U.S. Permanent Resident: Everything You Need to Know

There is often confusion concerning the differences between U.S. permanent residents, or green card holders, and those with citizenship status. For most immigrants who wish to make U.S. their home, becoming a lawful permanent resident is the first step. Lawful permanent residents, also referred to as green card holders, have certain rights and responsibilities; however, those rights are not as extensive as those with citizenship status. Generally, green card holders must wait a few years before they can apply to become U.S. citizens, or naturalize.

U.S. Citizenship: Rights and Benefits

U.S. citizens hold the highest status of what can be attained under U.S. immigration law. The process of naturalization includes a $680 filing fee, a significant amount of paperwork, fingerprinting, and a very detailed interview process. However, once you receive citizenship status, you have several rights, which include:

  • Citizens are not subject to deportability.
  • The only way citizenship can be taken away is if a former immigrant commits fraud in obtaining it in the first place.
  • Citizens can vote.
  • Citizens can apply for scholarships and grants from private educational institutions.
  • Citizens can reunite family in the United States. To promote such a right, U.S. citizens and legal residents can petition for certain relatives to come and live in the U.S. permanently.
  • Citizens can obtain citizenship for children born abroad. If your child was born outside of the United States, he or she can become a U.S. citizen based on your citizenship status.
  • Citizens can travel across U.S. borders with no issues as the former non-citizen will have a U.S. passport.
  • Citizens can collect benefits, including social security benefits and Medicare.
  • Citizens can become federal employees.
  • Citizens can become elected officials.

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence: Rights and Benefits

U.S. lawful permanent residents are also referred to as green card holders. Being a green card holder means that you have many rights, including:

  • Rights to work and permanently reside in the United States
  • Travel abroad
  • File a petition for family members to receive green cards

However, green card holders do not have as many rights as citizens, which include:

  • Green card holders cannot vote.
  • They can’t travel abroad for more than 6 months without risking losing their green card status and/or being refused re-entry into the U.S.
  • They cannot generally receive the same assistance and benefits as those with U.S. citizenships can.

In addition, if a green card holder commits certain crimes or acts of terrorism, he or she will likely be forced out of the U.S. and back to his or her respective country. However, qualifying for a green card in the U.S. can be rather difficult because there are few categories of those who can apply for green cards; moreover, the USCIS limits the number of green cards given out each year.

Some other considerations to keep in mind when applying for green card status include the fact that the process itself is lengthy and complex. Even if you fall into one of the qualified categories, the USCIS may still deem you inadmissible for green card status. This inadmissibility status may be due to the perceived risk based on a criminal or terrorist background, prior immigration violations, health problems, financial issues, etc.

The Green Card Lottery

There are 50,000 green cards available to give out each year through the green card lottery, also referred to as the diversity visa.  Only citizens of certain countries with specific educational backgrounds can apply. Such countries are generally those that have sent few immigrants over to the U.S. in the past. These applications are accepted online for a period of one month, usually toward the end of the year, and don’t carry a filing fee. The applicant must have at least a high-school education, 12 years of elementary and secondary study, or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring a minimum of two years training or experience.

Green Cards for Family Members

This is one of the most common categories of green card eligibility, and there is no limited to the number of green cards you can obtain for family members as long as those family members fit certain criteria. This includes:

  • Spouses and widows/widowers of U.S. citizens
  • Children and step-children who are both unmarried and under the age of 21
  • Step-parents: the marriage must have occurred before the child was 18 years of age
  • Adopted children: the adoption must have taken place before the age of 16

There are green cards that are given out to other relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders, referred to as preference relatives. These generally have longer wait periods as only 480,000 of these green cards are given out to preference relatives each year. These are given on a first come, first served basis; the wait tends to range from three to 24 years. The siblings of U.S. citizens usually wait the longest. Below are the preferences:

  • Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen who are 21 years of age or older
  • Spouses and unmarried children of a green card holder
  • Married children with one or more parents who are U.S. citizens
  • Siblings of U.S. citizens, in which the citizen is at least 21 years of age

Green Card for Certain Job Skills

There is a total of 140,000 green cards available every year for those with certain job skills that are needed in the U.S. For those who receive a job offer from a U.S. business, the company itself must either sponsor or assist the non-citizen in obtaining green card status. Below are the preferences for job skills:

  • People of extraordinary ability in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics; exceptional professors and researchers; and managers/executives of multinational companies
  • Those with an advanced degree or exceptional ability
  • Professional and skilled or unskilled workers
  • Religious workers and other misc. categories of workers, titled “special immigrants”
  • Investors who can provide $1 million financing into a U.S. business or $500,000 in a business that is in a locally depressed area (EB-5). Such an investment must create at least 10 new jobs.

Green Card for Refugees

The U.S. government will also offer refugee status to those who are in fear of or have experienced persecution in their home country based on religion, nationality, race, political beliefs, or membership in a certain social group. Green cards can be issued to refugees after they have been in the U.S. for one year.

Green Card Removal Proceedings

If someone who has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, has good moral character, and has a spouse or children that are U.S. citizens can show that he or she would face “extraordinary and exceptionally undue hardship” if being forced back to his or her home country, then that person can request permanent residence from the judge. Such a request cannot start the application process; it is rather an immediate request being made to stop the removal proceeding. If you are facing this issue, it is best to hire a qualified immigration attorney who can assist you during this time.

Sponsorship Through Yale

The Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) at Yale prepares and submits Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) applications on behalf of certain employees. However, the educational institution cannot hire an immigration attorney for employment in these categories without the prior consent of OISS. These LPR categories include: 

  • EB-1-2: Outstanding Professor/Researchers: This category can be used for those faculty members or permanent researchers who have very high eligibility standards and an abundance of outstanding academic achievements with both domestic and international recognition.
  • EB-2 Labor Certification: This category doesn’t involve a lot of preparation or paperwork and simply requires that Yale specify how it recruited the person. Note that there is a backlog of those coming from China and India through the EB-2 process.

If you need help finding an immigration attorney and learning more about U.S. permanent resident status, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.