How Do I Get a Green Card?

One of the most common questions I receive in consultations is the seemingly simple, “How do I get a green card?” To fully explain the answer of this question would take much longer than many of you care to read, but the short answer is that there are several primary avenues one can take to receive a green card. Of course, each path has its own requirements, every case is different, and aspects of all are constantly subject to change.

In my practice, the most common path to receiving a green card is through family-based immigration. Under this category, the individual seeking the green card has some family relationship with either a current Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or U.S. Citizen. The closeness of that relationship (e.g., spouse, child, parent, sibling) often determines the eligibility of the individual seeking the green card and the approximate length of time the entire process will take. There are a multitude of issues that can impact family-based immigration, such as criminal history, financial status, or prior marriages, among others.

It is also possible for an employer to sponsor an employee for an employment-based green card. In some instances, particularly capable and qualified immigrants may apply for an employment-based visa on their own behalf. Depending on the qualifications and history of the immigrant, the requirements of the position, and, in many cases, the strength of the labor market, an employment-based visa can be a more daunting possibility than family-based immigration. Again, the facts of each case dictate how relatively easy or difficult the green card process will be.

The third category is generally referred to as “humanitarian,” which includes asylum. From time to time, there are also special programs adopted by Congress that give special privileges to individuals from certain countries or who fall into certain demographics. Generally speaking, an asylee is seeking refuge in the United States because he or she has a credible fear of persecution on account of race, religion, political belief, nationality, or membership in a particular social group if he or she return to his or her home country.

Finally, there are ways for individuals to receive green cards while in removal proceedings. For instance, an individual who is not already an LPR may request what is known as Cancellation of Removal and adjust status to that of LPR (i.e., receive a green card).

The pathways listed above are intended to provide a brief, and admittedly somewhat incomplete, overview of the ways that one could receive a green card. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but hopefully gives you a rough idea of options that you may want to explore with a capable immigration attorney.

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