Green Card Categories: Understanding the Different Paths to U.S. Permanent Residency

An Overview of the Green Card Categories Under U.S. Immigration Law

A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, is an important document that is issued to non-U.S. citizens who qualify as lawful permanent residents. 

As a green card holder, you can reside and work in the U.S. without restrictions or without having to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD). You can also travel abroad freely and access certain government benefits. More importantly, owning a green card means you can become a U.S. citizen within a few years.

But how does one become a green card holder? The first step to becoming a green card holder is understanding the green card categories specified by U.S. immigration law and the eligibility criteria for each one to determine whether you qualify.

At the JQK Immigration Law Firm, we know it could be difficult to understand the intricacies of green card applications, and we are committed to providing thorough and respectful legal assistance tailored to your unique circumstances.

Below, we discuss the basic green card categories to help you self-assess your initial eligibility. We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have afterward.

What Are the Green Card Categories?

The green card categories describe the different groups of foreigners who can obtain lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. There are several green card categories, but the major ones are the family and employment-based categories.

Family-Based Green Card Category

Family-based green cards are a pathway for foreign nationals to obtain legal residence through family connections with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

There are several sub-groups under this category, as follows:

Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

Those in this subgroup include spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is over 21).

Family-Based Preference Categories

Other close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can qualify for a green card if they fall within any of the family-based preference categories as follows:

  • First preference (F1): Unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are over 21 years old 
  • Second preference (F2A and F2B): Spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents
  • Third preference (F3): Married children (of any age) of U.S. citizens
  • Fourth preference (F4): siblings of adult U.S. citizens.

Additionally, widows or widowers of deceased U.S. citizens may qualify for a green card. If you are in this position, an experienced Green Card Lawyer can explain what you need to qualify.

Employment-Based Green Card Categories

You can become a green card holder based on your job or professional skills if you fall within the following categories:

First Preference (EB-1): This category is for those with extraordinary ability in education, the arts, sciences, athletics, or business. Outstanding professors, researchers, and certain multinational managers and executives can also qualify for Employment Green Cards under this category. If you are among the few who have risen to the top of your field, the EB-1 may be your path to a new life in the U.S.

Second Preference (EB-2): Qualified workers here include professionals holding advanced degrees or persons who can demonstrate exceptional ability in their field. 

Third Preference (EB-3): This category is designed for skilled workers whose jobs require at least two years of training or experience that is not of a temporary or seasonal nature and professionals who hold a U.S. bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent. If you are a worker performing unskilled labor, you may also fall within this category, subject to other legal and regulatory requirements.

(EB-4) Special Immigrants: Those in this category are considered special immigrants and include:

  • Religious workers
  • Long-term employees of specific international organizations such as The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the World Bank and their family members (including the spouses of deceased international organization employees)
  • Members of the U.S. armed forces

EB-5 – Immigrant Investors: Immigrants who have invested or are in the process of investing at least $1,050,000 in a new commercial venture that will benefit the U.S. economy or $ 800,000 in a targeted employment area or infrastructure project may qualify for a green card.

Other Green Card Categories

You may also be eligible for a green card under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program or the various green card categories established on humanitarian grounds to help victims of crime and abuse or those fleeing persecution in their home country. Examples of those in these other categories include:

  • Asylees (people who have been granted asylum and their dependents)
  • Human trafficking victims who currently have a T visa
  • Crime victims who have a U visa
  • Victims of domestic abuse or extreme cruelty under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) or Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
  • Cuban natives under the Cuban Adjustment Act

  As you seek a green card, you must first find out if you fit in any category and meet the specific requirements before applying. If you don’t fit anywhere, then you do not qualify for a green card.

But that doesn’t mean you can never obtain a green card. An immigration lawyer can advise you on possible strategies to help you qualify for the different categories and meet legal requirements.

A Summary of the Green Card Application Process

Most green card applications follow these steps:

  1. Determine Eligibility: Here, the applicant identifies their green card category and its unique requirements to confirm their qualification.
  2. File an Immigrant Petition with the USCIS: This petition is usually filed by a third party- the sponsoring employer for employment-based green cards or the family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for family-based green cards. However, some applicants may be permitted to self-petition in some circumstances.
  3. Application Submission: After the petition is approved, the applicant can apply for a green card/permanent residency through the adjustment of status process if they are within the U.S. or follow the steps for consular processing if they are outside the U.S.
  4.  Interview: If required, the applicant must participate in an interview with the USCIS officials or the officials at the U.S. embassy /consulate in their country, where their application details and background will be discussed.
  5. Receive Decision: After a thorough review, the immigration authorities will issue a decision. If the application is approved, a green card will be issued subsequently if the applicant is within the U.S. Successful applicants outside the U.S. will be issued an immigrant visa to allow them to travel to the U.S. They will be sent their green cards after they are admitted into the country by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

The Role of an Immigration Lawyer

U.S. immigration processes are based on immigration law provisions. That’s why skilled immigration lawyers are best positioned to help you succeed with your green card application. 

At the JQK Immigration Law Firm, we can help you understand what you need to succeed at each stage of the application process until you receive a decision. Our goal is to make your path to lawful permanent residence as smooth and stress-free as possible, keeping you informed and assured throughout the journey.

Let Your Immigration Journey Start With Us

The process of obtaining a U.S. green card is complex. Your success hinges on understanding the green card category you qualify for and the intricate legal requirements associated with the process. That’s where we come in.

At the JQK Immigration Law Firm, we take pride in guiding our clients through their unique immigration paths with our unwavering support and extensive legal experience. With a strong focus on marriage green cards, fiancé visas, and employment green cards, including Green Card Options for Chefs, our services are meticulously crafted to cater to individual ambitions and circumstances.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the immigration process, Let seeking professional assistance be your next step.

Contact us for a personalized and effective approach to your immigration needs. Let us take the next steps toward your future together.

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