Foreign nationals may legally enter the United States through non-immigrant visas or by attaining Permanent Residence status whereby an individual receives a Green Card. Unlike non-immigrant visas, which limit the length of stay in the U.S., a Green Card enables individuals to work and remain in the United States indefinitely. An individual may be granted Lawful Permanent Residence by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through one of the following ways: employment sponsorship, family sponsorship, the annual diversity lottery, qualified investment or extenuating circumstances such as political asylum.
A foreign national who has a permanent employment opportunity in the United States may be eligible for Permanent Residence status through employment sponsorship. This is a multi-step process which requires the involvement of both the employer and the foreign national. First, the U.S. employer must complete a Labor Certification request for the applicant and submit it to the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration. Once the labor certificate request has been approved, the employer must submit an immigration visa petition (Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker) on behalf of the foreign national. If this petition is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the foreign worker may come to the United States to live and work for a set period of time dependent upon the approval of his or her immigration visa petition approval. Finally, the foreign national must apply to adjust his or her status from a temporary worker to a permanent resident. In order to do this, the employee must complete the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence; if this form is approved by the USCIS, the foreign national will be granted a Green Card.
The process of obtaining permanent resident status through employment sponsorship is complex and time consuming. Generally, the time frame of the application process is over two years.
The most common way of obtaining a Green Card in the United States is through family sponsorship. Under U.S. immigration law, all U.S. citizens (including those naturalized) may sponsor immediate relatives to come live and work in the United States as permanent residents. Immediate relatives eligible for a Green Card when sponsored by a U.S. citizen include:
- unmarried children
- married children
Permanent residents of the United States (individuals who hold Green Cards) may also sponsor select family members to become permanent residents of the United States. However, unlike American citizens, Green Card holders may only sponsor spouses and unmarried children.
As with employment sponsorship, applying for permanent residence through family sponsorship is a multi-step process involving the U.S. citizen or permanent resident and the related foreign national. First, an immigrant visa petition, I-130 Petition for Alien Relative must be submitted by the sponsoring relative and approved by the USCIS. Once this initial petition has been approved, the foreign national and sponsoring relative may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. On this form, the sponsoring American citizens or permanent residents must prove that they can support their foreign relatives at 125% above the mandated poverty line. To ensure that all of the form requirements and standards of proof have been met, all individuals seeking a Green Card through family sponsorship should consult a qualified immigration law firm.
Diversity Visa Lottery
Each year, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 permanent residence visas available to applicants drawn at random. To be eligible to enter this lottery, the foreign national must be a native of a country with low rates of immigration to the United States. Applicants must also have a high school diploma (or equivalent) or have two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation which requires at least two years of training to perform.
It is essential that all paperwork is completed correctly and on time to ensure entry into the lottery. Each year, millions of applicants are rejected for failure to comply with entry regulations. With much competition and little room for error, applicants should work with an attorney to ensure all necessary steps are taken for entry into the Diversity Visa Lottery.
A foreign national who has invested, or is in the process of investing, a certain amount of capital into a new commercial enterprise in the United States may be eligible for permanent resident status. In most cases, the alien will first obtain an EB-5 Visa which is available to foreign nationals who have invested 1 million dollars in a new commercial enterprise in the United States. The investor must also demonstrate that his or her new undertaking will create at least 10 full time jobs for American citizens or those authorized in the United States. To seek this status, the foreign national must file Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. This form must be accompanied by supporting documentation demonstrating the alien’s eligibility.
Once the alien has entered the United States, he or she may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to receive permanent resident status in the United States. With this petition, the foreign national must demonstrate that the newly created enterprise is still intact. To avoid fraud, investors seeking permanent resident status are initially granted a conditional Green Card which may be renewed after two years.
Political Asylum/Refugee Status
Individuals who are in the United States and fear returning to their native countries as a result of persecution based on race, religion, sexual orientation or membership in a political or social group may be eligible for permanent residence status through a request for asylum. In order to qualify, an individual must request political asylum within his or her first year in the United States. Once they are granted political asylum or refugee status, a foreign national may then apply for lawful permanent residence by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
If you are seeking lawful permanent residence in the United States, it is imperative that you contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney. Even the smallest mistake on paperwork or one missed deadline may hinder your chances of receiving a Green Card. We are available throughout the length of the application process to answer your questions and address any issues that may arise.