If you want to live and work in the US while enjoying all of the other benefits that a US passport has to offer, then you must start the process to get US citizenship.
The first step is to become a permanent resident of the United States. This process is commonly known as “getting your green card.”
Obtaining your green card is a major step in the process of becoming a US citizen. As a lawful permanent resident, you will enjoy many of the rights of US citizenship, including the ability to live and work freely in the US, serve in the US military, and even lawfully own a firearm.
Additionally, you will be subject to many of the same federal and state legal protections as your US citizen counterparts. Plus, certain countries such as Taiwan, Mexico, and Canada grant special travel privileges to US permanent residents.
However, US green card holders do not enjoy all of the rights and freedoms afforded to US citizens.
For example, US green card holders cannot vote in elections, and their access to certain public benefits are limited. Additionally, if you only have temporary residence, you will need to renew your green card periodically.
And even with permanent residence, if you choose to leave the US for an extended period of time, your green card may be revoked.
Therefore, most people who obtain US green cards do so as a stepping stone to US citizenship, which grants them greater benefits and freedoms than temporary and even permanent residency. To become a US citizen, you first need to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Getting your green card is an essential step in the process of becoming a US citizen, but your path to US permanent residency will ultimately depend on your individual circumstances and reasons for immigrating.
In some cases, you may need to obtain a temporary visa prior to getting permanent residency, whereas other permanent residence programs allow you to obtain a green card near-immediately.
In general, the US green card application process tends to favor highly skilled workers, investors, and persons with immediate family members who are US citizens or permanent residents.
Immigrants from certain countries may have a more difficult time becoming US permanent residents than others as US law dictates that no more than 7% of all immigrant visas may be issued to persons from a single country.
Because of this, individuals from mainland China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines may need to wait longer for their green card due to a large number of immigrants from those countries.
The US issues a monthly visa bulletin outlining the waiting periods for each category of permanent resident visas, so you should use that to determine how long you may be waiting for your US green card.
Your exact application process will differ depending on which category you apply under. In general, there are four common routes to getting your US green card:
- Family sponsorship;
- Investment and entrepreneurship; and
- the Diversity Visa lottery.
Up next, we will outline the general requirements that all residence applicants will need to meet to be eligible for a US green card before diving into the specific requirements for these four common ways of becoming a lawful permanent resident.
GENERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR USA PERMANENT RESIDENCY
Regardless of how you apply for permanent residency in the US, you will need to meet a handful of general requirements to be eligible for your green card.
First off, all potential US permanent residents will need to file Form I-485, the official application for a US green card. All residence hopefuls will need to pay a fee of $1,225 to submit their application.
You will also need to complete an interview with US immigration officials prior to becoming a legal permanent resident in the US.
The US sets a high standard for all potential green card holders, so aside from the fees and procedures, there are also general qualifications you must demonstrate to obtain US permanent residency.
You should take care to ensure that anything in your background will not disqualify you from obtaining your green card should you decide to apply. If you have concerns, we highly recommend that you speak to a US immigration lawyer who can provide you with more detailed guidance.
All potential US permanent residents must undergo a health examination and receive all necessary vaccinations prior to receiving their green cards.
This process exists to determine whether your presence in the US could constitute a health risk to the general public. While this doesn’t mean that your health record has to be impeccable, certain diseases or conditions may disqualify you from becoming a US permanent resident.
First, you must prove that you do not have any communicable diseases that may impact public health. You can find a comprehensive list of those diseases on the CDC website.
Second, you may be rejected if you have a physical or mental disorder that threatens the safety of you or others around you. This can include a history of suicide attempts or threatening others.
Finally, you may also be ineligible on health grounds if you have a history of drug abuse.
In order to be eligible to obtain a green card, you must also have a relatively clean criminal record prior to entering the US.
Not all crimes will disqualify you from entry, and in some cases, you may be able to obtain a waiver for past criminal behavior, depending on the nature and severity of the crime as well as when it was committed. However, the following crimes may prevent you from obtaining your US green card:
- Controlled substance violations;
- Convictions of two or more crimes with a prison sentence totaling more than five years;
- Engaging in prostitution;
- Human trafficking offenses; and
- Money laundering offenses.
