Foreign nationals who wish to stay in the U.S. on a permanent basis must become lawful permanent residents.
Certain family members may sponsor relatives for lawful permanent residence. U.S. citizens may sponsor a spouse, parents, children and siblings. Lawful permanent residents may sponsor a spouse and unmarried children.
Employers may sponsor employees and identified potential employees. The process typically involves testing the local labor market for qualified U.S. workers who might be looking for such a position. If no qualified applicants are found, the employer submits a labor-certification application to the Labor Department.
Additionally, foreign nationals may submit an application to the State Department for the Diversity Visa Lottery. Each year, the department selects approximately 100,000 applicants for about 50,000 available permanent visas. The goal is to create diversity in the immigrant population by granting visas to citizens of nations that represent a small proportion of the U.S. population.
Investors may become lawful permanent residents by investing at least $1 million in a U.S. operation. The investment must create jobs for at least 10 American workers. Individuals who have been granted refugee or political asylum status also qualify to file for lawful permanent residence.
In addition to being eligible to apply for permanent residence, an applicant also must be eligible for admission to the U.S. Obstacles to eligibility include medical conditions, criminal convictions, previous deportations from the U.S., past U.S. immigration violations and fraud. An attorney who practices immigration law can explain any waivers and exceptions.
An immigrant visa, also known as a green card, may be issued in the U.S. or at a designated U.S. Consulate in the applicant’s country of citizenship.
When an immigrant visa is sought inside the U.S., the process is called an adjustment of status. After an applicant submits Form I-485, Citizenship and Immigration Services schedules both a biometrics appointment (to take fingerprints and a picture) and an interview at the appropriate district office. The green card is mailed when the application is approved.
Applying for an immigrant visa outside of the U.S. is known as consular processing. Consular processing involves the CIS, the National Visa Center and the embassy or consulate in the applicant’s country of citizenship.
The process begins with payment of the immigrant visa fee bill sent by the National Visa Center, which also collects the required fees and an Affidavit of Support that establishes the sponsor’s ability to financially sponsor the applicant.
The center will send an instruction packet after receiving the fees. The packet contains information on what forms and documents must be submitted for the immigrant visa. The contents will vary according to the particulars of the applicant’s case, but typical documents required are birth certificates, marriage certificates and copies of passports.
An immigrant visa interview then is scheduled in the country’s U.S. Consulate. If the immigrant visa is approved at the interview, the person receives a stamp in his or her passport as proof of permanent-resident status until the green card arrives in the mail. Once the visa is issued, the person will have six months to enter the U.S.
Last update: Sept. 25, 2008