Permanent Residence/Adjustment of Status
For those individuals who wish to become citizens of the United States, one of the first steps is applying for permanent residence. Permanent residence status allows an individual to live in the United States permanently so long as he or she doesn’t commit any crimes or violations that result in deportation. Because of the once green identification card that permanent residents received these individuals are often referred to as green card holders. Adjustment of status is only available for individuals that are already in the United States.
The Difference Between a Permanent Resident and a Citizen
There are several key differences between a permanent resident and a citizen. The first is the right to vote. Permanent residence does not give you the right to vote in U.S. elections.
Secondly, permanent residents are still citizens of their home country. This means that if you travel, you will have to carry your green card as well as your passport from your home country. Additionally, permanent residents can give up their residence by leaving the country. If you plan on spending a significant amount of time outside the U.S., it is wise to apply for a re-entry permit before you leave. Spending more than six months outside of the United States could be seen as you relinquishing your permanent resident status. Citizens can come and go as they please.
Lastly, permanent residents can be deported. If you commit a crime, security violation, or fail to notify USCIS of a change in address, you could be subjected to deportation proceedings. Permanent residents and visa holders are held to a higher standard than citizens in this regard.
The Path to Permanent Residence
The law strictly defines the categories of people eligible for green cards, and in some cases, limits the available number of green cards given out each year. The application process for permanent residence can be long and difficult. There are seven basic categories that we will discuss further that allow you to qualify for permanent residence.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
The first qualifying category for permanent residence is for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. This category is one of the most commonly used to obtain permanent residence. There is no limit to the number of immediate relatives that can receive permanent residence each year. Immediate relatives include:
- Spouses and recent widows or widowers of U.S. citizens.
- Unmarried children under the age of 21, stepchildren, and stepparents as long as the marriage happened before the child was 18.
Adopted children who were adopted before the age of 16.
The preference relative category applies to both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The U.S. issues 480,000 preference relative green cards each year. Therefore, preference relatives usually have a long wait. Your relative can spend between three and twenty-four years on the waiting list before they are even considered for permanent residence. There is an order of preference and brothers and sisters usually wait the longest. Here are the preferences in order:
- Unmarried children of a U.S citizen that are over the age of 21.
- Unmarried children and spouses of green card holders. There are two subcategories, 2A and 2B; Children over the age of 21 falls into category 2B and wait longer than those in 2A.
- Married children with at least one parent that is a U.S. citizen
- Brothers and sister of U.S. citizens that are over the age of 21.
Workers and Employees
This category covers people with skills that cannot be found in the applicants in the U.S. job market. To qualify for this category, you have to have a job offer, in most cases. Additionally, your employer must play an active role in your application process. A total of 140,000 green cards is available for people that meet the following categories every year. This list is in order of preference:
- People with extraordinary ability in fields such as science, the arts, business, education, or athletics. Additionally, outstanding researchers, professors, and managers or executives of large companies fall into this category.
- Professionals with degrees equivalent to or greater than a master’s degree.
- Skilled or unskilled professional workers.
- Special immigrants which we will discuss in further detail below.
- Lastly, investors that are willing to invest $1 million in a U.S. business or $500,000 in a business in an economically depressed location. To qualify for this category, the investment must create at least ten jobs.
The special immigrant category includes a mix of different visas. Most of these will apply to very few individuals. They include:
- Religious workers including instructors, clergy, cantors, and workers in religious hospitals.
- Former international U.S. government workers.
- Medical graduates of foreign countries that can to the U.S. before January 10, 1978 on a J or H visa that also meet various other conditions.
- International organization retirees.
- Persons that are dependent on a juvenile court.
- Service men and women with 12 years of duty
Political Asylum and Refugees
Another common path to permanent residence is a political asylum. The U.S. offers refuge to people who fear persecution or have been persecuted in their home country based on religion, race, nationality, political affiliation or membership in a social group. There is a limit for people living in foreign countries that can apply for asylum. However, there is no limit to the number of applicants from within the U.S. Refugees, and asylees must live in the United States for at least one year before applying for permanent resident status.
Cancellation of Removal
This category only applies to individuals who have lived in in the United States continuously for more than ten years. Additionally, they must show good moral character and show that their spouse or children would face “extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship” if the individual had to leave the U.S. This process is complicated and you must already be facing deportation. The best way to handle a case like this is by finding an immigration attorney with experience in the cancellation of removal.