Many Routes to a "Green Card"
There are many different methods to obtain permanent residence in the United States. Regardless of the route chosen, the result is the same: a "green card," giving the holder the right to live and work freely in the US without the worries and restrictions of expiration deadlines, visa renewals, job-related petitions, etc.
All "green card" holders are essentially equal in the eyes of the law, enjoying the same rights and responsibilities, regardless of how that permanent residence was obtained. Spouses and minor children are usually able to immigrate and obtain "green cards" at the same time as the principal new permanent resident.
The decision to seek permanent residence, and the selection of the most appropriate route both depend upon a number of factors, including the nationality, education, and past and projected employment of the individual involved. Having a close family relationship with someone already established in the US as a permanent resident or a citizen is only one of the possible ways to obtain green card status.
Permanent residence through an individual’s job-creating investment, as a religious worker, or through political asylum is not discussed here.
Relationships, Requirements, Procedures, Timing
Acquisition of permanent residence depends upon the demonstration of certain employment or family relationships. There are extensive documentary requirements, which vary according to the method selected.
The process relies upon thorough documentation in order to demonstrate the existence of the qualifying relationship and the fulfillment of all other requirements. Due to the complexity of the law, constantly changing regulations, and unwritten codes of procedure, there is a significant element of risk. A number of insensitive bureaucracies may be involved.
There is a limit to the number of immigrant visas available each year for all but spouses, minor children and parents of US citizens. Delays may be imposed by quota restrictions. Processing delays are also inherent in the system. While the law is federal and so must be applied evenly throughout the nation, processing times and procedures vary from state to state and month to month.
Permanent residents enjoy most of the same rights and responsibilities as US citizens, with the exception of the right to vote and to hold certain sensitive jobs or investments. Travel to and from the US is simplified, and no paperwork is necessary to maintain the status. Movement within the country and from job to job is unlimited. Permanent residents are taxed on their worldwide income. After a period of permanent residence, US citizenship may be acquired.
The term "permanent residence" is somewhat misleading, since it is a status which can be given up voluntarily, and it can also be involuntarily lost or revoked. Extended absence from the US is the most common way of losing permanent residence involuntarily.
For more information, visit the USCIS web site: "Green Cards"
The steps to becoming a Green Card holder (permanent resident) vary by category and depend on whether you currently live inside or outside the United States. The main categories are:
If you are already a Green Card holder, see our After the Green Card Is Granted webpage for information on: