The “Green Card” – to some, it is a symbol of hope, accomplishment, and security for a new life in America. To others, it symbolizes peace of mind, enduring stability with loved ones, and extinguishing the fear of deportation. Regardless of background or viewpoint, obtaining a Green Card means successfully completing the path to legal permanent residence. While millions of immigrants throughout the United States want a Green Card, relatively few of those immigrants ultimately succeed in acquiring one. For a variety of reasons, many immigrants find obtaining a Green Card challenging and difficult. This series of posts – while far from comprehensive or a substitute for legal counsel – discusses some of the ways immigrants in the United States can obtain status as a lawful permanent resident.
In the legal sense, acquiring lawful permanent resident status is the same thing as obtaining a Green Card. Upon receiving lawful permanent resident status, the immigrant is given an identification card. Over time, people began referring to these identification cards as “Green Cards” due to the green backdrop on the cards. Thus, while many people consider the Green Card to be the key to legal status, the card itself is really nothing more than a piece of plastic – the true prize is obtaining the status of lawful permanent resident.
But how can you get status as a lawful permanent resident? It depends. Every case is different, and there are dozens of possibilities. The current immigration system utilizes four (4) main categories of immigrants: (1) family-sponsored immigrants; (2) employment-based immigrants; (3) diversity immigrants; and (4) humanitarian immigrants. Within each category there can be several additional sub-categories, all with differing eligibility requirements. In addition, many of those categories have numerical limits on the number of visas that can be issued each year, resulting in various wait times. Therefore, it is not uncommon for many immigrants to be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence but have a waiting period before they can actually complete the process and obtain their Green Card. Even outside of these four (4) main categories, there are several other possible paths to receiving lawful permanent resident status. Indeed, even immigrants currently in removal proceedings and facing deportation may be able to obtain a Green Card and adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.