Obtaining Permanent Residency in the U.S.

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Updated 2021-08-04 11:38

Living and settling in the USA is a dream for millions of people. Seen as the country of great freedoms and opportunities, the United States is home to over 45 million immigrants. A historical melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultures, it is also a place where adjusting to your new life can be relatively easy.

So, what do you need to become a permanent resident in the US?

In order to become a resident in the United States, one must obtain a residence permit — also known as a Green Card.

A Green Card lets you live and work in the US for a period of up to ten years. You get to have the same rights and obligations as US citizens and you can apply for jobs in both private and public sectors.

You will also receive health, educational and other benefits. The two things you won't be able to do as a Green Card holder is vote and serve on a jury.

So, how can one get a Green Card in the US?

There are several scenarios in which you are eligible to apply for permanent residency (Green Card) in the United States:

  • You can apply for a family-based Green Card (if you have family in the United States or are married to a US citizen)
  • You can apply for an employment-based Green Card (if you have a job offer from the United States)
  • You can also participate in a Green Card lottery to win permanent residency in the country.

Family-based Green Card

If you are applying for a family-based Green Card, the sponsor of your application will be a spouse or a relative. Your sponsor will need to be at least 21 years of age and they will need to be making a Green Card request for their spouse, children, parents or siblings.

Here's how it works:

  • Your sponsor will need to complete the I-130 form, Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative. They will need to gather and provide all required documentation.
  • They will need to pay a registration fee. The payment of the registration fee together with the completed application will need to be sent to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  • The sponsor will first get a receipt and subsequently a notification with the Immigration Services' decision once the application has been processed.

Employment-based Green Card

An employment-based Green Card is granted to those who intend to work in the United States. Unlike family-based Green Cards, there is a quota on how many employment-based Green Cards can be given out per year in the United States. The quota is currently set at 140,000 employment-based green cards. Plus, there are

different priority categories. In most cases, priority will be given to people who have proved to have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, education or athletics.

Entrepreneurs, those with a valid job offer from a US company and workers in specific fields (for example, religious workers) can also apply for an employment-based Green Card.

Here's how it works:

  • Your employer needs to initiate the process by completing the I-140 form (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker). They will also need to gather and provide all the related documentation.
  • Next, the application together with the payment of the registration fee need to be sent to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  • Your sponsor will then receive a receipt and subsequently a notification with the decision about your case.
  • If the application has been approved, you will be contacted by the NVC (National Visa Center) and they will inform you how to proceed.

How to win a Green Card in a lottery?

This is a very interesting — yet true — concept. You can, indeed, win a Green Card in a lottery. Every year, the United States government grants 55,000 prospective immigrants a Green Card via the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery.

The lottery is open to residents of those countries that have the lowest immigration rates to the US. The list of such countries changes every year.

Here's how it works:

  • First, you will need to register online at the Diversity Lottery official website. Important: the lottery is only open during a specific period. Thus, make sure to check when you can apply on the website.
  • Once you have filled in the application, you will be given a confirmation number. You can then use this number to check if you have won.
  • If you have, you will be able to start the application process for an immigrant visa.

What you must and mustn't do as a Green Card holder

Permanent residency in the US gives you the right to live and work in the country. If you maintain your permanent residency status, you will also be able to apply for citizenship in the future.

US permanent residency is also known (informally) as a Green Card. It is called a “green card” because of the permit's design in mostly green color — it was first introduced back in 1946.

Responsibilities of Permanent Residents in the United States:

  • Permanent residents must obey all US laws and regulations.
  • Permanent residents must file income tax returns and report their income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities.
  • Permanent residents should support the democratic form of government in the country and not initiate government changes through illegal means.

Health insurance

According to the Affordable Care Act, citizens and permanent residents of the United States must have health care insurance. If your income falls below federal poverty levels, you will be eligible for government subsidies that can help you pay for your health coverage. However, in most cases, permanent US residents can only apply for the social health program (Medicaid) after they have lived in the United States for at least five years.

Criminal acts

As a permanent resident in the United States, you could be deported from the country and refused re-entry if you are convicted of a crime. This may also lead to you losing eligibility for US citizenship in the future.

