How can one go about writing a green card definition? While there may be multiple descriptions, in order to kick things off, we would like to turn to the original source, so to say, which is a green card definition from the USCIS:
Green Card History
There was a period of time when green cards were issued on traditional white plastic cards that were no different than credit cards. After 2010, the card is back to its original green color, but it is printed on a piece of plastic, has multiple levels of hologram and magnetic protection.
A Green Card Holder vs. U.S. National vs. U.S. Citizen
The green card definition is exclusive to a legal permanent resident status and does not afford a status of a U.S. citizen nor a U.S. national. He or she is considered an immigrant into the United States. He or she enjoys most freedoms, responsibilities and obligations of a national or citizen (including right to freely travel to, live and work in the USA and pay taxes). However, green card holders are not allowed to vote in the U.S. elections or hold an elected state or federal government office. There is a slight legal distinction between U.S. nationals and U.S. citizens; for our purposes, all U.S. citizens are U.S. nationals and have U.S. passports. The U.S. citizens have all the rights and privilege that the U.S. Constitution affords to its subjects, including right to vote and hold government office.
Green Card Definition and Path To Citizenship
Because it is an immigration document, our green card definition has to include discussion about a path to citizenship. Through a process called “naturalization,” lawful permanent residents are legally allowed to apply for a U.S. citizenship after five years of holding a green card status and residing in the U.S. In the case of green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, one can apply for citizenship after three years of living in America. The citizenship application does not guarantee automatic approval. One has to pass medical exam, English-language test and civic test (which confirms your knowledge of the U.S. history and its laws). Once approved, a green card holder takes an oath of allegiance and becomes American citizen and a U.S.-passport holder.
How to Get a Green Card?
It is important to clarify in the green card definition the process of how to a get a green card. This is important because a lot of Americans, including American media and even politicians, and foreigners fail to understand that the process is not available for everyone. The question, "How to get a green card?" often evolves into broken hopes, dreams and aspirations...
There is a common misconception that anyone who wants to have a green card can get it by simply submitting an application. This is, unfortunately, not true. According to the legal green card definition, in order to qualify for the permanent residency, one must fit a very specific set of criteria defined by the immigration law. Furthermore, one must provide evidence to the U.S. immigration officials that one meets such criteria. This process is called "proving one’s eligibility for green card". This is accomplished through the green card application process, which involves submitting formal petitions, paying fees, submitting one’s biometrics (photographs and fingerprints) and participating in the interview (here is a discussion about the green card marriage interview). Finally, if you are successful following through the green card application process, it does not mean you receive your green even if your application is approved. One has to receive a green card number. While some LPR categories are qualified for “immediate” green card number because there is no annual cap to the amount of such immigration documents can be issued, a majority of green card categories are capped at a certain level. Therefore, USCIS is running a backlog and issues the green cards on the first come first serve basis. If your green card category is subject to an annual cap, your application, even if approved, will go to the back of the line and you may be up for a lengthy wait. For some categories, such waits run as long as 10 or 15 years. Read more about the green card application process and green card process.
Green Card Categories
In our discussion of the green card definition, we must highlight the types of immigrants that can legally apply for a green card. These are in the U.S. green card categories. Even though one may “fit” within the qualification criteria, the application can only be possible if it is sponsored by a person or organization that guarantee such eligibility. The green card category sponsor defines the edibility type. Among all green card categories, there were approximately 990 thousand green cards approved in 2013.
Family Green Card
As the name implied, the eligibility for a green card is established through a family member. However, not all family members are created equal. In the legal green card definition, the immediate or underage family members are given priority by the immigration law.
Green Card Through Marriage
A green card through marriage allows a U.S. citizen or a green card holder to sponsor one’s spouse (and his/her underage children). In case of a U.S. citizen sponsor, the green card is granted almost immediately upon completion of review. In case of the green card holder sponsor, the green card application may stay pending for a year or two before the green card number becomes available for such applicant. In 2013, almost 250 thousand people received green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen. This is the largest category of the green cards and it has been such for decades accounting for roughly 25% of all green cards issued annually. On the other hand, LPR-based marriage green card applicants (together with their children) accounted for approximately 100 thousand approvals, or 10% of all LPRs issued.
Other Family Green Cards
There are other family-related eligibility criteria. Parents and minor children of U.S. citizens, who generally qualify as immediate family, receive favorable treatment and require no wait for green card number; a U.S. citizen has to sponsor these immediate family members. In 2013, approximately 190 thousand green cards were granted under this criteria, constituting roughly 19% of all LPR approvals.
Other family categories include (1) adult unmarried children of U.S. citizen and their children, (2) married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children; and (3) adult brothers/sisters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children. These green card categories have annual caps and often involve significant wait for the number, which may run longer than 10 years. In 2013, roughly 110 thousand people received green cards under this criteria, or 11% of all LPRs.
Please note, that a legal green card definition does NOT allow for legal permanent members to have the privilege to sponsor family members beyond spouses and unmarried/minor children. Other family green cards are only available to applicants who are being sponsored by the U.S. citizens.
