A green card, which looks similar to a driver’s license, shows you have permission to live in the U.S. on a permanent basis, to work, and freely travel in and out of the country. Since 2010 the card has actually been green; it wasn’t before that. It does not allow the holder, or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), to vote or get a U.S. passport, which are rights of citizenship.
Most green card holders can apply for citizenship after 5 years; you can apply after 3 years if you’ve been married to a U.S. citizen during that time. But citizenship is not automatic and many people make the mistake of waiting years or even decades before applying. An LPR can be deported if he or she commits a crime or in other circumstances, so it makes sense to apply for citizenship sooner rather than later.
Most people get green cards through family or employment:
To qualify through family, a U.S. citizen or green card holder must sponsor the immigrant and both must meet certain qualifications such as proving the relationship is genuine and that there is financial support for the immigrant. There are quotas and long waits – some over 20 years -in most family categories, There is no quota for a spouse, unmarried minor child, or parent of a U.S. citizen.
Get more information on:
- Visas for Family Members – these are green cards
- Fiance(e) Visas – these are K visas, not green cards, but if you marry within 90 days, you can apply for your green card
- Becoming a U.S. Citizen – so you can sponsor your parents, spouse, adult children, brothers and sisters, and fiance(s) for green cards
For most employment green cards, an employer must file a petition for the employee. There may be a long wait and many requirements. You can get an idea of the backlog for green cards by looking at the monthly Visa Bulletin, which is updated by the Department of State. Find out more about employment visas here.
Most visas to the U.S. are not green cards, and grant only temporary permission to be in the U.S. For example, H-1B visas are employment-based visas that provide temporary permission, usually 3 years, to live and work in the U.S. Student and visitor visas are also temporary.
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