Other infractions that can affect your status include:

  • Providing false information to obtain immigration benefits
  • Claiming to be a citizen of the United States when this is not the case
  • Voting in a federal election (as a permanent resident, you can not vote)
  • Multiple marriages
  • Inability to financially support your family
  • Failure to submit tax returns

Becoming a US citizen

After you have received a Green Card, you may later have the option to apply for US citizenship.

In order to become a US citizen, you need to meet the following conditions:

  • Have been a holder of a Green Card (permanent residency) for at least five years. Or, for at least three years if you are a spouse of an American citizen.
  • Have renewed your permanent residency if it were to expire working 6 months of your application or has already expired.
  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Know how to speak, read and write basic English.
  • Be of good moral character.
  • And go through the 10-step naturalization process.

The 10-step naturalization process includes the following steps:

Eligibility criteria for American citizenship

To know whether you are eligible for US citizenship, you need to check whether you fit the naturalization criteria on the USCIS official page. Generally, you have the right to apply for citizenship if:

  • You were born in the US
  • You were born abroad to US citizens
  • You have a valid Green Card
  • You are a spouse of a US citizen for at least three years
  • You have served in the US military

You can check the full official list of naturalization conditions on the official website of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Completing the form N-400. After you've confirmed that you are eligible for US citizenship, you can go on to fill and fill the N-400 form. In the form, you will be asked to provide personal details, employment history, marital history and more.

Having two photographs taken. You will need to submit two photographs of yourself together with the N-400 form. These should be passport-sized photos 2 X 2 inches or 5 X 5 cm in size. They must be recent and your face must be clearly visible.

Obtaining copies of all the needed documents.

These include copies of your Green Card (front and back), passport, visa, birth certificate, etc. If any of these documents are not in English, you will need to have them translated first.

Sending over your application package. Once you have filled in the N-400 form, collected the copies of all the necessary documents and translated them into English (if needed), you will need to send them over to the USCIS office. Make sure to send over certified COPIES of all required documentation. Do not send over original documentation by mail. You will be asked to provide original copies of the required documents at a later stage.

Getting your fingerprints taken. Once your application has been received, processed and if everything is in order, you will be asked to come in for biometric verification at the USCIS office. This involves having your fingerprints taken.

Going in for a Naturalization Interview. After your fingerprints have been collected, you will need to go in for an interview at the USCIS and answer a series of questions regarding your application and background. It is also essential that you answer all questions truthfully. Providing false information can lead to the immediate rejection of your application and even be grounds for revoking your citizenship later.

Taking the US Naturalization Test. Next, in order to officially become a US citizen, you will need to take and pass the Naturalization Test. There are two parts in the test: a civics part and an English part. You will be asked questions about US laws as well as tested on your ability to speak, read, write and understand English.

Waiting for the verdict. After you have passed the interview, the USCIS will deliberate and make a decision on whether you can be granted US citizenship. The final decision is made based on the information you've provided and your answers during the interview. There are three possible outcomes to your application:

  • Your application is approved and you are granted citizenship.
  • Your application is rejected and you will need to leave the country before your current visa expires.
  • Your case may be undecided. Then, you may be asked to provide further information or schedule a few more appointments.

Can US citizenship be revoked? While such cases are very rare, a US citizenship can indeed be revoked based on the following grounds:

Falsification or concealment of important facts.

If you have provided false information when filling out paperwork or answering interview questions during the application, denaturalization action can be filed against you even after your citizenship has already been granted.

Being a member of a subversive group. Your citizenship will be revoked if the government has proof that you have joined a subversive organization within five years of receiving your citizenship.

Refusing to testify before Congress. During your first ten years of citizenship, you can not refuse to testify in an investigation relating to your possible participation in activities intended to harm a US official or officiates or overthrow the U.S. government.

Dishonorable military discharge. One of the ways of becoming a US citizen is serving in the US military. Thus, if you are dishonorably discharged from the military before you have served your five years, your citizenship may be revoked.

Persons who have been denaturalized based on the grounds above must leave the United States immediately.

Natural born US citizens, on the other hand, cannot have their citizenship revoked as it is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. However, they can decide to give up their citizenship out of their own free will.

Useful links:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

US National Visa Centre (NVS)

Electronic Diversity Visa Program

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