What is a Green Card?

A green card is a document that allows immigrants to stay in the United States permanently.

The green card is officially called a permanent resident card and serves as proof that you have status as a legal permanent resident of the United States. It affords you immigration benefits, including the right to work and live in the U.S. Any immigrant who is at least 18 years old must carry the green card on their person all the time.

The process to get a green card undergoes frequent revisions and changes, from the steps you need to take to the waiting periods. It’s best to first decide which type of green card you need and then research the requirements for that type.

Currently, the various types of green cards are those based on employment,family, marriage, those under the EB-5 investment program, and those granted through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (also called the green card lottery).

There are certain forms and processes that applicants complete to receive a green card. These vary based on the type of card you are seeking. These include submitting an application with the proper forms and supporting documents and paying a filing fee.

The Different Types of Green Cards

1. Employment-Based Green Cards

In order to receive a green card based on employment, the applicant must be sponsored by a United States employer. This goes through a labor certification process, though in certain situations, exceptions may exist. 140,000 employment-based green cards are granted each year. Most these visas are reserved for certain professions, experts in a given field, or workers whose skills are in high-demand in the United States.

2. Family Green Cards

Those who have family members in the United States can be sponsored by those relatives and receive a green card for permanent residency. Family members who can serve as sponsors include parents, siblings, children, or spouses. If the sponsor is a green card holder and not a citizen, they must be the child or spouse of the applicant.

3. Marriage-Based Green Cards

Those immigrants who marry a United States citizen or a green card holder are eligible to receive permanent residency based on this marriage. This applies to both traditional couples and same-sex marriages since the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right. This process involves Form I-130, Form I-485, or some combination of both after applying for a K-1 visa to get into the country and marry.

Green cards granted in this way are temporary and good for two years. In order to remove this limitation, holders must file Form I-751 within 90 days of expiry to gain permanent status.

4. EB-5 Investment Cards

First created in 1990 as part of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration program, this visa was to help create jobs in the U.S. It was originally only available to those who invested at least $1 million and created at least 10 jobs. A provision for rural areas and areas of high unemployment allows for spending only $500,000.

Starting in 1992, the program extended to companies who could pool investors’ money and function as regional centers. This permitted centers to use jobs created indirectly towards EB-5 applications.

For example:Rather than opening a factory that directly employed 10 people, an investor can claim that putting money towards a construction project helps to feed other local businesses and create jobs.

Roughly 95 percent of EB-5 visas are awarded through these “indirect job creation” investments.

5. DV-Lottery Cards

Each year, the government awards 50,000 diversity visas to applicants from nations who send low numbers of immigrants to the United States. These visas are awarded by computer lottery. Applicants apply beginning in October of the year before the lottery and begin checking online for status in the following May.

If selected, you go through an interview process and demonstrate your ability to get a green card. It’s important to act fast, as more people get approved than there are visas, and they’re awarded on a first come, first-served basis after the lottery.

6. Special Immigrants

Other classes of people qualify for special immigrant classification for a green card.

  • clergy coming to the U.S. to continue their work
  • foreign med school graduates who were in the U.S. prior to 1978
  • former U.S. government employees who have worked in this country for at least half of the last seven years
  • those helping dependent children
  • those serving in the armed forces for over 12 years
  • those who have lived continuously in the U.S. since 1972

In addition, refugees who face persecution or danger to life or well-being in their home country due to political opinions, social groupings, religion, race, or nationality can apply for political asylum, which can lead to a green card.

The Rights of Green Card Holders

Green card holders have certain rights and expectations that go with their status.

  • It’s expected that they live in the U.S., and they can be penalized if they don’t.
  • They have to register for the draft.
  • They are taxed as citizens and can use welfare services and other benefits.
  • They have the right to bear arms.

Other than jury service and voting, neither of which they can do, green card holders are otherwise treated to the same rights and freedoms as citizens.

Factors to Consider

There are many things you need to submit to earn a green card. These include the application, supporting documentation, and required fees. However, this can vary depending on how you become eligible.

For instance, those applying due to marriage first need to apply for a K-1 visa and then actually get married. After this, you apply for your conditional Green Card. Once you have been married long enough, you can request a status change and a permanent green card. The person applying for the green card also needs to file a Petition for Alien Fiancè(e), Form I-129F.

