Common ways to become a permanent resident in the United States

If you desire to become a United States citizen the most common first step is to become a permanent resident. Reaching permanent resident status will not only allow you to receive a green card but you can live in the United States indefinitely, start a business, work or join the armed forces.

Permanent resident status will not, however, give you all the rights of a United States citizen. You may, under specific conditions, still be deported. You also will not have the right to vote or to receive certain government benefits. You will, however, be able to apply for United States citizenship after five years.

According to the USCIS, the steps to becoming a Green Card holder (permanent resident) vary by category and depend on whether you currently live inside or outside the United States. The main categories are:

  • Green Card Through Family
  • Green Card Through a Job
  • Green Card Through Refugee or Asylee Status
  • Other Ways to Get a Green Card

Taking a closer look at the green card process:

  1. Green card through a family member - The easiest way to receive a green card is to have a relative sponsor. To request a green card through a family sponsor you must be the immediate relative of a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident. An immediate relative includes your spouse, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of U.S. citizen petitioner 21 or older. Relative sponsors must also be able to support you at 125% above the poverty line.

    Other family members which may receive a family green card include unmarried sons and daughters over the age of 21, married children of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizen petitioners 21 or older.
  2. Green card through a job - What if you do not have a family member who can sponsor you as a permanent resident? You may have another option through an employment green card. Under the employment green card you can have an employer sponsor. Employment sponsors are easier to qualify for if you have work skills or talents which are considered beneficial to the United States. For instance, doctors, artists, professors, scientists or business owners of multinational companies will have a better chance of receiving a green card through an employer than other applicants.
  3. Refugee or asylum status - Certain green card applicants may seek permanent resident status if the United States agrees to grant them asylee or refugee status. Applicants are only granted asylum if they can prove they are admissible to the United States and the U.S. has determined they "were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group."

    Refugees must apply for permanent status within one year of being admitted to the U.S. An Asylee does not have this same requirement. Some asylee and refugee applicants will be denied a green card if the United States believes they "ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
  4. Other ways to get a green card - There are several other programs which allow an immigrant to come to the United States and live permanently. These include the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, Legal Immigration Family Equity Act, and the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and the Registry. For more information, talk to an immigration lawyer.

    One of the most common programs is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Under this program approximately 50,000 diversity visas are offered through a lottery system to citizens of countries who are underrepresented in the United States. Applicants of this program must have completed high school and have 12 years of elementary and secondary study or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring a minimum of two years training or experience.

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