As anyone who has gone through the immigration process will tell you, it's hard to navigate. There are rules on top of rules. Forms on top of forms. Supporting documents you need for just about everything. All the while, the rules and policies are subject to change, and they do quite often change. That can be frustrating and lead to roadblocks for someone trying to obtain permanent residency in Pennsylvania.
I will guide you step by step through the process. I will communicate often so that you always know what is happening and can make informed decisions about your life or that of your loved ones in and outside the United States. Contact me at 267-931-7900 to schedule a consultation and learn more about how I can help you or a loved one obtain a green card to stay, live, study, and work in the United States.
What Are Permanent Visas and Green Cards?
A permanent resident card, or green card, authorizes noncitizens to live and work on a permanent basis in the United States. Green card holders have a clear path to naturalization and becoming U.S. citizens. Permanent resident cards are often referred to as permanent visas, but this description is a bit misleading. Though permanent resident cards are technically a type of visa, they are not like other visas.
- A permanent resident card (green card) is a physical card that indicates you, as the holder, is a permanent resident of the United States and can lawfully work and travel anywhere in the United States.
- Other visas––like study and work visas––are obtained before a noncitizen travels to the United States and result in a stamp in the individual's passport. Those visas carry restrictions, too, depending on the type of visa. A study visa may not allow you to work without proper authorization, and a work visa may not let you switch jobs at a whim without proper authorization.
To obtain a green card, the first step is to confirm you are eligible. The second step is to complete and file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The noncitizen who seeks permanent residency is considered the Applicant on Form I-485, but that does not mean the Applicant files the form. It could be a family or employer sponsor who files it. Much of it depends on your unique circumstances or situation.
Once filed, the USCIS will review the application and schedule an interview. If your application is approved, a green card will be issued. This card is valid for ten years, at which time it needs to be renewed.
The green card renewal process is an administrative process. Your permanent residency status continues even if you fail to timely renew. This right only ends when it is revoked. Reasons a person's permanent residency status may be revoked include but are not limited to the following.
- The permanent resident commits a crime.
- The permanent resident voluntarily abandons their permanent residence.
- The permanent resident becomes a citizen.
Thus, though the permanent residency grants you certain rights and privileges, it also requires that you comply with the laws of this country and the rules established by the USCIS and other governmental agencies.
Eligibility for Green Cards
A range of different pathways to permanent residency exists in the United States, and consistent among all these pathways is this: the applicant is in the United States at the time the I-485 is filed. There are, however, reasons why some noncitizens may not be able to file for a green card even though they are in the United States at the time of filing it.
Certain family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for a family-based visa, which includes:
- Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, like spouses, widows or widowers, unmarried children under 21, adopted children, and parents (immediate relative visas)
- Extended family members of a U.S. citizen, including unmarried children aged 21 or over, married children, and siblings (family preference visa)
- Immediate relatives of a U.S. permanent resident, including spouses and unmarried children (family preference visa)
Visa applications for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are prioritized, and there's no limit to the number of visas issued each year in this category.
The number of family preference visas is capped each year, resulting in long wait lists.
Several business visas allow noncitizens to immigrate to the United States permanently. These visas cover workers who are:
- Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
- Outstanding professors or researchers
- Multinational managers or executives
- Professionals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business
- Skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers
- Certain investors
To be eligible, a noncitizen typically requires a job offer from a U.S. employer. The U.S. employer, however, must first obtain permission from the Department of Labor to hire a foreign worker.
Refugee and Asylum Seekers
Green cards are also available to people seeking protection in the United States, including refugees (if outside of the United States) and asylees (if within the United States). Once a refugee or asylee has been in the United States for 12 months after being granted protection, they are eligible to apply for a green card.
Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
Victims of human trafficking who have a T nonimmigrant visa and victims of crime with a current U nonimmigrant visa are eligible to apply for a green card.
Victims of Abuse
Certain noncitizens who are victims of abuse in any of the following situations may have a pathway to permanent residency through different immigration programs.
- You are the abused spouse or an abused child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
- You are the abused parent of a U.S. citizen.
- You are a child, have Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, and have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by your parent.
- You are the abused spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen or a lawful permanent resident who received their green card based on the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act (HRIFA).
Special Immigrant Visas
The special immigrant visa category is available to specific groups of noncitizens. For example, Afghani or Iraqi nationals who were employed by or worked for the U.S. Government can apply for a green card via a special immigrant visa.
Other Paths to Green Card Eligibility
There are quite a few other, smaller categories that allow certain individuals to apply for a green card. Each category, listed below, has its own eligibility criteria.
- Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Program
- Cuban Adjustment Act
- Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act
- Lautenberg Parolee
- Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000
- American Indian born in Canada
- Person born in the United States to a Foreign Diplomat
- Section 13 (Diplomat)
- Registry (for people who have resided continuously in the United States since before January 1, 1972)
Benefits of Permanent Residence Status in Pennsylvania
There are several benefits to permanent residence status. Below are the most sought-after benefits.
- Pathway to citizenship. Depending on the circumstances, holders can apply for citizenship three to five years after first receiving their green card.
- Family reunification. Green card holders can sponsor other noncitizen family members to the United States.
- Dual citizenship eligibility. A green card gives the holder permanent residency in the United States without requiring them to renounce citizenship of their native country.
- Legal protection. A green card ensures a holder is protected by U.S. laws.
- Eligibility for government benefits. Green card holders can apply for education assistance and may eventually become eligible for social security benefits.
- Protected immigration rights. A green card holder's permanent residency rights remain in place and cannot be canceled, even if immigration law later changes.
Keep in mind, however, that green cards come with specific responsibilities. If a green card holder fails to respect these responsibilities, they may jeopardize their permanent residence status.
Problems with Permanent Residence Status
In certain circumstances, a green card can be revoked. Common situations initiating revocation include:
- Failing to file federal income taxes
- Convictions of certain criminal offenses
- Living outside of the United States for an extended period
- Fraudulently applying for a visa
Deportation may result when a green card is revoked.
Contact a Business Immigration Lawyer in Pennsylvania Today
Many pathways to permanent residency exist. The key is making sure you identify and follow the correct path so that mistakes do not delay the process. Our immigration lawyer in Pennsylvania navigates the immigration system with ease. We are proactive and thorough and offer comprehensive immigration services to our clients.
Contact me today by calling 267-931-7900. I will schedule a consultation to help you identify your path to permanent residency in the United States.