Employment based green card applicants need their employer to apply on their behalf in addition to filing themselves. As you can see, many forms must be filed, both by you and your sponsor.

Determining Eligibility

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) outlines who is eligible for a green card. The most common means of acquiring one is through marriage, but in general, you must be able to enter the U.S. through a job, making investments in U.S. interests, being a refugee, or having another pre-established form of eligibility. You must have no criminal background, be in good health, be mentally stable, and able to hold a job.

If your parents are citizens of the United states and you’re either married or over 21, or if your brothers or sisters are citizens, you are considered a ‘preference relative’. This makes you eligible for a green card when they become available in your category. However, you should expect to wait a long time to receive your green card. Your relative must be willing to sponsor you and support you financially.

Spouses of U.S. permanent residents and unmarried adult children of parents who are permanent residents are also considered preference relatives. The same stipulations apply to these immigrants. Annual limits mean you should expect to wait to receive your green card.

Foreign workers who have received a job offer from a U.S. employer may be eligible for a green card. You will, however, have to have the right qualifications and background. In addition, your employer must be willing to sponsor you and demonstrate that the position can't be filled by a U.S. worker. If you don’t qualify for a green card, you may be able to get a temporary work visa such as an H-1B.

Renewal or Replacement of a Green Card

Your green card, though it’s called “permanent residency,” must be renewed every 10 years. This is done by filing Form I-90. Likewise, if you lose your green card, you need to file Form I-90 to replace it. If you allow your expiration date to pass, your resident status is revoked. Apply for your renewal as soon as you can to prevent this from happening. You should fill out Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Residence Card.

Visas vs. Green Cards

Visas and green cards aren’t the same, though they do somewhat overlap. A visa gives you the ability to enter the United States for a vacation, employment, studying, or other reasons. Some people gain visas for refugee status or because they are seeking political asylum. It appears as a stamp or number on your passport showing that you are eligible to stay in the nation for a certain period.

Green cards, however, give you a number of rights similar to those held by United States citizens. They are good for 10 years at a time and are renewable through a fairly basic process. However, if you get a green card, you can’t maintain a primary residence elsewhere. You must live primarily in the United States.

Those seeking citizenship need to live in the U.S. for at least five years, which means applying for a green card while seeking a path to naturalization.

Green Card Controversies

EB-5 Green Card Controversies

There’s been controversy in Congress about various aspects of the green card program. Among these is the EB-5, also known as the immigrant investor program. This program allows immigrants to get a card if they make certain financial investments towards job creation in the U.S. This has been interpreted as allowing wealthy people to simply buy legal immigrant status.

As foreign interests in this program have dramatically increased over the past several years, the program has been questioned more, particularly in light of certain highly public failures. Since the recession in 2008, the number of EB-5 applications has skyrocketed, with the program awarding its full 10,000-card quota in 2014 for the first time.

Most people who apply for EB-5 visas are Chinese investors, with over 9,000 awarded in 2014. The next highest number is investors from South Korea, who received 225 visas. This is seen as unfair when the jobs created aren’t tangible and there are plenty of direct job creation opportunities to fill the quota.

The problem of the EB-5 program has existed for some time, and Congress has yet to come up with a practical overhaul of the program, though ideas have ranged from eliminating the regional center aspect to working with the Department of Commerce to help administer the program and make sure money is going where it should.

Marriage-Based Green Card Controversies

There are those who engage in marriages just to gain entry into the United States and an expedited path to citizenship. This practice is illegal and has the potential to endanger the future of marriage-based residency.

The New Administration and Green Cards

Two recent executive orders seek to limit or prohibit immigration from specific nations. While both executive orders were halted by the federal courts, they do present uncertainty to certain immigrants. One of the rules in the orders bars permanent resident card holders. The orders effectively strip you of your rights as a green card holder, which is one of the reasons they’re being challenged in court.

Apply for a Green Card With Legal Help

If you want to be a permanent resident of the U.S., you need a green card. However, the application process is difficult for many. Make applying for a green card easier by posting your legal need through UpCounsel.