What Is a Green Card?

A green card is a legal document that proves an immigrant has been approved to live and work permanently in the U.S. It’s also the beginning of the process for an immigrant to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. A green card holder is entitled to many benefits that an immigrant without a green card isn’t eligible for, including:

Deportation is unlikely. The green card provides permanent residency even if laws are subsequently changed.

A green card holder usually doesn’t have to worry about being deported to their country of origin unless they commit a crime or break the law.

Apply for U.S. citizenship. A green card holder can apply for citizenship after three years if married to a U.S. citizen or five years if not.

Travel easily. Green card holders can travel more easily within the U.S. and outside the country than immigrants without green cards.

Access to federal benefits. Green card holders, especially those who have lived in the U.S. for longer, may have access to benefits such as Social Security and federal student financial aid.
It should be noted that green card holders don’t have all the rights of full U.S. citizenship. They’re not allowed to vote, run for office, or be granted a U.S. passport. The green card holder must complete the full citizenship process to access those rights.

What Are the Differences Between Family-Sponsored and Employment-Based Green Cards?

Different categories of green cards have different rights and responsibilities. Two of the most common categories are family-sponsored and employment-based green cards.

Family-Sponsored Green Card

As the name implies, this type of green card requires the applicant to be related to someone in the U.S., such as the following relationships.

  • Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, including being the spouse, unmarried child under 21 of a U.S. citizen, or parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21.
  • Extended relatives or relatives of a lawful permanent resident, including siblings of a U.S. citizen at least 21 or the unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident.
  • Fiance to a U.S. citizen or the fiance’s child admitted to the U.S. as either a K-1 or K-2 nonimmigrant.
  • Widow or widower of a U.S. citizen who died while still married to the immigrant.
  • Abused spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen.

If you’re unsure if your family situation qualifies you for a family-sponsored green card, contact an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible to determine your eligibility.

Employment-Based Green Card

This type of green card is available for various types of employment situations. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines three categories of employment that may be eligible to receive green cards. 

  • Immigrant worker. This category has three subcategories:
    • First preference. People with extraordinary experience or expertise in various areas, outstanding professors or researchers, or multinational managers or executives who meet specific criteria.
    • Second preference. People whose professions require advanced educational degrees, have exceptional ability in various areas or seek a national interest waiver.
    • Third preference. People whose professions require the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree and who are practicing that profession currently, skilled workers whose jobs require at least two years of training or experience, or unskilled workers who can fill jobs that don’t require two years of training. 
  • Physician national interest waiver. These are offered to physicians who agree to work full-time in an underserved area for a set period. Other criteria must also be met.
  • Immigrant investor. People willing and able to invest significant amounts of money in new businesses in the U.S., which will employ a minimum of 10 full-time people.

What Are Other Types of Green Cards?

While family-sponsored and employment-based green cards represent a significant number of gr issued each year, they’re not the only types of green cards immigrants can apply for. Here are some of the others.

Refugee or Asylum Status

Immigrants who were granted either asylum status or were admitted into the U.S. as refugees at least one year earlier are eligible to apply for this type of green card.

Human Trafficking or Other Crime Victims

A human trafficking victim with a T nonimmigrant visa or a crime victim with a U nonimmigrant visa can apply for a green card.

Abuse Victims

These are the subcategories of abuse victims who may apply for green cards based on differing laws.

  • Abused spouse, parent, or unmarried child under 21 of a U.S. citizen can apply under the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Abused spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen under the Cuban Adjustment Act or of a Haitian immigrant who received a green card under the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act.

Special Immigrant

This category has several subcategories.

  • Special immigrant juvenile (SIJ). Juveniles who need help from juvenile court because of being abused, neglected, or abandoned.
  • Religious workers coming to work for nonprofits.
  • Afghanistan or Iraqi workers who worked for the U.S. government in various capacities.
  • To learn if you’re eligible in a category not listed here, talk to an immigration attorney.

What Should I Do if Need Help With a Green Card?

Call Toland Law, LLC, at 857-347-3701 to request a free consultation. Green cards are valuable documents for immigrants but can be complicated to apply for. Our experienced, knowledgeable immigration attorneys can help guide you through the process and avoid missteps that could delay the green card or cause rejection of the application.

Toland Law, LLC