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A green card is evidence that the permanent resident has been granted benefits, including permission to live and work in the United States. The green cardholder must meet certain conditions and must file timely green card renewals in order to continue his or her permanent residency status. Otherwise, the green cardholder can be removed from the United States
A non-citizen with a green card application in process can obtain two temporary permits. One is a temporary work permit called the Employment Authorization Document. This work permit allows the non-citizen to work legally in the USA, similar to a visa. The other temporary permit allows the non-citizen to travel and re-enter the country should he or she leave. Both of these are independent of any existing status that the non-citizen currently holds (like a visa).
Green cards are an essential tool for non-citizens who want to work and live in the USA. The application can be tedious, though, so be sure that you are eligible before you file an application to obtain a green card.
Categories of Those Eligible for Green Card Applications:
Immediate relatives of US citizens
Relatives in the immediate family of U.S. citizens are eligible to file a green card application, so long as the citizen-relative petitions for them. These relatives have a pretty speedy green card process, and they can obtain a green card as soon as they file all of the paperwork. The following relations qualify under this category, in no particular order:
spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers
unmarried children under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen parent
parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is at least age 21
stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child's 18th birthday, and
adopted children of U.S. citizens, if the adoption took place before the child reached age 16
Other family members of citizens and permanent residents
Extended family members are eligible to file a green card application, but it takes a bit longer than it does for the immediate relatives. Only 480,000 non-citizens are granted green cards under this category per year, and it is based on a first come, first served basis. So, the sooner the citizen relative turns in the petition, the sooner the non-citizen can file his or her green card application and obtain a green card. The wait in this category can be lengthy, varying from three to even twenty-four years. This type of classification is called a "preference category" because these family members are classified and prioritized accordingly:
First Preference: Unmarried adults, age 21 or older, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried children of a permanent resident, so long as the children are younger than age 21; and unmarried children age 21 or older of a permanent resident.
Third Preference: Married people who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
Fourth Preference: Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, where the citizen is age 21 or older.
Workers whose skills are needed in the USA
Non-citizens whose skills are needed in the USA may also file to obtain a green card. Like the extended family members, this classification also uses a preference category system. There are only 140,000 workers who are admitted each year, which is why the preference category system is used. Workers can, like the extended family members, expect to wait years before their green card application gains them permanent residency. Usually, the non-citizens must show proof that there is a job offer. In those cases, the employer must show that he or she recruited for the position in the USA and that there were no qualified US citizens who could fill the position. Non-citizens who want to obtain a green card based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:
First Preference: Priority Workers. Priority workers include those with unique and advanced skills, education, or talents such as
those who excel in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, or education,
exceptional professors and researchers, and
supervisors and executives of global companies.
Second Preference: Professionals with extraordinary ability or advanced academic degrees
Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals, and other qualified workers
Fourth Preference: People in religious vocations and special immigrants including
religious workers of legitimate religious organizations
foreign medical graduates who have been in the USA since 1978
former Panama Canal Zone employees
foreign workers who were longtime employees of the U.S. government
retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have lived in the USA for a certain period of time
non-citizen workers employed by the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong for at least three years
non-citizen children who have been declared dependent in juvenile courts in the United States
international broadcasting employees, and
certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces who enlisted overseas and have served for at least twelve years.
Fifth Preference: Investors wishing to invest at least a million dollars into a US business (or $500,000 in depressed economies). This investor must also have at least ten employees.