Green Card: Immigrant Visas – Permanent Residence

Permanent resident, green card, or immigrant visa status gives foreign nationals the right to live and work in the United States without time, place, or employment limitations. Although there are several pathways to permanent residence the two most common are through close family ties to U.S. citizens or other permanent residents, or through employment in the United States, usually based on a job offer from a U.S. employer.

Immigration Based on a Family Relationship: Eligibility to apply

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 U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States who is willing to sponsor you for permanent residency.
  • Your relative must prove that he or she can support you by providing documentation of income that is 125% above the mandated poverty line for their family, including you and all other sponsored family members.

If your relative is a U.S. citizen and can prove one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for permanent residence status:

  • Husband or wife;
  • Child under 21 years old;
  • Unmarried son or daughter over 21;
  • Married son or daughter of any age;
  • Brother or sister if you are at least 21 years old ; or
  • Parents if you are at least 21 years old.

If your relative is a lawful permanent resident and can prove one of the following relationships, you may be eligible for lawful permanent residence:

  • Husband or wife; or
  • Unmarried son or daughter of any age.

How Do I apply for Permanent Residence?

The application process involves several steps:

Step One

You will need a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative to sponsor you for permanent residence. The relative files a petition with the Immigration Service (USCIS) to have you, the foreign national, classified as a person qualified to immigrate. (A sponsor is not required in certain circumstances such as the spouse of a deceased citizen and battered spouses and children).

Step Two

Once the petition is approved, the Department of State (DOS) must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to you, the foreign national, even if you are already in the United States. When an immigrant visa number becomes immediately available to you, it means that you can apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to you. You can check the status of a visa number in the DOS Visa Bulletin here.

Family-based immigrant visas are awarded according to certain categories which are called preference categories. The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens – parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 – do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the visa petition filed for them is approved.

The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preference categories:

  • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older.
  • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, their unmarried children (under twenty-one), and the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.

Step Three

If you are already in the United States, you may apply to change your status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available for you in a process called Adjustment of Status.

If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to the U.S. consulate servicing the area in which you reside to complete your processing.

How Can I find out if a Visa is available in my preference category?

The DOS is responsible for providing visa numbers to foreign nationals interested in immigrating to the United States. To check the current status of visa availability in your preference category, you can review the DOS Visa bulletin here.