How to Get a Green Card
As a U.S. immigration lawyer, my clients often ask me how they can get a green card. The answer is that there are many possible ways to get a green card. The best option for you will depend on your particular circumstances.
In this guide, I will explain most of the ways that you can get a green card to the U.S. If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m very responsive via email and I would be happy to help you.
- What is a Green Card?
- Fiancé and Marriage Based Visas
a. K1 Fiancé Visa
b. Marriage Based Green Card
- Employment-Based Green Card Options
a. EB1 Visa
b. EB2 Visa and EB3 Visa
c. EB4 Visa
d. EB5 Visa
- Diversity Lottery
- U Visa and T Visa
1. What is a Green Card Exactly?
“Green Card” is the informal description given to describe “permanent resident status.” If you have a Green Card, you do not need to have a visa to enter the United States. As a Green Card holder, you are eligible to live and work anywhere in the United States. Additionally, after meeting certain residency and character requirements, after three or five years (depending on the basis of your Green Card) you can apply to become a US citizen.
Again, I am happy to say that fortunately, there is are many ways to get a Green Card (Permanent Residency) in the United States. Green Cards can be obtained through:
- (1) Family Based,
- (2) Employment Based/Investment Based: EB-5,
- (3) Diversity Lottery,
- (4) Asylum,
- (5) or even some options you may not have considered yet, such as VAWA, U, or T Visas.
Thus, keep in mind that there is no “catch all” category to get a US Green Card.
The processing times for these options, can range from a few months to beyond a decade. Thus, it is important that you explore all your options, as you may be eligible for Permanent Residency more than one way.
2. Fiancé & Marriage Based Visas
The current immigration laws are set up to prioritize family reunification for ‘immediate family.’ Therefore, one of the fastest ways to get a Green Card is by falling under the statutory description of immediate family members. For example, this would include marriage to a U.S. citizen or by being petitioned by your adult (21 years or older, U.S. citizen child). Keep in mind that both Green Card holders and citizens have the option to petition immediate relatives. Thus, pending on your status, you may be able to petition your fiancé(e), parents, adult children, and siblings as well.
a. K-1/Fiancé(e) Visa
To be eligible for a K-1 visa, you and your fiancé(e) must intend to get married within 90 days of your partner entering the United States. The marriage must be a bona fide relationship, meaning that you must be able to show that the marriage is genuine (“bona fide”) and was not entered into solely for immigration benefits. Upon marrying, your foreign national spouse can apply for a Green Card by submitting I-485, Adjustment of Status application.
If you are already married or if your fiancé(e) is already inside of the United States, then they are not eligible for a K-1 Visa, unless they exit the United States. Please see our guide on how to get a fiancé visa, to learn more.
b. Marriage Based Green Card
Often times, spouses of US Citizens are able to apply for a Green Card inside the United States, immediately upon marrying. In order to obtain a Green Card through marriage, you must prove:
- A “bona fide” (genuine) marriage (both spouses must be single, meaning if they were previously married, they must have finalized their divorces);
- Again, a bona fide marriage is one that was entered into for love and not solely for immigration benefits;
- The foreign spouse must have entered the US lawfully (we will need to show evidence of having entered with inspection: valid I-94, visa);
- The foreign spouse must not have committed any “crimes of moral turpitude.”
Fortunately, there is no wait for an available visa number for spouses of US Citizens. Thus, often times, the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative application can be submitted jointly with the I-485, Adjustment of Status Application. The concurrent filing is not available for all family members who benefit from the I-130 process (such as children of US Citizens over the age of 21 or siblings). After submitting the joint I-130/I-485 application, the couple can expect an interview at their local field office within approximately 10-14 months. Please see our guide on how to get a green card through marriage to learn more.
3. Employment Based Green Card
Unlike family-based petitions, employment based Green Cards are typically sponsored by the foreign national’s job, not a family member. The visa bulletin breaks down the employment-based green card options into 5 separate categories: EB1, EB2, EB3, EB4, and EB5.
