Everyone knows that a green card is a ticket to life in the United States without the hassle of having to go through a visa renewal or re-application process every couple of years.
That’s why green cards are so popular and notoriously difficult to secure. We’ll explain the diverse ways you can apply for a green card and take you through the process step-by-step.
What is a Green Card?
A green card allows you to live and work in the USA as a permanent resident, with some great benefits and a few responsibilities.
- Education: You’ll pay less in university and college fees, as well as being able to apply for financial aid to cover these costs.
- Overseas travel: As long as you travel with your green card, you won’t have to worry about being denied re-entry to the US by immigration, or deal with I-94’s anymore.
- Status: Green cards do not expire; however, you will need to get a new physical card after a decade.
- Work: The only work restriction you’ll face is with companies that only hire US citizens, and you can start your own business.
- Social Security: If you’ve worked for 10 years in the US, you’ll be able to claim benefits once you retire.
- Family: Those with a green card can sponsor a spouse or a child under 21 so that they can also become permanent residents.
- Physical card: Carry your green card with you everywhere – think of it as your driver’s license and make sure it’s always on you.
- Permanent resident: Your permanent residency can be revoked if you move to another country with the intention of living there permanently, live outside of the US for more than two years after you get a re-entry permit, or fail to file an income tax return.
- Voting: Green card holders can only vote in local and state elections that don’t require you to be a US citizen.
- Crime: While you’ll be subject to the usual penalties if you commit a crime, you may also lose your green card.
How to apply for a Green Card
Depending on your individual family situation, where you live and work, there are different ways to apply for a green card.
Remember this when you’re thinking about applying, because you could be missing out on an easier application route.
There are a couple of ways you can apply for a green card through family:
- Having a US citizen as an immediate family member: If your husband or wife, unmarried child (under 21), or parents are citizens, this is the route for you.
- A US citizen family member fitting into these categories: These don’t have to be “immediate family members”. They can be unmarried children (over 21), married children or siblings (if the US citizen is over 21).
- Family member holds a green card: If one of your family members holds a green card, you can apply for permanent residency.
- Special categories: There are options for those in a “special family category” such as a battered spouse or child, child born to a foreign diplomat in the US, or Widow/er of a US citizen.
If the company you’re working for is willing to supply a Labor Certificate for you, getting your green card through a job offer is another way to go.
This one is based on the idea that you have a permanent job in the US, and your employer sponsors you (there is a caveat that we’ll get into a bit later).
- Your employer will need to petition for you.
- They will submit an I-140 (Petition for Alien Worker)
Those who aren’t already living in the US, can use consular processing to get their green card approved. This process doesn’t require you to come to the US before applying.
There are a few more steps if you’re already living in the US. Once the I-140 is lodged and approved, you’ll need to lodge an I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). This will allow the change of your visa status to permanent resident.
Back to that caveat. You can apply for a green card through “self petition” if you have an “extraordinary ability” in science, art, education, business or athletics, or if you were granted a National Interest Waiver.
When they say “extraordinary” they really mean it. You need to be “the best of the best” in your field, so this one isn’t open to many people.
The Diversity Lottery is one of the most popular ways to apply for a green card. It’s also called the green card lottery for good reason – lots of people apply for a comparatively small number of spots.
There are 50,000 green cards up for grabs each year and they’re drawn randomly. You can apply if you’re already living in the US on another visa.
The lottery is open for applications for one month, usually in October, and requires you to meet requirements such as being from a country that qualifies (Australia does) and have at least a high school equivalent education.
It’s free to lodge an application but if you are selected to go on to a visa interview, you’ll need to pay some fees, which are subject to change.
Don’t leave it to the last minute to fill out the online form because the website gets crazy busy. You’ll be asked for a photograph of yourself from the past two years as well, so have one ready.
The winners are usually chosen in May of the next year, and aren’t notified by email or letter, they need to check the Diversity Lottery website for their name and further instructions.
You’ll be given an immigrant visa interview date and time, and if you weren’t selected, you can keep checking back to see if any updates have been made (in case others have pulled out).
Keep in mind that you’re not automatically allowed entry into the US, people who applied in 2016, are able to immigrate in 2018.
This is a guest contribution from Katherine Fenech. Katherine is an Aussie living in San Francisco via stints in Sydney, Malta, London and Perth. She waxes lyrical about life in the United States and hands out unsolicited tips to expats at Bright Lights of America.