If you are a non-citizen living in the U.S today, you will know the challenges involved in living and working without permanent residence identification. Applying for a green card resolves all the issues you might be experiencing as an immigrant by changing your status to a permanent resident. Then you can enjoy all the benefits that come with being a green card holder. However, the process may not be as straightforward as it may sound. At California Immigration Attorney, we have highly skilled and experienced attorneys to take you through the process and protect your rights against violation. Get in touch with us from any part of California, and let us kick-start the legal process.

What is a Green Card?

According to Immigration & Nationality Act, a Green Card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document given to United States immigrants as proof that the person bearing the card has been granted rights to reside in the U.S permanently. Once you have been given a green card, you are considered a legal permanent resident. There are approximately thirteen million green card-holders in the country today, from which almost nine million of them are suitable to apply for U.S citizenship. In case you are wondering why a green card is essential, here are some of its benefits:

Green Card Holders Can Sponsor Their Immediate Relatives

Have you always wanted to live close to your family but could not because you live and work in the United States? You may be able to sponsor them once you get a green card. The United States Green Card allows holders to support their immediate relatives and provide them with a chance to stay with them. The immigration law has a list of people that are considered immediate family and may include:

  • Unmarried children below 21 years
  • Parents/guardians
  • Spouses

Green card holders may also be allowed to sponsor extended family members through a particular category named Preferred Family. Sponsoring them makes it simpler for them to attain a residency status.

Attend College and Pay Less

Knowledge does not come cheap, more so for non-residents. It is not unusual to find universities, vocational schools, and colleges charging more tuition fees for international and out-of-state students. In some states, you could even be charged 50% more than permanent residents. It explains why you need to have a green card today. Those with green cards will be regarded as an in-state citizen. So, you save more on college and university tuition.

In addition to that, legal residents are suitable to apply and receive national financial grants for education. You may qualify for a significant amount of financial support from the government to sponsor your education, which is enough to diminish or even eliminate all tuition costs.

Take Part in Political Campaigns

Everyone wants to contribute to the day’s politics, only that non-residents’ opinions do not matter. If politics are important to you, then you are better off with a green card. In the United States, only natural-born Americans and those who have been naturalized are allowed to vote in federal, state, and local elections. Even so, there are other ways you can take part in politics. The Federal Elections Committee allows holders of Green Cards to support their preferred political parties financially.

You may not be able to vote but can still make your opinion count by contributing to your party. You may influence essential issues that you feel are important for you and your family, even without casting a vote.

Travel to and from the U.S Easily

One of the most significant challenges facing non-residents is the uncertainty of gaining entry back to the United States once they leave. It makes some people scared of even leaving because they cannot afford not to come back. It is a problem of the past once you become a holder of a green card. The most significant benefit of having a green card is the ease of traveling to and from the United States without worrying about your immigration status. The United States’ Immigration service is required by law to allow all those that have green cards into the country because they are already permanent legal residents.

However, you may experience problems if your green card is expired. Before its expiration date, renewing your green card is necessary, as will be discussed later in this article. Again, it may not look good if you remain out of the U.S for more than six months. The Immigration Department will start questioning whether you intend to make the U.S. your permanent country of residence. They could even revoke your legal permanent residency.

Eligibility to benefit from Social Security Benefits

Employers usually finance social Security Benefits through taxes on payrolls. The benefits are a form of economic security for retirees and disabled persons and their families. About a quarter of the U.S. population relies on benefits such as these. From the benefits, families can cater to food, childcare, and medical care, among other necessities.

Non-residents cannot enjoy these benefits, but green card holders can since they, too, are legal permanent residents. If you have a green card and you have been working in the U.S. for more than ten years, the law allows you to file a claim for your retirement benefits.

Better Job Opportunities

The cost of living in the United States today is high, and so, you need an excellent job with good pay to finance your life. Getting a job when you are a non-resident is not easy. But holders of green cards can access better job opportunities. Average immigrants will need a company to sponsor their work visas. But people with green cards are free to seek employment in any company they wish in the country. As a permanent citizen, you could also establish a business of your own and even get into entrepreneurship if you so desire.

Eligibility for Green Card

Now that you know most of the benefits you stand to gain after getting a green card let us look at what you need to qualify. Several eligibility criteria are available, through which you must be qualified to apply for a United States green card. They are:

Obtaining a Green Card by Close Family

You might be qualified to apply for a United States green card if you are a close family of a United States resident. Immediate relative means that you are a spouse, an unmarried child below 21, or a parent of a resident of the U.S.

