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So you’re dreaming of living and working in the U.S., and have mustered the courage to start looking at how you might get there - well done! Understanding your options is the first and most important step on your journey.

While at first, the whole process may seem quite intimidating, there are many paths towards obtaining permanent residency in the U.S., and it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Once you understand which paths are available to you, you can start working towards reaching the necessary requirements. Don’t lose hope! Patience and dedication will get you there, especially if you have a helping hand along the way.

Let’s consider some of the most common paths towards getting a Legal Permanent Resident status in the U.S.

Family-based Green Cards

If your parents are U.S. citizens or LPR status holders, you may be eligible to apply for an IR-2 visa as a path towards getting a Green Card. If you are the child of a U.S. citizen, be sure to check that you don’t already have the right to U.S. citizenship!

If you are married, or engaged to get married to a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder, you may be able to apply for a IR1/CR1 spouse visa or a K-1 fiance visa, all of which lead to LPR status. In these cases, it is important to keep in mind that you will have to prove that your marriage or relationship is legitimate and sincere - the required “evidence” will often depend on your personal situation and is at the discretion of the officer handling your case.

Other direct family relationships, such as a brother or sister, may also allow you to apply for a visa, and then a Green Card, although the timelines and capacity limits for these cases may be a little more restrictive than the previous examples.

Employment-based Green Cards

Employment by a U.S. company can be a great starting point to obtaining a work visa, potentially followed by a Green Card. Your prospective employer will have to file a petition with the USCIS, which must be approved before you are able to apply for a work visa. Mind you, that your sponsor may be your own company, if you are an entrepreneur who previously registered a lawful business in the U.S. within the appropriate conditions and a minimum investment threshold ranging between $500,000 and $1 million depending on your sector of activity.

An important caveat to remember is that a work permit will not automatically lead to Legal Permanent Resident status. You will have to apply for a Green Card separately after you arrive in the U.S.

Diversity Lotteries

Feeling lucky? Depending on your nationality and personal circumstances, you may be eligible to participate in the so-called “Green Card lottery” held each year. In order to do so, you must be at least 18 years of age, and not be eligible for another type of Green Card.

The selection process is random, but as the program is diversity-based, certain nationalities have much better chances than others at successfully receiving a Green Card. Ask a professional before considering applying so that you don’t waste your time and efforts.

Refugee or asylum-based Green Cards

Sadly, refugee and asylum-based permanent residency is still one of the most common immigration paths to the U.S. 

If you are eligible for refugee or asylum-seeker status, you can apply for adjustment of status to obtain a Green Card after having been in the U.S. for at least 1 year with lawful asylum permission - and of course, make sure you do not travel back to the country you have fled in that time.

Still not sure where your case might fit in? Don’t worry! There are many ways in which to improve your chances of success, and every case is unique. Speak to an experienced professional now to find out what you can do to fulfill your dream of a new life in the United States!

Green Cards are given to people who have obtained the right to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status in the U.S.; this means they have the right to live and work in the U.S. for the indeterminate future.

However, being a permanent resident is not the same as having U.S. citizenship! Both imply residence, employment and certain rights and benefits, amongst others; but U.S. citizens have the right to vote and cannot have their citizenship taken from them (except in highly exceptional cases which we will disregard here). LPR status holders, in contrast, do still need to keep in line with certain conditions - particularly when traveling abroad.

How does one obtain a Green Card?

A Green Card is obtained by successfully applying for and obtaining an immigrant-type visa, with the intention of establishing permanent residence in the U.S.

The most commonly issued immigrant-type visas are family- or employment-based; the path is simply easier if you already have some established ties with the U.S., whether through family or because you have already secured a job.

In addition, each year a certain amount of Green Cards are issued for those applying under the “Diversity Lottery”, wherein people of certain nationalities are able to try their luck with somewhat more relaxed application requirements. Of course, since it’s a lottery, there is no guarantee whatsoever that you will be successful.

Do’s and don’ts as a Green Card holder

As a LPR status holder, you are allowed to live in the U.S., seek employment, receive education, and/or apply for certain benefits that visitors or temporary workers do not qualify for. You can also leave the U.S. for up to 6 months and return without having to apply for an immigrant visa again.

Traveling abroad for longer than 6 months as a Green Card holder is something to be avoided - unless you have taken specific measures to inform authorities and receive permission, your Green Card might get canceled and you may thus lose your LPR status if you remain outside the U.S. for longer periods of time.

What’s next after the Green Card?

Depending on your personal situation and the conditions under which you received permanent resident status, you will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship after either 3 or 5 years of holding your Green Card and living in the U.S.

You can see the LPR status as a type of “probationary period” for prospective new Americans - at least this is somewhat the intention of the program, even though you are in no way obliged to become a U.S. citizen. As long as you don’t leave the U.S. unannounced for long periods of time, and do not commit any felonies that may make you deportable, naturalization is the expected next step for recent immigrants.