The EB1 Visa is reserved for what is known as ‘Priority Workers.’ These are reserved for leaders in their field (also known as those with ‘extraordinary ability’), executive/managers, and outstanding researchers. Additionally, the EB1 Visa is broken into 3 separate sub-categories: EB1A, EB1B, and EB1C.
The EB1A visa is reserved for people with an extraordinary ability. In order to qualify for an EB1A visa, you must show that you have an extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business, athletics, or education. Additionally, you must show that you are one of the few people who has risen to the very top of your field.
One of the main benefits of an EB1A green card is that this option is eligible for self-petition. This means that you can file your green card application yourself without requiring that a company sponsor you. Please see our guide on the EB1A visa to learn more.
The EB1B visa is for outstanding professors or researchers. To qualify for a green card through the EB1B visa, you must show that you are internationally recognized as “outstanding” in a specific academic area. Additionally, you must show that you have at least 3 years of experience in teaching and/or research in your academic field. You must also show that you will be working as a professor or researcher for a U.S. university of institute of higher education, or that you will work as a researcher for a private employer. Please see our guide on the EB1B visa to learn more.
The EB1C visa is for multinational managers and executives. Through the EB1C visa, a foreign company can transfer a manager or executive to a related U.S. company. To qualify, the U.S. company must have been doing business for at least 1 year at the time the EB1C application is filed. Also, it is highly important that the person applying for an EB1C visa can show that their job duties for the foreign company were managerial or executive in nature, and that their job duties for the U.S. company will be managerial or executive in nature. Please see our guide on the EB1C visa to learn more.
EB2 Visa EB3 Visa
The EB2 visa and EB3 visa are most commonly known as the employer sponsored green card options. These categories are predominantly reserved for those with at least a bachelor’s degree and/or specialized knowledge. To qualify for an EB2 visa or EB3 visa, you typically must show that you have a full-time job offer to work for a U.S. company. The U.S. company must have an approved Labor Certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor. To get an approved Labor Certificate, the U.S. company must show that they tried to hire a U.S. worker and were unable to find a qualified U.S. worker for the position they wish to hire you for – this is also known as the PERM Labor Certification process. Please see our guide on how to get an employer sponsored green card to learn more.
EB2 National Interest Waiver
Under the EB2 category, there is a unique petition known as the “National Interest Waiver,” which does not require a PERM Labor Certificate (unlike the other petitions in this category and EB-3). Here, one with outstanding qualifications and a purpose to promote the “national interest,” can potentially qualify for a US Green Card through self-petition. This means that you can apply for a green card yourself, without the need for an employer to act as your sponsor.
The EB4 visa category is reserved for ‘special immigrants,’ which are the following:
- Religious Workers
- Special Immigrant Juveniles
- G-4 International Organization or NATO-6 Employees and Their Family Members
- International Employees of the U.S. Government Abroad
- Armed Forces Members
- Panama Canal Zone Employees
- Certain Physicians
- Afghan and Iraqi Translators
- Afghan and Iraqi Nationals Who Have Provided Faith Service in Support of U.S. Operations
The EB5 visa is a special green card option which allows someone to get a green card based on making an investment in a U.S. business. The EB5 visa is popularly known as the ‘investment based Green Card.’ Some people also call the EB5 visa the ‘Job Creation Visa.’ To qualify for an EB5 visa you must invest at least $800,000 or $1,050,000 dollars into a U.S. enterprise. To qualify for the reduced investment of $800,000 you must invest in an economically depressed area called a Targeted Employment Area (or TEA). In addition, you must show that your investment will lead to the creation of 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers. Please see our detailed guide on the EB-5 visa to learn more.
4. Diversity Lottery
Every year, the United States hosts a lottery for international immigrants from countries that have not, historically, had a high rate of immigration to the United States. Thus, countries such as India, Philippines, Mexico, or China (for example) are not included in the Diversity Lottery.
