A green card is the informal term for the identification card that attests to the permanent resident status of a non-citizen in the United States. It is also sometimes used to refer to the process of becoming a permanent resident. A lawful permanent resident can apply for United States citizenship after five years of residency. This time frame can be shortened to three years if the permanent resident is married to a U.S. citizen.
A green card signifies that the holder is lawfully in the U.S. and has been granted certain immigration benefits by the government. A green card holder can legally live and work in the country. It is up to the holder to comply with the conditions required for this status. Otherwise, he or she can be removed from the country.
Each green card category has specific steps that an individual must follow. A non-citizen can apply for a green card through a number of methods, including the following:
- Sponsorship by a family member: A U.S. citizen may sponsor a spouse or unmarried child who is under 21 years old for an immediate green card. The government also issues a limited number of green cards for older or married children. However, these visas are typically much harder to obtain because their recipients are a lower priority than minor children.
- Sponsorship by an employer: It is possible for an individual to be sponsored by a company that demonstrates the foreign national has the requisite skills needed for the job and that the company will pay the employee a salary that is considered the “prevailing wage” for that type of work. In other words, the sponsorship should not adversely affect market wages in the U.S. Individuals of extraordinary ability may sometimes self-petition for green cards.
- Seeking refugee or asylum status: Individuals who enter the U.S. as refugees or asylees may apply for green cards for themselves and their families after one year of being in the country.
The process of obtaining a green card can be long and cumbersome. For example, in the context of employment-based immigration, all labor certifications must be filed under the Program Electronic Review Management (PERM). Before a U.S. employer is able to file an immigration petition for a foreign worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the employer is required to get an approved labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL then reviews the information to make sure there are not enough U.S. workers willing, qualified, and able to accept the job being offered to the non-citizen.
The DOL estimates processing times of up to 60 days, unless the case is audited, which can cause an additional delay. The reality is, however, that the DOL takes longer than 60 days in many situations. After the labor certification is approved by the DOL, an Immigrant Petition is filed with the USCIS before the labor certification expires. After this step, there are a number of other steps that needed to be completed, such as adjustment of status, consular processing, and more before an individual will actually get a green card.
It is important to remember that the process described above only pertains to employment-based immigration. If you are trying to obtain a green card through your family, refugee status, or asylum status, the process will vary. The times will vary as well. To learn more about your specific options, it is wise to consult an experienced immigration attorney.