If you are looking to move to the United States permanently, there are many have visa options available to fit your specific needs. To receive legal permanent residence within the United States you must meet certain conditions pertaining to the visa you’re applying for. Depending upon your reason for seeking permanent residence, you may apply for a family sponsored or an employment-based visa.

A “green card,” or alien resident card, is the document issued to lawful permanent residents as proof of their permanent status. It allows those individuals to live and work in the United States legally. Many years ago, the cards were green and, although they are no longer green, the name “green card” is still used today.

A foreign national – with exception of nationals/citizens of countries covered under the Visa Waiver Program entering the United States for tourism or business – must obtain a visa prior to arriving to the United States. Visas are divided into two main groups:

  • Non-Immigrant Visas: A non-immigrant visa is issued to an individual with permanent residence outside of the United States but wishes to be in the U.S on a temporary basis for tourism, business, education, medical reasons, etc.
  • Immigrant Visas: An immigrant visa is issued to an individual that wants to live in the United States permanently.

Family members of United States citizens (USC) and lawful permanent residents (LPR) may obtain legal permanent residence in the United States. There are six categories of relationships that qualify to obtain permanent residence in the United States based on familial relationship. These categories are:

Immediate Relatives (IR): Immediate relative sponsored visas include spouses, children under 21 years old and parents of United States citizens. The USC petitioner must be 21 years old or older. Visas are always immediately available for these individuals.

Quota System Relatives: The other five categories – contrary to IR’s – are subject to the Quota System. This means that the demand for visas under these categories are greater than the quota allowed by Congress. The date of filing of these petitions is known as the “priority date.” Applicants who fall under one of these five categories must wait until their priority date becomes current before completing their immigrant visa processing.

Section 203 (a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets the following preferences for the quota system:

  • First Preference: Single sons and daughters of United States citizens over 21 years old
  • Second Preference – A: Spouses and children under 21 years old of Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Third Preference – B: Single sons and daughters over 21 years old of Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Fourth Preference: Married sons and daughters of United States citizens
  • Fifth Preference: Siblings of United States citizens

An Individual may be granted a legal permanent resident by receiving an employment-based visa. These are usually given to individuals with special abilities that would directly benefit the United States, academically or financially. Permanent resident status based on employment can be obtained through one of the following five categories:

EB-1 Visa:

A) Priority workers or individuals with proven extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics

B) Outstanding professors and researchers who are recognized internationally for their outstanding academic achievements in a particular field

C) International executives and managers

EB-2 Visa: Professionals holding advanced degrees or individuals with exceptional ability in business or sciences or arts

EB-3 Visa: Professionals with a bachelor’s degree, skilled workers with a minimum of two years of experience performing the job duties of the position offered, and unskilled workers

EB-4 Visa: “Special immigrants” for religious workers and former employees of the United States Government

EB-5 Visa: Individuals making a qualifying investment in the United States that will benefit the United States economy and generate full-time employment for United States workers

The Department of Labor may issue a PERM certification if the prospective United States employer, after completing all required steps (prevailing wage, recruitment, etc.) is able to prove that there are no United States workers qualified, able, willing or available to perform the duties of the position offered and that the wages and working conditions of similarly employed United States workers will not be affected by the hiring of a foreign worker.

Once certification is granted by DOL, the employer can file an Immigrant Visa for Alien Worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Some categories are exempt from filing a PERM application:

Schedule A: This is a United States Department of Labor (DOL) pre-certification, which establishes that workers in certain job classifications will not adversely affect United States workers. In these cases, employment-based permanent residence processes falling under Schedule A are initiated through the filing of an I-140 petition, rather than a PERM labor application. individuals filing under Schedule A need:

  • A job offer from a United States employer
  • I-140 petition filed by employer, supported by a completed, but uncertified PERM labor certification petition.

Permanent Resident Alien: Also exempt from filing PERM are aliens with exceptional abilities and individuals applying under the National Interest of the United States per INA Section 203(b)(2)(B).

Immigrants can request a change in their immigrant status without having to leave the United States. An immigrant may request a status change for many reasons, including a change in the purpose of immigration or a change in marital status. A change of status will only be allowed if the applying individual originally entered the United States lawfully and has not committed a crime. Crimes committed in the United Sates will make you visa ineligible.

An immigrant can apply for a visa extension if their visa’s expiration date is approaching. Once a visa has expired, it is no longer eligible for an extension and the immigrant must go through the application process again.