Do you have questions about the “green card” immigration program? You’ve come to the right place. In this blog entry, we break down the basics.

Almost 1,000,000 people were granted lawful permanent residency in the US in 2013. Lawful permanent residency, which generally means obtaining a green card, is a complicated process which can take a great deal of time. Exactly how long it takes depends on a number of factors, especially “category” of green card being sought. In some categories, it may only take 6 to 12 months to get a green card; in other categories, the wait is years.

For instance, if you’ve married a US citizen, the process may not take so long. However, if you have a more distant relative who is a US citizen, or if he/she is a US permanent resident, it can often take years. The longest waits currently are for brothers and sisters of US citizens who live in the Philippines. They can expect it to take about 24 years to get a green card.

Immigrants typically apply for a green card based either based on one of the following four situations: (1) their employment status; (2) their having relatives who are already US citizens or residents; (3) their winning asylum; and (4) their winning a U-visa.

For most employment-related green cards, your US employer files a petition for you to receive a green card. There are many categories of green card that are employment-based. The categories include:

  • Persons of extraordinary ability or accomplishment

  • Outstanding professors or researchers

  • Executives or managers employed by non-US corporations that have offices in the US

  • Professionals with advanced degrees

  • Physicians who are interested in practicing medicine in an area that lacks enough doctors

  • Skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience

  • Professionals with a bachelor’s degree

  • Unskilled workers

  • Religious workers

  • People who have served as translators for the US military

In addition, there’s a category for immigrants who wish to invest into the country and create jobs. Non-US citizens who are able to invest $1 million in a business and create at least 10 new jobs may be eligible for a green card. Under some circumstances, an investment of $500,000 will make an investor eligible for a green card.

Family-based green cards also have many categories. The process is initiated when the family member who is a US permanent resident or US citizen files a petition on behalf of the person interested in receiving a green card. The petitioner must be able to prove that a family relationship really exists.

The process of getting a green card is usually relatively fast for an immediate relative of a US citizen. An immediate relative of a US citizen is his or her spouse, parent, or unmarried child.

The next category is the so-called first preference category, which includes the married children or adult children of US citizens. The second preference category includes the spouse or unmarried children of a US permanent resident. The third preference category includes married children of a US citizen. The fourth preference category includes brothers and sisters of a US citizen who are age 21 or older.

It’s not only preference categories that matter for family-based visas. Only a certain percentage of visas is allotted to each country, so if many people apply for visas from the same country, this translates to a longer wait for everyone from that country.

There are a few green card categories outside employment and family-based categories. For instance, there is the refugee-status or asylum green card, which can be granted to someone who has been persecuted in his or her home country or who has good reason to fear that he or she might be persecuted. One year after winning asylum, you may be eligible to receive a green card. Also, U-visa holders (for people who were victims of crimes in the US), are typically eligible to apply for green cards after three years on a U-visa. Lastly, there is also an annual green card lottery that grants about 50,000 green cards.

Eligibility for a green card and how to apply for one are very complex subjects. If you have any questions, we are here to answer them for you.