must create 10 new jobs for U.S. workers within two years of approval, and the status is conditional for two years to give the investor time to create those jobs.

These are the options for an individual to acquire a green card. As a final note, LPR status can lead to U.S. citizenship, if preferred.