When trying to live in the United States when you have originated elsewhere, a green card is one of the most sought-after documents. The small green-colored card grants someone who originates from outside the U.S. the right to enter, exit, work and live in the country their entire lives. It acts as a document to legally prove U.S. permanent residency. The card also is the first stepping stone to actual citizenship.

But what does it take to get a green card? It may be more difficult than you think. In order to qualify, you must fall under one of the following categories.

Immediate Relatives

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are the top category for green card eligibility. These applicants can receive a green card as soon as the paperwork and application process are complete.

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen, including recent widowers, and same-sex spouses if the marriage is legally recognized.
  • Parents of a U.S. citizen that is at least 21 years old.
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21 with one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Adopted children of U.S. citizens if the adoption occurred before they turned 16.
  • Both stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens if the marriage occurred before the child turned 18.

Other Family Members

There are other family members that qualify to apply for a green card, but they won’t receive it right away. For this category, there is a limited number granted each year and is given out on a first-come, first served basis.

  • Family First Preference. Unmarried adults over the age of 21 with one parent that is a U.S. citizen.
  • Family Second Preference. Spouses and unmarried children of any age to a green card holder.
  • Family Third Preference. Married people of any age with a U.S. citizen parent.
  • Family Fourth Preference. Siblings, over 21 years old, of a U.S. citizen.

Preferred Employees and Workers

Each year, 140,000 green cards are given to those with skills that the U.S. needs in its market. Commonly, there needs to be a job offer and it needs to be proven that they were unable to find any U.S. citizens for the job.

  • Employment First Preference. Priority workers such as those with high ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics along with outstanding professors and researchers, and both managers and executives of multinational companies.
  • Employment Second Preferences. Professionals that have either advanced degrees or exceptional ability.
  • Employment Third Preference. Professionals and both skilled and unskilled workers.
  • Employment Fourth Preference. Religious workers, miscellaneous workers, and other special immigrants.
  • Employment Fifth Preference. Investors that are going to put $1 million into a U.S. company that employs at least 10 workers, or $500,000 for businesses in an economically depressed area.

Green Card Lottery

For more ethnic diversity, a certain number of green cards are made available to countries that have seen the least immigrants in recent years to the country.

Special Immigrants

There are always special cases. These can include someone under the care of a juvenile court to an international broadcaster.

Refuge and Asylum

For those who sought refuge in the United States, they can submit for a green card after being granted one year of asylum or refuge.

Amnesty and Special Agricultural Worker Status

There have been times in the past where amnesty was granted for workers that had been living illegally in the United States. Notably, this happened in 1982, 1985, 1986 and 1997. However, there currently aren’t any being granted at this time.

Long Time Residents

For those who have lived in the United States illegally for over 10 years, you can request permanent residence as a defense in immigration court. It must be proven you would face exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if forced to return to your country of origin.

Special Cases

There have been cases where U.S. congressmen have intervened for humanitarian reasons and help grant residence when the law doesn’t allow it. However, these cases are rare at best.

If you are seeking a green card but are unsure or wary about the process, contact us today. We will help guide you through the steps and ensure your rights are protected along the way.

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