There are nine categories of people who can apply for green cards. In some of the categories you are immediately eligible for a green card, in others you must wait until one is available.
1) Immediate Relatives
As unlimited number of green cards can be issued to immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives are defined as:
- spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers
- unmarried people under the age of 21 who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
- parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is over the age of 21
- stepchildren and stepparents, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday, and
- parents and children related through adoption, if the adoption took place before the child reached the age of 16. All immigration rules governing natural parents and children apply to adoptive relatives but there are some additional procedures.
2) Other Relatives
Certain other family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are also eligible for U.S. green cards. However, only a limited number of green cards are available to these applicants. They have to wait many years to get them, based on their place in the preference categories, as outlined below.
- Family first preference. Unmarried people, any age, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
- Family second preference. 2A: Spouses of green card holders and unmarried children under age 21; 2B: unmarried sons and daughters (who are over age 21) of green card holders.
- Family third preference. Married people, of any age, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
- Family fourth preference. Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens where the citizen is over 21 years old.
3) Employment-Based Green Cards
People with job skills wanted by U.S. employers are also eligible for green cards as outlined below. However, only a limited number of green cards are available to these applicants, leading to waits of several months or years, based on their place in these preference categories:
- Employment first preference. Priority workers, including the following three groups:
- persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business , or athletics
- outstanding professors and researchers, and
- managers and executives of multinational companies.
- Employment second preference. Professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability.
- Employment third preference. Professionals and skilled or unskilled workers.
- Employment fourth preference. Religious workers, various miscellaneous categories of workers, and so-called Special Immigrants.
- Employment fifth preference. Individual investors willing to invest $1,000,000 in a U.S. business 9 or $500,000 if the business is in an economically depressed area).
4) How the Numerical Limits Affect Your Wait for a Green Card
If a family member or employer petitions for you in a preference category – that is, a category with annual limits on the number of visas – your wait could be several years long. That’s because the demand for green cards is far greater than the supply.
Although it’s possible to estimate the likely wait in your category, this will be only an estimate. You will need to learn to track it, month by month, based on the Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. State Department (DOS). This system can be confusing at first.
Every government fiscal year (which starts October 1), a fresh supply of visa numbers is made available. How many depends on the numbers of people that Congress has said can get green cards in the preference categories in any one year. (For purposes of of this explanation, a visa or visa number means the same thing as a green card).
There’s just one problem. Thousands of people who applied in previous years are probably still waiting for their visa. So you won’t be able to make use of this fresh crop of visas right away.
Instead, the DOS has devised a system where the people who have been waiting longest have the first right to a visa. DOS keeps track of your place on the waiting list using the date that your family member or employer first submitted a visa petition indicating that they’d like to help you immigrate. That date is called your Priority Date.
You will need to know your priority date, because the whole system of figuring out where you are in your wait for a green card depends on it. The DOS’s Visa Bulletin gives you only one clue about the length of your wait: a list of the Priority Dates of other people who are now getting visas and green cards. By comparing your Priority Date to theirs, you’ll be able to track your progress. We’ll fully explain this after you are deeper into the application process.
5) Diversity Visa: Green Card Lottery
Approximately 50,000 green cards are offered each year to people from countries that in recent years have sent the fewest immigrants to the United States. The purpose of this program is to ensure a varied ethnic mix among people who immigrate to the U.S. (although applicants must also meet certain educational requirements). Therefore, green cards in this category are said to be based on ethnic diversity. The method used for choosing people who can apply for these green cards is a random selection by computer, so the program is popularity known as the green card lottery.
6) Refugees and Asylees
Every year, many people seek asylum in the U.S. or try to get green cards as refugees. The two are often thought of as the same category, but there are some technical differences. A refugee receives permission to come to the U.S. in refugee status before actually arriving. Asylum is granted only after someone has physically entered the U.S., usually either as a non immigrant or an undocumented alien, and then submitted an application.
The qualifications for refugee status and asylum are similar. You must have either been persecuted or fear future persecution in your home country on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If you are only fleeing poverty or general violence, you do not qualify in either category. Both refugees and asylees can apply for green cards one year after their approval (asylees) or entry into the U.S. (refugees).
7) Temporary Protected Status
The U.S. Congress may decide to give citizens of certain countries temporary safe haven in the U.S. when conditions in their homeland become dangerous, for example, due to war or a natural disaster. This is called Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is similiar to political asylum except that it is always temporary, and will never turn directly into a green card.
8 ) Long-Term Residents and Other Special Cases
The law also allows certain people who have lived illegally in the U.S. for more than 10 years to obtain permanent legal residence, through a procedure known as cancellation of removal. They must show that their spouse or children – who are U.S. citizens – would face “extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship” if the undocumented alien were forced to leave the country.
If you believe that you meet this requirement, consult with a lawyer before going to the immigration authorities. Otherwise, you might ultimately cause your own deportation by making your presence known. Even if you fall within this category, applying is difficult, because their is no regular process unless you are in removal proceedings.
Another category known as registry, allows people to adjust status if they have lived in the United States since January 1, 1972.
Individual members of Congress have, on occasion, intervened for humanitarian reasons in extraordinary cases, helping an individual obtain permanent residence even if the law would not allow it. However, this is a last resort, and you should explore all other possible options first.
cónyuges de los ciudadanos estadounidenses, incluyendo los viudos y viudas recientes
personas solteras menores de 21 años que tienen al menos un padre o madre ciudadano estadounidense
padres de ciudadanos estadounidenses, si el niño ciudadano de U.S. es mayor de 21 años
hijastros y los padrastros, si el matrimonio crear la relación de padrastro/hijastro tuvo lugar antes de 18 años del niño, y
los padres y los niños relacionados a través de la adopción, si la adopción tuvo lugar antes de que el niño alcanza la edad de 16 años. Aplicarán todas las reglas de inmigración que rigen a los niños y los padres naturales a parientes adoptivos, pero hay algunos procedimientos adicionales.
- Preferencia primera familia. Personas solteras, cualquier edad, que tienen al menos un padre o madre ciudadano estadounidense.
- Preferencia de segunda familia. 2A: cónyuges de los titulares de tarjeta verde y los hijos solteros menores de 21; 2B: solteros hijos e hijas (que son mayores de 21) de los titulares de tarjeta verde.
- Preferencia de tercer familiar. Se casó con personas de cualquier edad, que tienen al menos un padre o madre ciudadano estadounidense.
- Preferencia cuarto familiar. Hermanas y hermanos de ciudadanos de Estados Unidos, donde el ciudadano es más de 21 años de edad.
- Preferencia de primer empleo. Trabajadores de prioridad, incluyendo los tres grupos siguientes:
personas de extraordinaria habilidad en las artes, Ciencias, educación, negocios o atletismo
destacados profesores e investigadores, y
los gerentes y ejecutivos de empresas multinacionales.
- Preferencia de segundo empleo. Profesionales con grados avanzados o capacidad excepcional.
- Preferencia tercero de empleo. Profesionales y trabajadores cualificados o no cualificados.
- Preferencia cuarto de empleo. Trabajadores religiosos, diversas categorías varios de los trabajadores y los inmigrantes especial llamado.
- Preferencia quinto de empleo. Los inversores dispuestos a invertir 1 millón de dólares en un negocio de U.S. 9 o 500.000 dólares si el negocio está en una zona económicamente deprimida).
Aproximadamente 50.000 tarjetas verdes se ofrecen cada año a personas de países que en los últimos años han enviado los menor número de inmigrantes a Estados Unidos. El objetivo de este programa es