Applying for a Green Card or Immigrant visa is the first step in becoming a United States Permanent Resident. As a Green Card holder, you and your immediate family can live and work in the United States permanently. Most people obtain Green Cards by being sponsored by their employers or their relatives. Others obtain permanent residence through the Green Card lottery, asylum and through various other means. The main ways of applying for a Green Card are through marriage, employment, family, the lottery and through investment.
APPLYING FOR A GREEN CARD THROUGH MARRIAGE
Each year, over 160,000 citizens of the United States marry immigrants and petition for them to obtain permanent residency. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered "immediate relatives" under the immigration laws, and are exempt from all numerical quota limitations. In other words, marriage to a U.S. citizen is the fast lane to a Green Card. There is no wait time for visas for spouses of U.S. citizens.
APPLYING FOR GREEN CARD THROUGH A FAMILY MEMBER
To be eligible for lawful permanent residence based on a family relationship you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have a relative who is a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident, who is willing to sponsor you for permanent residency.
- Your relative must prove they can support you by providing documentation that their income is 125% above the mandated poverty line.
- If your relative is a US Citizen you have to prove you share one of the following relationships:
- Husband or wife
- Unmarried son or daughter over 21
- Child under 21 years old
- Married son or daughter of any age
- Brother or sister if you are at least 21 years old
- Parents if you are at least 21 years old
- If your relative is a lawful permanent resident you have to prove you share one of the following relationships:
- Husband or wife
- Unmarried son or daughter of any age
The wait time for a Green Card depends on your family relationship. For example, the wait time for a parent of a U.S. citizen is approximately nine months to a year. However, for the sibling of a U.S. citizen the wait time for a Green Card is about ten years.
APPLYING FOR AN EMPLOYMENT BASED GREEN CARD (EMPLOYMENT BASED VISA)
A U.S. employer may also sponsor an immigrant employee for a Green Card. The permanent residency process is a multi-step process and may take 2-5 years depending upon the category of Green Card and government processing speed.
The first step requires filing a labor certification application with the Department of Labor attesting that there are no U.S. workers available to fill the position. This is achieved by advertising the job and interviewing any potentially qualified workers. The second step requires the filing of an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Once the labor certification is approved, the Green Card application may be filed with the USCIS. The length of time it takes for approval will depend on the category/preference of the worker.
A petition for a foreign professional holding an advanced degree may be filed when the job requires an advanced degree or where the employee has at least a Bachelor’s degree and five (5) years of experience. This is called the EB2 or second preference category.
Aliens with at least two years of experience as skilled workers, professionals with a baccalaureate degree, those with three-year degrees regardless of how many years of experience and others with less than two years experience, such as an unskilled worker who can perform labor for which qualified workers are not available in the United States will file in the EB3 or third preference category.
Once the application is approved and a visa becomes available to the beneficiary an adjustment of status application is filed with the USCIS if the employee is already in the United States or the employee applies for a visa at the U.S Consulate, if outside the U.S.. Presently the wait time for a Green Card in the EB-3 category is approximately five years and is approximately two years in the EB2 category.
GREEN CARD LOTTERY
This program makes available by random draw 55,000 Green Cards to people from around the world. The objective of the program is to issue Green Cards to individuals born in countries with historically low levels of immigration to the United States. South Africans are eligible to apply for a Green Card through the DV Lottery. Successful DV entrants must be eligible to receive a visa by qualifying based on education, work, and other requirements. The law and regulations require that every DV entrant must have at least:
- A high school education or its equivalent; or
- Two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years' training or experience.
The U.S. Department of State will begin accepting applications for the 2017 DV Lottery in October 2015.
GREEN CARD THROUGH INVESTMENT
the U.S. provides a means for high net worth individuals to obtain a green card through investment in the US. economy. This is known as the employment Fifth Preference or EB-5 immigrant visa. Applicants for a U.S. green card based on investment must $1million in a U.S. business and take an active role in that business (though they don’t need to control it). The business must also create 10 jobs for US. Workers. The amount of the investment is reduced to $500,000 if the business is located in a rural area or an area of high unemployment. The amount of the investment is also reduced to $500 000 if the funds are invested in a Regional Center.