How to a Green Card in the United States

As immigration attorneys, people from all over the world often ask us,  “What’s the easiest way to get a green card?”  There are many ways to get a green card (lawful permanent residence) in the United States, and the best option for you will depend on your specific circumstances.  The best immigration attorneys in USA understand that every case is unique.  

Each pathway to a green card is subject to different hurdles and time frames.  Some people may receive their green cards in weeks, while others may have to wait as long as twenty years. Unfortunately, President Trump has made it much more difficult for people to get a green card to live and work in the United States.  Nonetheless, you still have options.

Below is an overview of several ways to get a green card in the United States.

1.      Green Card through Family or Marriage:

One of the more common ways to get a green card is immigrating through your spouse or family members.  If you have close family members who are U.S citizens or legal permanent residents (green card holders), you may qualify for a green card.   In general, the closer the family relationship (spouse, child, parent), the more rights you will have under the immigration law. 

For example, spouses or parents of United States citizens are classified as “immediate relatives,” which means that the green card for this group of persons is immediately available (compared to a sibling of a United States citizen, who would need to wait in line for years).  Unfortunately, extended family members like cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents do not qualify for green cards unless they too have a close relative who is a U.S Citizen or legal permanent resident.

The United States citizen or legal permanent resident family member is the petitioner and the person seeking the green card is called the beneficiary.  The petitioner must file a petition for the beneficiary to get a green card, but the process is different depending on the family relationship and whether the beneficiary is inside or outside of the United States.  In any case, the probability of success will depend on the strength of the application. Several factors affect how quickly you will be able to obtain your green card.  For immediate relatives, the process is generally taking 8-13 months at the time of this writing.  If you are in a family preference category (for instance, sibling of a U.S. citizen), the wait can be as long as 20 years in some cases.


2.      Green Card through Employment:

Another common way to obtain a green card is through employment.  This requires no family ties in the United States.  Rather, the employer is the petitioner and the employee is the beneficiary.  In essence, the employer would be “sponsoring” you for the green card. 

If you have the right background and qualifications, and your employer is willing to sponsor you, you may be able to obtain a green card.It does not matter whether you are living abroad or inside of the United States.  Because of the various types of employment-based green cards and the associated processes, you should always retain a knowledgeable attorney to represent you in the process.  This is especially true because most employment-based green cards require you to interact with various agencies, such as the Department of Labor, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Department of State.

Different employment-based green cards have different processes.  In general, however, the process begins with you obtaining a job in the United States.  The employer will usually need to pay the “prevailing wage” (which usually exceeds the minimum wage) and petition for you after demonstrating that there are no qualified U.S. workers available to fill the position for which you are being hired.  This process can take several months or longer if there is an audit.

Your employer files an Application for Permanent Employment Certification with the Department of Labor.  This process generally takes three months, however, if you receive an audit your application can take much longer.  After the employer’s petition is approved, you will be able to file for your green card (assuming an immigrant visa is available for you).  The time that you can immigrate depends on your home country and the employment preference category.Countries with many applicants, such as India, tend to have longer wait times than those with fewer applicants.

3.      Green Card through Asylum:

Persons who receive asylum protection may apply for a green card.  Asylum is a complex area of law.  It is granted to persons who have been harmed in their home countries or are afraid to return to their countries because they fear persecution.

Being afraid to return home is not enough to win asylum.  Your attorney (you should always have representation for asylum) will have to show that your fear of returning is connected to a protected ground.  The protected grounds are race, religion, nationality,membership in a particular social group,and political opinion.  These are terms of art and can encompass more than the ordinary definition.  For example, a political opinion does not necessarily mean that you are politically active or that you are involved with politics or government in any way. It can encompass a variety of activities, depending on your jurisdiction.  In California, for instance, apolitical opinion can be your stance on an important issue or fundamental right, such as freedom of speech or the right to have family or beliefs in feminism or equal rights.  An experienced asylum attorney can analyze your case and determine whether you qualify for asylum.

The manner in which you apply for asylum depends on whether the government has commenced removal proceedings against you.  If you come to the United States on a visa or if you come to the United States illegally but are not yet in removal proceedings, you can apply affirmatively with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Otherwise, if you are in immigration court, you must apply defensively in court.

One of the main benefits of applying affirmatively is in the event that you do not win at the USCIS level, you will be referred to an immigration judge where you will have an opportunity to renew your application.  In the legal world, this is referred to “taking two bites at the apple.”  Another opportunity to apply for asylum can be crucial because the benefits of winning asylum can be life changing.