Other relatives of a permanent resident or U.S citizen are also qualified to apply under family categories. Family members who do not fall under the immediate family bracket defined above can apply under this category. They may include the following:

  • Unmarried children that are twenty-one years or older
  • Married children of a United States’ resident
  • Brothers and sisters of a United States’ citizen who are twenty-one years or more
  • Family members of lawful permanent residents, including the spouse, unmarried children under 21 years, and unmarried children above 21 years

The fiancé (e) of a United States citizen or the child of a United States resident fiancé (e) is also suitable for applying for legal permanent residence. The fiancé (e), in this case, will be admitted as a k-1 non-immigrant and the child as a k-2 non-immigrant.

You could also qualify if you are a widow/widower of a resident of the US. However, you must have been wedded to a United States resident spouse when he/she died.

VAWA self-petitioners are also qualified to apply for a United States green card. They are victims of extreme cruelty or battery. Therefore, if you are under this category and a wife/husband of a permanent resident or U.S resident, you can apply for legal permanent residence. Similarly, abused unmarried children of a permanent resident or U.S citizen under 21 years old can apply. Abused parents of U.S citizens are also qualified to apply.

Obtaining a Green Card by Employment

The following immigrant workers are suitable to apply for a United States green card:

  • First presence workers — include immigrant workers who have unique scientific, artistic, athletic, or business abilities. They could be outstanding researchers or professors or multinational managers/executives who meet particular criteria.
  • Second preference workers — They are professionals who require advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in business, arts, or sciences. They could also be immigrant workers who are pursuing a waiver on national interest.
  • Third Preference workers — are skilled workers whose job requires only two years of work expertise or training. They could also be professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent educational qualification and are registered members of that Third preference workers could also refer to unskilled workers who can perform an unskilled job with less than two years of experience or training.

One can also qualify for a green card application through a Physician National Interest Waiver. Physicians who agree to take on full-time employment in designated clinics located in underserved areas for a predetermined period and meet other eligibility criteria will be allowed to apply.

Lastly, immigrant investors who have spent or are in an active process of spending a minimum amount of $1 million in an enterprise that might create full-time jobs for a minimum of ten qualified employees are also qualified to apply.

Green Card Application for Special Immigrants

Individuals considered as special immigrants are suitable to apply for legal permanent residence. They are:

  • Religious workers — You can apply if you are a part of a religious organization extending to the United States to operate as a non-profit organization.
  • A special Immigrant child — A minor who has undergone abuse, abandonment, or neglect by their parents, and they already have special immigrant status.
  • Iraq or Afghanistan Nationals — if you are an Iraq or Afghanistan national and have served as a translator to the government or were contracted by the government in your country for at least a year from March 20, 2003, you may be suitable to apply. The same applies to nationals of Afghanistan who were working for the International Security Assistance Force.
  • International broadcasters who want to relocate to the States and work as members of the media
  • Employees of International Organizations or their family members or NATO employees or their family members — if you retired as an employee or officer of a particular international organization or NATO, you or individual members of your family could be qualified to apply.

Green Cards for Refugees or Asylees

An asylee is anyone that was given asylum status, not more than a year ago. On the other hand, a refugee will be anyone who was admitted to the U.S as a refugee, not more than a year ago.

Green Cards for Victims of Crime and Human Trafficking

Human trafficking victims or those who have a T nonimmigrant visa can apply for legal permanent residence. The same applies to crime victims or those who have a U nonimmigrant visa.

Applying for a Green Card as an Abuse Victim

The following are categories of abuse victims that could be suitable to apply for legal permanent residence in the United States:

  • Victims of extreme cruelty or battery — They may include abused spouses of legal permanent residents or U.S citizens, abused unmarried children of below 21 years of lawful permanent residents or U.S citizens, and abused parents of U.S citizens
  • Special immigrant juveniles — they include children who have suffered abuse, abandonment, or neglect by their parents and already have special immigrant status.
  • Abused spouses or children of Cuban citizen or native under Cuban Adjustment Law
  • Abused spouses or children through Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Law

Eligibility through Registry

You are qualified to apply if you have lived in the U.S continuously before January 1, 1972. 

How to Apply for Legal permanent Residence/Green Card

Two questions should come to your mind when you think of applying for a green card:

Am I Qualified to Apply?

