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Green Cards

An alien registration card carried by permanent resident aliens.


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It entitles the holder to live and work in the United States. After four years and nine months, a green card holder can apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

U.S. immigration laws base eligibility for a green card on either work or family relationships. If you are the immediate relative of an American citizen - spouse, child, parent, or sibling - you can apply for a green card. If you are a spouse or a minor child of a U.S. citizen, your application will be reviewed and a visa will be immediately available for you. Other family members will have to wait for a visa to become available, which could take several years. The reason for this wait is that obtaining visas to enter the United States is a two-step process involving two government agencies. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, a unit of the Justice Department, reviews and approves visa applications, while the State Department actually issues the visas. Sometimes the INS will approve a visa but the State Department has no visas available.

If you find employment in the U.S. and the employer is willing to sponsor you, you are also eligible for a green card. The more education and skills you have and the more necessary your job is in the U.S., the sooner you will be able to enter the U.S. and obtain your green card. Computer software engineers and nurses, for example, are in short supply, while waiters and mechanics are not.

Finally, there is a green card lottery every year that makes green cards immediately available to people from different areas of the world on a rotating basis. If you are from a country selected for the lottery that year, you can submit a one-page application with your information and, if you are picked, the State Department will grant you a green card. Like all lotteries, however, your chances of winning are slim.

Ways to get a green card:

Labor Certification. The process of proving that there are insufficient qualified workers to perform a specific job in a specific region. This is typically a lengthy process.

Outstanding Researchers. International recognition for being an outstanding academic.

National Interest Waivers. Professionals whose service would be of a national interest to the U.S. can apply for a green card without a sponsoring employer.

Extraordinary Individuals. People at the top of their fields can skip the labor certification process and apply immediately for a green card.

Family Immigration. Family-based green card applications. Except for immediate family members-spouses, minor children, and parents-it is a lengthy process.

Asylum. The process for people who are in the U.S. and fear returning to their country for fear of persecution based on their race, religion, or membership in a political or social group.

Lottery. A yearly drawing for a green card.

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