US Green Cards and Legal Permanent Resident Status

What is a Green Card?

A Green Card is the common term for an identification card that proves that a person has attained the status of a permanent legal resident in the US. A permanent legal resident is a person who has entered the US legally and is allowed to permanently reside in the US because of family ties with a US citizen or family ties with a permanent legal resident, because of a grant of asylum or refugee status, or through a job.


What is  a Legal Permanent Resident?

The status of a legal permanent resident is a grant given by the United States to a non-citizen who wishes to reside permanently in the US preparatory to naturalization. Having a Green Card and being a Legal Permanent Resident are one and the same thing. The “Green” Card is the document that proves that a person has been granted leave to permanently and legally reside in the US.


Who can obtain a Green Card?

  1. Sponsorship of an immediate family member by a US citizen

A US citizen can sponsor a person and petition the US Commission on Immigration Services for the issuance of a Green Card on behalf of immediate family members such as: the legal spouse of the US citizen, the legitimate or adopted children as long as they are still under the age of 21 and they are unmarried, and the parents of the US citizen.

The immediate family members enjoy preference in that  there is always an available              immigrant visa number available. They do not have to wait in line for a visa number. A visa number can be issued to them as soon as the US CIS approves the application for Alien Relative (Form I-130). This form establishes the family relationship between the US citizen sponsor and the immediate family member. This preference is due to the policy of promoting family unity.

If the immediate family member entered the US legally under another visa, and the Form I-130 has been approved, the immediate family member can apply to have their status adjusted by filing Form I-485.


  1. Sponsorship of other family members of a US citizen

A US citizen can also sponsor and petition the US CIS for the issuance of a Green Card on behalf of family members of the US citizen falling under the Family Preference Category such as: the unmarried sons or daughters of the US citizen over the age of 21, the married children or the US citizen, and the brothers and sisters of the US citizen. The family members falling under the preference category have to wait in line for an available visa number.

If, for example, a US citizen applied for a Green Card for a son or daughter but during the pendency of the application, the son or daughter reached the age of 21 or got married, the immediate family member will fall under the Family Preference Category instead of the Immediate family member category.


  1. Sponsorship of an immediate family member by a Green Card Holder

US permanent legal residents or a Green Card holders can also petition or sponsor their legal spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 so that they can be issued a Green Card. If, during the time that the petition for immediate family member was pending, the US permanent legal resident becomes a US citizen, the immediate family member’s vias application will be upgraded and the processing will be advanced.


  1. Green Cards for Special Categories of Family
  2. Widows and Widowers of US citizens. Since 2009, the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) has been amended allowing the widows or widowers of US citizens to attain legal permanent resident status even if the marriage has not lasted for two years. Before the amendment, the marriage must last have lasted for two years before the death of the US citizen to allow the widow or widower to apply for a Green Card. The widow or widower must be a legal spouse and the marriage was genuine and not a marriage for convenience. The widow or widower must not have remarried and he or she must be eligible for immigrant status (must be at least 18 years old and must be of good moral character).
  3. Battered spouses, children and parents of US citizens or US Green Card holders. They may also apply for a Green Card. If a US citizen or a US Green Card holder has a spouse, children or parents who are not permanent legal residents and they are victims of abuse by the US citizen or US Green Card holder, then they may apply for a Green Card. To qualify under this special category, the spouse must be legally married or the spouse must have believed that he or she was legally married to the US citizen or visa holder. They must have been living together and their marriage was genuine and not entered into simply for immigration purposes. The applicant battered spouse, children or parents must be of good moral character.
  4. Fiance (ee), child of a fiance (ee), spouse or child of a US citizen holding K non-immigrant visas. The fiance (ee) or the child of a fiance (ee) of a US citizen who enters the US on a K1 or K2 non-immigrant visa can also apply for a Green Card as soon as the fiance(ee) is married to the US citizen. A fiance (ee) must marry the US citizen within 90 days of having arrived in the US. The spouse or child of a US citizen who arrived in the US on a K3 or K4 visa may also apply for a Green Card while already in the US.
  5. Child born to a Foreign Diplomat. The general rule is that children born in the territory of the US to parents who are not US citizens are US citizens. However, in the case of foreign diplomats who are accredited by the US government are not subject to the laws or jurisdiction of the US. Thus, children born to them are not US citizens. In order for them to remain and reside permanently in the US with their parents, the child born in the US must apply for a Green Card. The foreign diplomat parents must have been residing continuously in the US and they must not have abandoned their residence in the US. This category applies to children born to ambassadors, ministers, charges d’affaires, counselors, secretaries and attaches of embassies and legations, and members of Delegation of the Commission of European Communities.


Green Cards through a job

Job offer. A person who has received a job offer from an employer in the US can obtain a Green Card when the employer applies and sponsors an application for a Green Card on behalf of the employee. The employer musts obtain a certification from the Department of Labor that the admission of foreign workers into the US will not adversely affect the job opportunities, wages, and working conditions of workers in the US. This labor certification will allow the worker to work permanently in the US. The employer will then file with the US CIS the application for a Green Card by filing  Form I-140.

Investors or entrepreneurs. Foreign investors or entrepreneurs who will set up businesses to create jobs to benefit US workers can also apply for a Green Card. The business must employe at least 10 permanent US workers and it must have a capitalization of at least $500,000. Under this category, the legal spouse and minor children of the entrepreneur can also apply for a Green Card. Only 10,000 such visas are allotted under this category.

Self-petition for individuals with extraordinary ability. A person with extraordinary ability in the fields of science, arts, education, business or athletics may apply for a Green Card. They do not need a sponsor.

Executives or managers of multinational companies.The employee must be working as an executive or manager in a company that is related to a company in the US as an affiliate or as a subsidiary of a US company. Both the US company and the foreign affiliate or subsidiary must be engaged in active and day-to-day business activity or operations. The employer must demonstrate its ability to pay the foreign manager or executive.

Special categories of jobs. Workers employed in international organizations (such as the United Nations Organization), broadcasters, members of the Armed Forces, religious workers, or those working as Iraqi or Afghan translators, etc., may also apply for Green Cards. This category also includes physicians with a National Interest Waiver who have worked as clinical physicians for at least five years.


Other ways of obtaining a Green Card

Refugees or Asylees. Refugees are persons who have been persecuted or those who fear that they will be persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or because of their political opinion.

Victims of crimes and human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking, a type of modern day indentured slavery, can apply for a Green Card to stay permanently in the US. Their permanent residence is in exchange for their cooperation and aid in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases. This category is also open for those who have suffered physical or mental abuse as a consequence of being the victim of a crime.

Children in danger of female genital mutilation or cutting. Femal children under the age of 18 who are in danger of female genital mutilation or cutting can also apply for permanent legal resident status to stay in the US. This activity is prohibited in the US because it is a form of human rights abuse, gender violence and child abuse.