Foreign citizens who wish to live permanently in the United States are required to obtain an immigrant visa. This document is issued by a U.S. consular office overseas, and it allows an individual to travel to the United States and apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Once an individual is an LPR, he or she has the right to live and work permanently within the United States.
The type of visa an individual may qualify for will vary depending on the specific case. Applying for an immigrant visa can be a long and cumbersome process, so it is best to consult a qualified immigration attorney who can help fill out the paperwork completely and correctly. It is also important to be vigilant about the fees that are required at each stage of the process.
Green Card vs. Immigrant Visa
The term “green card” is sometimes used interchangeably with “immigrant visa,” but technically an immigrant visa is a document or passport stamp that gives a foreign national the right to enter the U.S. In contrast, a green card is a photo I.D. card that identifies a foreign national as a lawful permanent resident after they arrive in the U.S.
In order to be eligible for an immigrant visa, a foreign national generally must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or a prospective employer. There are a few exceptions to these categories. The process begins with the sponsor filing a petition on behalf of the foreign national with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Family-based immigration is possible when a U.S citizen files a visa petition for a foreign national spouse, child, parent, or sibling. A lawful permanent resident (a green card holder) can file an immigrant visa petition for a spouse or an unmarried child. The first step for sponsoring a relative is filing a Petition for Alien Relative Form I-130 with USCIS. The U.S. citizen sponsor must be at least 21 years of age or older to file a petition for siblings or parents. The minimum age requirement does not apply to all types of family based immigrant visas. An LPR must be at least 18 years of age and have a residence in the U.S. in order to be able to sponsor a spouse or relative.
As a general rule, the U.S. sponsor must maintain his or her principal residence within the United States. The sponsor should plan to live in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Domicile in the U.S. is necessary to file an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864 or I-864EZ.
Employment-based immigration is another option for some foreign nationals. A U.S. employer can sponsor certain skilled workers who will be hired into permanent jobs. Typically, an employer will sponsor the foreign national by filing an I-140 Petition for Alien Worker with USCIS. In some cases, individuals who are in certain specialized fields can sponsor themselves.
The U.S. makes a limited number of visas available each year to qualifying individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. through its diversity visa program.
There are also other immigrant visa categories that foreign nationals can seek if they apply to their circumstances. For examples, foreign citizens can seek a fiancé visa that allows them to come to the U.S. and get married. Once married to a U.S. citizen, they can take steps to stay in this country permanently. Another avenue to the U.S. is through adoption by a U.S. citizen. Additionally, special immigrant categories exist to cover certain types of workers, including translators and interpreters from certain countries, religious workers, and other immigrants in distinctive situations.