Getting into the United States of America is truly a dream for many people around the globe. After all, it is the land of milk and honey and of course, the land of the free. But we know for a fact that setting foot in America is never an easy task. It's not like the olden times when people could just dock on an unknown island and own it for themselves. The very first requirement to live and work in the USA is to obtain a United States Permanent Resident Card also known as a Green Card (name acquired due to its original color in previous versions). The Green Card serves as proof that you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the US, thus granting you permission to live and work and enjoy the fruits of this blessed land.
So does getting your Green Card mean you are already a US citizen? Not just yet. A Lawful Permanent Resident may apply for citizenship or naturalization after 5 years of residency. This may be shortened to three years if a green card holder marries a US citizen, or four years if the LPR receives political asylum as specified by international and federal law.
How does one get a Green Card and become a Lawful Permanent Resident?
There are different immigration options regulated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) but the most prevalent are:
1. Immigration through employment. This is a three-step process wherein the employer who wishes to sponsor you must secure a Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor, and once granted, the second step is to file the Immigrant Petition with the USCIS using Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker). You may apply for a temporary travel and work authorization, which allows you to work with the employer right away. Then the employer must apply for a visa number on your behalf through the National Visa Center (NVC), but since there are certain imposed quotas on the availability of visa numbers, this part of the process may take years, unless you are an immediate relative of a US citizen (i.e. Spouse, children below 21 years of age or parents of a US citizen 21 years or older). These immediate relatives would have their visa numbers immediately available once the petition is approved by the USCIS.
2. Immigration through a family member and the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE). Since the first option requires a lot of diligence on the part of your employer, an easier way to get a green card would be through a relative who is a US citizen or simply by marrying one. In this process, the spouse would basically sponsor your residency by filing out Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). A relative who enjoys citizenship in the US could also sponsor an immigrant who may fall under these categories:
- Husband or wife
- Unmarried child under 21 years of age
- Unmarried son or daughter over 21
- Married son or daughter of any age
- Brother or sister, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old, or
- Parent, if the sponsor is at least 21 years old
3. Immigration through Diversity Lottery. Each year, the US Department of State (DOS) makes 50,000 immigrant visas available through the Green Card Lottery, wherein winners and their spouses and children under the age of 21 may apply for permanent residency. Once granted, the visa must be activated within six months from date of issuance at any port of entry to the US. The winner is now authorized to live and work in the United States, and the green card would be mailed after a few months. The great news is that no sum of money is collected in joining the lottery. For more information in joining the Diversity Lottery, you can visit dvlottery.state.gov.
Securing your green card may be a quite a task, especially if you don't fall under the Immediate Relative category mentioned above or don't have the intentions to marry someone yet or don't believe you're lucky enough to win a lottery. But always remember that no journey is sweeter than one that leads to either milk or honey, despite the bitterness amidst.