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601 Pennsylvania Ave., Ste. 900 South Washington, DC 20004

How To Get A Green CardDecember 13, 2012

What Is A Green Card?

A green card or Permanent Resident Card is a permanent visa to the United States. A green card gives you the status of a permanent resident along with legal rights to work in the USA. Once you have a green card, you may apply for U.S citizenship after a few years of stay in the USA. Further, a green card does not affect your present citizenship status in your home country, is typically issued for 10 years and can be renewed by submitting a green card renewal application. The green card gives you permanent U.S. resident status, which allows you the freedom to leave and return to the U.S., to seek employment and study similar to American citizens.

Ways to Obtain A Green Card

There are four ways to obtain a green card: Through close family relationships to United States citizens, employment in the United States, the green card lottery and through refugee and asylum status. The most common means of obtaining a green card are through close family relations to United States residents and through employment in the United States. Congress has established a cap on the number of visas issued each year. The maximum number of visas issued by the Department of State is 675,000 annually. These visas are allocated to three preference categories:

  • Family sponsored immigration (480,000)
  • Employment based immigration (140,000)
  • Diversity immigration (55,000)

Family Sponsored Immigration

Congress has designated five areas of family relationships that are eligible for legal permanent residence:

  • Family First Preference (F1) – Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Family Second (F2A) – Spouses and children (under 21, including stepchildren) of legal permanent residents
  • Family Second Preferences (F2B) – Unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents
  • Family Third Preference (F3) – Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Family Fourth Preference (F4) – Siblings of U.S. citizens

In order to be eligible to sponsor a relative to the United States you must meet the following criteria:

  • You (the sponsor) must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and be able to provide documentation proving your status
  • The sponsor must have a qualifying family relationship with the beneficiary
  • The sponsor must be willing to fill out the Form I-30 Petition for Alien Relative
  • Sponsor must be willing to prove, through documentation that they can financially support their family and the beneficiary 125% over the mandated poverty line

Employment Sponsored Immigration Categories

Congress has designated five areas for legal permanent residence based on employment in the United States:

  • Employment First Preference (EB1) – Workers with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, or certain multinational executives
  • Employment Second Preference (EB2) – Foreign nationals who are members of professions holding advanced degrees or have exceptional ability
  • Employment Third Preference (EB3) – Skilled workers, professionals and other workers with bachelor or graduate degrees
  • Employment Fourth Preference (EB4) – Certain special immigrants such as religious workers, special immigrant juveniles
  • Employment Fifth Preference (EB5) – Employment creation by investing at least $500,000 in a U.S. company that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs

Employment Sponsored Immigration Process

The process for employment based green card sponsorship can be an involved and expensive process. Generally, this process is done in the following five steps:

  1. The employer must determine that the foreign national is eligible for permanent residency under the USCIS path’s to permanent residency
  2. PERM – The U.S. employer must prove with the Department of Labor (DOL) that there are no minimally qualified U.S. citizens for the position through the labor certification process. Effective March 28, 2005 the DOL created a new electronic system for processing labor certifications called PERM. This process requires the employer include proof of advertising for a specific position, skill requirements for a particular job, prevailing wage for the position and employers ability to pay the prevailing wage for the position.
  3. Once the PERM process is approved, and if required, the employer must file Form I-40 which is a petition for alien worker
  4. Concurrently with or subsequent to filing of Form I-40, the employee files Form I-485 Adjustment of Status (AOS) along with supporting documents. The purpose of Form I-485 is to adjust your status to that of a permanent resident. It is important to note that Form I-485 cannot be approved without prior approval of Form I-40.
  5. Finally, you get the green card stamp on your passport and receive your green card.

Other Methods For Obtaining a Green Card

Outside of family and employment sponsorship, there are two remaining methods of obtaining a green card.

  • Diversity Visa Lottery – The DV Lottery was created by Congress for a new class of immigrants who are natives of low admission foreign countries and have a high school education or equivalent work experience. The program issues 55,000 visas randomly every year. It is important to note however, lottery winners are given the opportunity to apply and go through the process for a green card and are not automatically issued a green card.
  • Refugees and Asylum – Refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unwilling or unable to return home because they fear serious harm based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in social groups. Aliens physically present in the United States may apply for Asylum provided they meet the criteria of being a refugee and file within one year of entry.


The path to permanent residency in the United States is complex, time consuming and in some cases expensive. It is important to note however, that with the proper counseling and determination, obtaining a green card is a goal that is not always out of reach.


Ryan A. Hintzen


The Hintzen Law Firm, PLLC

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