The lottery is done annually and is approximately a month long every fall. The lottery registration has no government filing fees. Upon registering, keep your number in a safe place as that number will allow you to recover your lottery results. As with any lottery, your chances of winning are 100% luck based. Meaning that your merits (such as what potential contributions you could bring to the United States) is not evaluated for your lottery success. Yet, keep in mind that if you are applying from a country with low number of applicants, your chances do increase, as the lottery is regionally as opposed to globally based.
The United States recognizes the right of asylum as defined under international and federal law. Asylum applicants must establish that they fear persecution in their home country and that the government will not protect them from this persecution.
Their claim to asylum must fall on account of one of five protected grounds: religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or “particular social group.”
This persecution can be established by past harm or experiences endured by the asylee applicant and/or their community, friends, or family.
One can apply for asylum upon arriving at a port of entry or within the United States. You should try to apply for asylum within one year of arriving, unless you can prove your delay for applying was due to exceptional circumstances. To submit an application for asylum please fill out form I-589.
An approved asylum matter will allow you to have asylee status and, after one year, eligibility for a US Green Card. Note that if you apply for asylum and your matter is denied by the asylum officer, you will be referred to an immigration judge (be placed into removal proceedings) to re-submit your case. Thus, it is important that you carefully prepare your asylum submission.
6. U and T Visas
Historically, undocumented individuals were afraid to report crimes to the police, due to fear of being referred to ICE. To eradicate this systemic issue, Congress created the T and U visas to encourage victims to step forward and report serious crimes. Upon obtaining an approved T or U visa, one can apply for a Green Card. Keep in mind that only enumerated crime will qualify for these humanitarian benefits.
The T visa specifically offers protections to victims of human trafficking. This allows victims to stay in the United States and collaborate with the police and authorities in order to investigate and prosecute trafficking perpetrators. To apply for a T visa, you will need to submit a Form I-914 along with a detailed statement explaining your eligibility.
The U Visa includes the benefits of the T visa and allows victims of human trafficking, among victims of other crimes, such as, but not limited to: abduction, rape, witness tampering, stalking, torture, felonious assault, to file for immigration benefits in the United States.
In order to apply for a U visa, you will need to submit a Form I-918 along with the Form I-918 Supplement B, which should be certified by the police or district attorney’s office. This certification will demonstrate that the foreign national was helpful to law enforcement in the crime investigation. If the victim of the crime is not helpful to the local police or prosecuting agency, then USCIS will deem they are not qualified for a U visa.
7. VAWA: Violence Again Women Act
Another consideration non-citizens should consider, is the possibility of getting a green card as a self-petitioner under VAWA, which is short for the “Violence Against Women Act.” VAWA was a piece of legislation passed protect individuals who are in abusive marriages to US Citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card holders). The law sought to incentivize them to leave their emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships and still obtain lawful immigration status. With VAWA, the petitioning citizen or Permanent Resident spouse need not be in the picture in order to secure immigration benefits.
To qualify for VAWA you need to show:
- That you were married to a US Citizen or Green Card holder – despite the name, both men and women qualify for VAWA benefits; and
- That the marriage was terminated due to abuse (can be emotionally or physical).
Keep I mind that noncitizen children (and/or stepchildren) of abusive citizens and Legal Permanent Residents can also qualify for VAWA before turning the age of 25. If the parent is a foreign national and their noncitizen child was abused (while they were spared) both parties can still apply for VAWA.
As you can see, there are many ways to get a green card to the United States. You may be surprised by the all the options that immigration law has to offer and where you may fit in. Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of the different options that are available.
I hope that you found this information helpful!
Remember, you have avenues to get a green card through so many ways: from employment-based categories (even without having any actual employment or job offer), a lottery, to being a victim of certain crimes.
If you have any questions about how you may qualify for a Green Card or if you need help evaluating any complexities with your case, please feel free to email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m very responsive via email and I would be happy to help you.
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Michael Ashoori, Esq.
U.S. Immigration Lawyer
I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.
Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.
Got a question? Send me an email.