Employment Green Card
Besides family, employment green card is the second largest category in our green card definition. This general category of green cards includes qualifications through skills or direct monetary investments that are believed to be of value to the U.S. economy. For example, this category includes foreign managers/executives of domestic and international companies operating in the U.S. and foreign skilled professionals. These two subgroups require employer sponsorship. In 2013, roughly 82 thousand received green card.
Professionals with advanced degrees or aliens with exceptional abilities also fall under employment green card category. They do not require employer sponsorship, but they have to prove their “exceptional abilities” themselves in their applications. These include Nobel Prize winners and Olympic athletes – literally or in their respective fields. Approximately 63 thousand of such applications were approved in 2013.
Two other smaller categories worth mentioning. First, U.S. government employees and religious workers. These typically include foreigners employed by the U.S. in their home country. Examples may include translators to U.S. embassy, etc. Approximately, 7 thousand people received green card under this criterion in 2013.
Second, investors. This category is known as EB-5 green cards or investment green cards. They involve applicants investing between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in a U.S. business, which results in creation of jobs. This category is capped at 10,000 annually, and approximately 8.5 thousand immigrants secured their green cards through this criterion in 2013.
Diversity Visa or Lottery Green Cards
The green card category that offers the least certain outcome in our green card definition is the green card lottery, or a diversity visa green card. Each year, the U.S. government makes 55,000 green cards available to citizens of those countries that the U.S. government believes have low rates of immigration to the U.S. We understand 5,000 cards are reserved for a narrow group of countries in Americas but the rest of 50,000 are available widely. The U.S. government judges the low rate of immigration to be less than 50,000 immigrants during the past five years; only the immigrants through family and employment green card categories are included in this calculations. Each country’s participation in the lottery is evaluated for eligibility periodically. A candidate has to apply typically between October 1 and November 3 of each year (dates may vary depending on the week days).
For 2013 DV, approximately 12.5 million applicants submitted their names to participate. The effective chance of winning the lottery for an average entrant is 0.4%. Approximately, 45 thousand people (out of 50,000 granted visas) became green card holders in 2013 in the lottery category.
Refugee Green Card
In our green card definition, we would like to highlight that refugees and asylum seekers are very similar categories of green cards. They both are designed to address immigration needs of people who have the ability to “demonstrate that they were persecuted or fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”
In order to qualify for a refugee green card, one has to start the immigration process outside of the United States and secure a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Once the referral is in place, you can apply for entry into the U.S. as a refugee. Once admitted as a refugee, you have to wait for one year and apply for a green card through an adjustment of status process.
The refugee green cards are capped and this cap is determined each year. In fact, the cap is determined on the amount of people to receive the refugee status. This number historically ran between 70 and 90 thousand people. In 2013, 77 thousand people received green cards as refugees (while a year prior, 105 thousand did). It is hard to estimate the backlog to determine the actual green card wait time. Anecdotal evidence exists that speaks to 5-6 years of wait time after the green card or adjustment of status application is submitted.
Asylee Green Card
Asylum green cards are different from refugees is that the seekers of this green card category are already in the United States. They may have entered legally or illegally (please review how can illegal immigrant become legal). They may remain in the States legally or overstayed their status. And they still can seek asylum if they can “demonstrate that they were persecuted or fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” There is no annual limit on the number or asylum green cards. In 2013, 42 thousand people received their LPR card under this category.
Other Green Cards (combined)
There are other much smaller green card categories that are often not considered an immigration path per se. They are not consequential to our green card definition. These “other” green cards account for roughly 15 thousand people (less than 2% of green card recipients per year), based on 2013 statistics. The largest subcategory of these are people scheduled to be deported and who end up proving their case before an immigration judge and securing a legal authorization to stay as an immigrant. Other subgroups include people residing in the U.S. since 1972. And yet other involves immigration through an order of the director of the CIA.
Are you eligible for any of these classes under our Green Card Definition?
That’s the biggest question. In our review of the green card definition, we analyzed major green card categories, reviewed the immigration statistics under it, and touched upon the timelines and annual caps for each green card category.
Only you can answer this question by evaluating your personal circumstances. The short of it, however, is that you cannot just wake up one morning and decide to become a United States immigrant. The U.S. immigration system – its immigration law – does not allow it.
To recap: In order to qualify, you must demonstrate family ties to U.S. citizens (in rarer circumstances, to another green card holder), already have an offered employment in the United States (thus you must have some background of studying, working or investing in the U.S.), or seek refugee/asylum status (and experts agree, that even this path is long and uneasy as green card processing times may take years). Also, keep in mind, that even if you are eligible for a green card, with the exception to marriage based green card, you will likely have to endure long waits. For some categories the wait for a green card exceed 15 years.
Thus, the argument “get in line” or “illegal is illegal is illegal” does not make sense. The current legal immigration system in the U.S. does not provide adequate incentives for aspiring immigrants to follow the legal path towards a green card. Because such path is costly, long, irrational and demeaning. The U.S. does not have an illegal immigration problem. The U.S. has a broken immigration system…
The Green Card Definition
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