As discussed above, the United States immigration laws provide several ways to qualify for a green card. First, choose an immigrant category you will be applying under, then proceed to try your luck.  Ensure that you meet all eligibility requirements under your preferred category.

Some applicants will need to be sponsored for the green card. They will have to fill a minimum of two forms, including an application form and an immigration petition. Sometimes another person can file the petition on your behalf when the applicants need sponsoring or petitioning for the green card. Other times the applicant may be able to file the petition for themselves.

Are You In or Out of the United States?

The application process you choose will be determined by whether you are in or out of the country. The two processes available are:

  • Status adjustment with USCIS

It is the process taken by green card applicants that are already living in the U.S.

Applicants who already have an approved immigration petition and their immigration visa is available will only need to file form 1-485 to apply to adjust status with USCIS or register for permanent residence.

Those whose immigration petition is pending approval can check their eligibility requirement for Green Card application to see if they can file the petition and form 1-485 at the same time. The process is called concurrent filing.

  • Consular processing

It is the application process taken by green card applicants who reside outside the United States.

  1. The first step will always be to determine your eligibility to apply using the above criteria. Many immigrants become qualified to apply once another person (must be an immediate family member or employer) files a petition on their behalf. Others will have to obtain a refugee or asylum status, among other special provisions.
  2. The second step would be to file an immigration petition. Note that everything is based on your eligibility category. Once you have chosen the category that best fits your situation, you can always have another person file the petition on your behalf.
  3. The third step will be to wait for the immigration department to deliberate on your request. Note that the USCIS can deny or grant your petition. If it denies our petition, you will be given reasons why your petition was not granted and if you can appeal the petition. If your petition is accepted and you are out of the United States, USCIS will send the accepted petition to the United States Department of National Visa Center. It will stay there until your visa number is out.
  4. The fourth step is to wait until you get notified by the National Visa Center. It is the center that collects visa application charges and supporting documents. The center will send a notification to you and your beneficiary once it receives the petition. You will also get a notification once the visa number is out. The center will provide you with the dates for submitting the visa processing fee and supporting documents.
  5. The fifth step is to attend an interview. When your visa is ready, you will receive an interview  call from the consular office. The office will look into your issue and determine whether (or not) you are suitable for an immigrant visa. Note that you will not be required to contact the Visa Center on matters regarding your petition. The center will always contact you for any information they might need. However, there are instances you may need to make that call:
  • In case your address has changed
  • If you were below 21 years at the time of application and now have turned 21
  • If your marital status has changed

These changes will affect your suitability to apply or the availability of your visa. If you experience any of these changes, contact the National Visa center immediately.

The next step is to collect your visa. If your immigrant visa is issued, you will receive a call from the consular office, from where you will be handed a packet of data called Visa Packet. You are not required to open the packet but rather to pay the Immigrant fee. USCIS charges this fee to prepare the Packet and issue the green card. It is advisable to make the fee payment after receiving the packet immediately before leaving for the States.

Once you are in the U.S, hand over the visa packet to the Customers and Border Protection officers. They will be at the entry port. The officers will scrutinize you and decide whether (or not) to let you in the U.S as a permanent citizen. If you are accepted here, you will have a legal permanent citizen status, which allows you to stay and work permanently in the U.S.

The final step is to collect your green card. If you paid the Immigrant Fee as expected, you would find the green card in your mail after coming to the U.S. If not, you will have 45 days after your arrival to contact the USCIS. If you didn’t pay the Immigrant Fee before arriving in the U.S, you would be required to make the payment before USCIS can send you the green card.

Renewing Your Green Card

Some green cards do not contain an expiration date. However, most are valid for ten years. If you have been given conditional resident status, your green card will be valid for two years. It is necessary to always keep your green card up-to-date. Operating with an invalid card will make it difficult for you to prove that you are a permanent resident. It affects your ability to travel and confirm your suitability to live in the US. Initiate the renewal process when your green card has six months to expire.

Find a California Immigration Attorney Near Me

A permanent resident status in the United States comes with tons of benefits you do not want to miss out on. Applying for a green card is one way through which you can enjoy these benefits. There are several legal processes you will need to go through, some of which could be complicated. That is why it is advisable to engage the services of an experienced immigration attorney. At California Immigration Attorney, we have the skills and resources to make the processes easy and give you a positive outcome. Call us at 424-789-8809 from anywhere in California and let us simplify the process and improve your chances of success.