I want a green card. This is the statement I hear most frequently from potential clients. A green card (or lawful U.S. permanent residence) means the ability to live and work permanently in the U.S. It is an important goal for many people who have struggled with the confusion of a temporary visa process and so a green card means permanency.

Unfortunately, I do not have a drawer full of green cards that I can distribute. What I do have is a very extensive understanding of the pathways to a green card, the hurdles clients may face and the strategies to reach the end goal; obtaining the green card. Clients cannot just merely want a green card – they must apply for a green card via certain pathways. Below are the five major pathways to the green card and some lesser known pathways:

  1. The diversity visa “lottery”. The Department of State administers this process which provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. A limited number of visas are available each fiscal year. There are education and/or work experience requirements to qualify. The Department of State conducts a random selection of Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) applicants each year based on allocations of available visas in each region and country. See http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/immigrate/diversity-visa/entry.html
  2. Family members. Certain family relationships can enable a qualifying family member to obtain a green card. U.S. citizens and U.S. Permanent Residents may sponsor certain categories of family members. Although this pathway is used frequently, some of these options have very long backlogs and wait times. See http://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-family
  3. Employment. Clients may be eligible to become a permanent resident based on an offer of permanent employment in the United States. There are various employment based categories, requirements and wait times. See http://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-job
  4. Investment. The EB-5 investor visa program allows foreign investors to make an investment in a U.S. business (currently $500,000 to $1,000,000) to obtain green cards. These green cards allow investors and their families to work in the United States but do not require them to work. Investors do not need a U.S. employer or U.S. family member to sponsor them for green cards. See http://www.uscis.gov/eb-5
  5. Asylum. If USCIS grants someone asylum status, that individual is eligible to apply for a green card 1 year after receiving the grant of asylum. Additional criteria regarding physical presence, resettlement and admissibility apply. See http://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-through-refugee-or-asylee-status
  6. Special immigrant juvenile status, battered spouses or children & other lesser known eligibility categories. Although most immigrants come to live permanently in the United States through sponsorship by a family member or employment, there are other lesser known pathways. For more details see: http://www.uscis.gov/green-card/other-ways-get-green-card

U.S. immigration and nationality law is complex and growing more so all the time. If you “want a green card” and you think you may fit into the pathways above, please contact us!


by Holly Hatton.