Getting a green card is the ultimate goal of thousands of immigrants each year. However, applicants should use caution when navigating immigration law, as some green card categories have very long wait times. This page is not intended to supplement legal counsel, so be sure to work alongside a qualified green card lawyer throughout the immigration process.
Green Card Types and Eligibility
The USCIS places the different types of green cards into categories according to the route used to obtain permanent residency. Those categories are employment based, family based, and investment based.
Employment-Based Green Card Types
There are three preference categories for employment-based green cards:
- The EB-1 preference is reserved for people with extraordinary ability, managers, executives, professors, and researchers.
- The EB-2 extends to those who hold advanced degrees or can demonstrate above-average ability in their fields.
- EB-3 green cards are granted to foreign nationals who are skilled workers, bachelor’s degree holders, or unskilled laborers.
It is important to note that most employment-based categories require for you to have a job offer from a U.S. employer and a Labor Certification Application (LCA) in order to qualify. This means that those who are self-employed or part of a partnership will not be able to apply for a green card without an NIW (see below).
However, this rule does not apply to those who qualify for the EB-1 due to their extraordinary ability. These applicants can self-petition and therefore do not need a job offer or LCA.
The National Interest Waiver (NIW) is a way for EB-2 applicants to qualify for a green card without a job offer or an LCA. This is especially useful for entrepreneurs or small business owners who can prove that their enterprise or contribution would be in the United State’s best interest.
Family-Based Green Card Types
There are four different preference levels of family-sponsored green cards:
- The F1 preference level is for the unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are older than 21 years old.
- F2 green cards are for the spouses and any children under 21 of Lawful Permanent Residents.
- To qualify for the F3 preference, you must be a U.S. citizen’s married child of any age.
- The last preference category, the F4, is reserved for the siblings of a U.S. citizen provided that the citizen is over 21 years old.
It is important to note that children getting married during the green card process can not only disrupt the proceedings but also disqualify your child for the higher preference levels.
Because the wait times are so much greater in the lower preference categories, you should consider planning any weddings according to your green card application process dates.
Investment-Based Green Card Types
The only preference level that is dependent on an investment rather than a family member or employer is the EB-5. This green card was created to allow foreign entrepreneurs to stimulate the U.S. economy. To qualify for this category, you must:
- Invest a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. commercial undertaking; and
- Have a thorough business plan that involves the creation of ten full-time positions for U.S. citizen workers that are qualified.
What is the Green Card Application Process?
Each category and preference level has its own set of forms, fees, and steps that you must fulfill in order to petition and apply. While this is a broad overview of each category, you should consult your green card lawyer to learn the exact details of your application process.
- Under most circumstances, you, the foreign worker, must have your employer obtain a Labor Certification on your behalf.
- Your employer must then file an I-140 petition on your behalf and wait for approval. The adjustment of status form I-485 can be filed at the same time.
- When your priority date is current with the DOS dates, a visa number will be available and you can adjust your status or use consular processing if you are outside the U.S.
- You, the U.S. citizen sponsor, must file an I-130 petition with the USCIS and wait for approval.
- Your family member must then wait until his or her priority date becomes current and a visa number is available from the DOS.
- The family member then can either apply for a green card in his or her own home country or file for an adjustment of status if he or she is already in the U.S.
- First, you, the investor, must file an I-526 form and wait for it to be approved.
- Then you can either submit an I-485 form to have your status adjusted or you can submit a DS-230 or DS-260 to apply for an EB-5 green card.
The processing time for a green card heavily depends on which category and preference your status falls into as well as the country in which you have citizenship. This is because of the fact that the priority date, or the date that the USCIS receives your petition, must be current with the dates provided by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in order for there to be a visa number available.
Each month, the DOS releases a visa bulletin to inform applicants where their dates currently stand. If your priority date matches the DOS dates, then a visa number is available for you and you can apply for your adjustment of status.
However, while the first preferences of the categories tend to have shorter processing times, the lower preference levels can sometimes have wait times that span many years. For example, as of February 2017, the F4 green card wait time is almost 25 years for citizens of the Philippines.
How Can I Apply for a Green Card Renewal?
Even though a green card makes you a Lawful Permanent Resident, it will still have an expiration date that requires that you renew it. For most 10-year green cards, you can file an I-190 form online or on paper to have your green card replaced if it will expire within six months.
How A Green Card Lawyer Can Help
Because the green card process can take several years to complete, it is important to work with a qualified green card lawyer from the beginning in order to make sure that you are making the decisions that will make that processing time as short as possible.
Our immigration attorneys have been helping people along the path to a green card for years. With a long history of success, they use their decades of immigration law knowledge to overcome the obstacles that might come up during the green card process.