Additionally, US immigration may prevent an individual from entering the country if they have committed a “crime of moral turpitude,” which essentially means a crime that is universally reprehensible and morally wrong.
Obviously, this includes serious felonies like murder and rape, but it can also be construed to include a number of different offenses. Therefore, if you have any kind of criminal record, you should consult with an immigration lawyer prior to applying for your green card. If you have a criminal record, then you may be barred from obtaining a US green card.
The US takes national security seriously, so if you are deemed to present a threat to the national security of the United States, then you will be ineligible to obtain a US green card.
For the most part, this requirement is relatively straightforward. The US doesn’t want to grant legal permanent residence to former members of ISIS or known eco-terrorists.
Where this may cause problems is if a member of your family is associated with a terrorist group or if you lived in a conflict zone with terrorist activity.
US anti-terrorism laws are strict and tend to be applied broadly – even to individuals with no terrorist affiliations themselves. So, if certain circumstances apply to you, then you may want to consult an immigration attorney prior to applying for your green card.
The US does not issue green cards to persons deemed likely to become a “public charge,” which means a person who is dependent on government support.
To determine whether you may be a risk for becoming a public charge, US officials generally consider the following factors:
- Age and health;
- Family size;
- Support network within the US;
- Education and work experience; and
- Past or present receipt of public benefits.
If you’re applying for a green card as an investor or highly skilled employee, then you do not need to worry much about this issue. However, if you are concerned that you may be rejected on these grounds, you should obtain an Affidavit of Support from a family member who is a US citizen or permanent resident.
You may also be denied a US green card if you have a history of violating immigration laws in the US and in other countries.
Obviously, you will be denied if you have entered the US illegally, but this provision also applies to persons who have violated the terms of their visa (for example, working while on a tourist visa) or persons who habitually overstay their visas.
When you apply for your US green card, you will need to provide proof of identity, such as a passport, as well as all prudent biographical information as required by Form I-485.
You will also need to undergo biometric screening as part of your application process.
WILLINGNESS TO FULFILL ALL OBLIGATIONS OF US PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Finally, to be eligible for a US green card, you must be willing to fulfill all of your obligations to the US as a permanent resident. US Customs and Immigration Services outlines the four primary responsibilities of US permanent residents as:
- Obeying all laws of the US, including state and local laws;
- Paying annual income tax to the IRS;
- Supporting the democratic form of government and not conspiring to change the government through illegal means; and
- Registering for Selective Service (if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25).
If you are willing to fulfill these obligations and meet all of the requirements listed above, then you are eligible to become a US permanent resident.
Keep in mind that if your application for a US green card is successful, you will also need to abide by the financial obligations and any other specific obligations of your chosen permanent resident visa program.
US PERMANENT RESIDENCY THROUGH FAMILY SPONSORSHIP
If you have a family member who is a US citizen or permanent resident, then you may apply for US permanent residency through family sponsorship.
One of the most common ways to become a US permanent resident is through sponsorship from a member of your immediate family.
Under family sponsorship, there are six distinct types of permanent residence visas available for potential green card holders. These categories are:
- IR: Immediate relatives of US citizens (spouses, children under 21 years old, and parents);
- F1: Unmarried children (21 years old or older) of US citizens;
- F2A: Spouses and minor (under 21 years old) children of lawful permanent residents;
- F2B: Unmarried children (21 years old or older) of lawful permanent residents;
- F3: Married children of US citizens; and
- F4: Brothers and sisters of US citizens.
Regardless of which category that you apply under, your sponsoring family member will need to file two additional forms along with your I-485 green card application.
First, your US citizen or permanent resident family member must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130), and once that petition is approved, they will need to submit an Affidavit of Support along with your I-485 application.
The following section will discuss each type of visa that you may obtain through family sponsorship, including details such as waiting periods and additional requirements.