  Our immigration firm handles complex asylum cases for people from all over the world.  If you fear returning home and want to find out if you have a chance at obtaining asylum, call us for a free consultation and case assessment.

4.      O-1 Visa for Individuals of Extraordinary Ability or Achievement:

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry

The O visa is separated into different categories and has slightly different criteria and requirements depending on the type of extraordinary ability and work to be performed.  In each category, the applicant must demonstrate a specific level of skill or recognition in their field.

An employer, U.S. agent, U.S. citizen or business manager must file a petition for the foreigner seeking O visa status (the foreigner is called the beneficiary).

The O visa process is relatively quick compared to other immigration benefits.  The petition takes approximately 3 months to process.  Nonetheless, the petition cannot be filed more than one year before the beneficiary is actually required to be in the United States.  That said, the petition should be filed at least 45 days before your employment start date to prevent unnecessary delays.  There are various documents that need to be submitted in support of your application, including, but not limited to, the employment contract, itineraries, and evidence of your extraordinary ability.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recommends the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor.

  • Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field.

  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought.

  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field.

  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought.

  • A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought.

  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.

An approved O visa generally enables the beneficiary to stay in the United States between one and three years.  You can use the three years you spend working in the United States to demonstrate that you have a track record of success in your field. If you can demonstrate that the projects or work you performed on the O visa has garnered national or international recognition, then you may qualify for an employment-based green card. 

It is important to think about the green card early as an O visa beneficiary.  One thing you can do is build a strong resume as soon as you arrive to the United States so that you can make a smooth transition from O-1 to EB-1.  Notably, your employer should petition for your green card while you are in valid O status to avoid a denial.

  O-1 visas have a very high approval rate.  Therefore, if you are an individual with an extraordinary ability who would like to live and work in the United States, you should consider the O visa.  Our immigration attorneys can guide you through the process and ensure that you submit the strongest application possible.

5.      U Visa:

Have you ever been the victim of a crime in the United States?  If so, you may be eligible for a green card.  Our U visa attorneys in California have helped people obtain green cards by guiding them through the process.

The U visa is designed to help people who have been the victim of a qualifying crime by providing the victim with a pathway to a green card.  In order to be eligible, the crime must have occurred in the United States (with limited exceptions), and the U visa applicant must be willing to cooperate and help the police if asked to do so.

If you entered the United States illegally or have overstayed your visa and have become the victim of a crime, you may still be eligible for a U visa.  But the crime must be a “qualifying crime.”  Qualifying crimes include:

·         Abduction

·         Abusive sexual contact

·         Blackmail

·         Domestic violence

·         Extortion

·         False imprisonment

·         Female genital mutilation

·         Felonious assault

·         Fraud in foreign labor contracting

·         Hostage

·         Incest

·         Involuntary servitude

·         Kidnapping

·         Manslaughter

·         Murder

·         Obstruction of justice

·         Peonage

·         Perjury

·         Prostitution

·         Rape

·         Sexual assault

·         Sexual exploitation

·         Slave trade

·         Stalking

·         Torture

·         Trafficking

·         Witness tampering

·         Unlawful criminal restraint

·         Other related crimes, including attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation of any of these offenses, or similar activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar.

After three years of continuous physical presence in the United States while in U nonimmigrant status, a U visa holder may be eligible to adjust status and become a lawful permanent resident if certain requirements are met.

6.      Green Card for T Visa Holders:

A T visa is a form of immigration relief available to an applicant who can show that he or she was the victim of either sex or labor trafficking.  Trafficking victims come from all ages and backgrounds, and can be any gender. 

The person must be in the United States due to the trafficking and must have cooperated with any reasonable request for assistance in investigating or prosecuting the trafficking (unless the victim is under 18).

There are elements that must be established for a T visa to be issued, which is why having an attorney is essential.  For example, a T visa applicant must demonstrate a risk of suffering “extreme hardship” upon removal from the United States, among other things.“Extreme hardship” is a legal term of art and it means that there is a certain level of proof that the government wants to see before they grant your application.  In order for your hardship to qualify as extreme, it must go beyond the normal hardship experienced from deportation.  It is always important to speak with a qualified immigration attorney regarding the level of hardship in your case before applying, as it is crucial to obtain the T visa.

If would like more information about how to get a green card in the United States, please contact our immigration attorneys for a free consultation or visit our website at: www.SantosKhoury.com

Matthew Khoury