The “Green Card” – to some, it is a symbol of hope, accomplishment, and security for a new life in America. To others, it symbolizes peace of mind, enduring stability with loved ones, and extinguishing the fear of deportation. Regardless of background or viewpoint, obtaining a Green Card means successfully completing the path to legal permanent residence.
While millions of immigrants throughout the United States want a Green Card, relatively few of those immigrants ultimately succeed in acquiring one. For a variety of reasons, many immigrants find obtaining a Green Card challenging and difficult. Some of the ways immigrants in the United States can obtain status as a lawful permanent resident will be discussed.
In the legal sense, acquiring lawful permanent resident status is the same thing as obtaining a Green Card. Upon receiving lawful permanent resident status, the immigrant is given an identification card. Over time, people began referring to these identification cards as “Green Cards” due to the green backdrop on the cards. Thus, while many people consider the Green Card to be the key to legal status, the card itself is really nothing more than a piece of plastic – the true prize is obtaining the status of lawful permanent resident.
But how can you get status as a lawful permanent resident? It depends. Every case is different, and there are dozens of possibilities. The current immigration system utilizes four (4) main categories of immigrants:
(1) family-sponsored immigrants;
(2) employment-based immigrants;
(3) diversity immigrants; and
(4) humanitarian immigrants.
Within each category there can be several additional sub-categories, all with differing eligibility requirements. In addition, many of those categories have numerical limits on the number of visas that can be issued each year, resulting in various wait times. Therefore, it is not uncommon for many immigrants to be eligible to apply for legal permanent residence but have a waiting period before they can actually complete the process and obtain their Green Card. Even outside of these four (4) main categories, there are several other possible paths to receiving lawful permanent resident status. Indeed, even immigrants currently in removal proceedings and facing deportation may be able to obtain a Green Card and adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
Criminal history can be another major factor affecting which paths are available to you in obtaining lawful permanent resident status and acquiring a Green Card. Determining whether particular crimes will change your eligibility to obtain a Green Card can be an extremely complicated process and should not be attempted without the assistance of an immigration lawyer. This analysis can also be impacted by the total number of criminal offenses, how long ago the criminal offense occurred, where the criminal offense occurred, the ultimate disposition of each offense, and many other factors which must be considered on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, immigrants can overcome past criminal offenses by presenting sufficient evidence and an adequate explanation. If you want to become a legal permanent resident but do not know how a criminal incident from your past affects your options, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an immigration attorney.
Even if you doubt your ability to apply for status as a lawful permanent resident, don’t give up hope. Many immigrants have several paths to permanent residence, and many more are surprised to learn of the paths available to them. As the remaining parts of this series will discuss, the path towards peace of mind and lifelong stability may very well be within your grasp.