Who May Become A Permanent Resident?
A person may get permanent residency through political asylum, entering as a refugee, a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, work skills that are determined to be in short supply in the U.S., or a special immigrant visa lottery for persons from countries where few people come to the U.S. Some people in special situations may be able to obtain permanent residency because they have been in the U.S. so long and it would be inhumane to force them to leave.
A person may try to obtain the status either from outside the U.S. through an “immigrant visa”, or without leaving the U.S..
Some laws make it difficult for a person who has been in the U.S. illegally to obtain legal status. In addition, the waiting list for permanent residency is so long that a person could be required to be separated from family members.
Permanent ResidencyBased On Family
The immigration laws provide for permanent residency for persons who have certain designated family relationships with U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The relative must petition for the non-citizen.
The relationships are very specific and the person must neatly fall within one of them. For purposes of determining whether a person meets the required family relationship category, there is no room for discretion on the part of the INS officer.
This area can be very complex, and you should see an experienced immigration lawyer to determine eligibility. But below are some general examples.
“Immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens may be eligible for permanent residency. An immediate relative is a person who is a minor (under 21) unmarried child, spouse, or parent of an adult (over 21) U.S. citizen. This category is not restricted in number and has no extensive waiting list in order to get permanent residency.
Others who may seek permanent residency are spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents, married and adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens. Persons under this last category must wait sometimes for extensive periods before being able to obtain residency status.
Where the claimed relationship is a brother-sister relation, the two may be half-siblings (sharing a common parent). Where the claimed relationship is that of parent-child, a person may be adopted, legitimated, or a stepchild.
Where the category allows for a person to be married (or single with children), only the person with the relation to the U.S. citizen or resident needs to qualify. This means that a married child of U.S. citizen is able to bring his entire family. Similarly, only one head of the household needs to establish qualification under the employment preference in order to bring over spouse and children. These rules support one of the main goals the immigration laws: family unification.
Permanent Residency Based On Employment
In most situations, the person must have a prospective employer willing to act as a sponsor for residency. Once the person has established the proper employment relationship, the next step will be to get on a waiting list in order to get an immigrant visa or go through adjustment of status to permanent residence.
Because one of the main objectives of immigration law is protecting U.S. workers, usually these positions require a certification from the Secretary of Labor that there are no ready, willing, able and qualified U.S. workers for the position, and that the compensation and position offered will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. Certain categories of foreign workers are given preference.
This field is very complex and often changes, so it is highly advisable to get an experienced immigration attorney to help you through this process.
Permanent Residency Through Immigration Lottery
Some immigrants may be eligible to immigrate through what is known as the “diversity” lottery -.a program designed to admit approximately 55,000 people per year from countries whose citizens have not been coming to the U.S. in large numbers.
The world is broken up into regions and countries based upon their immigration numbers. Persons submit their names with identifying information of name, date and place of birth, country of nationality, information on their spouse and children, current mailing address, photos, and the location of the nearest consular office (where they will process their applications).
The lottery is conducted once a year (usually during the Fall). The selection is purely random.
A person notified of qualification must establish that she has at least a high school diploma or its equivalent and at least 2 years of work experience within the last 5 years, in an occupation that requires at least 2 years of training.
A person may obtain permanent residency by making an application from the home country, waiting to be processed for an immigrant visa, and then coming to the U.S., or by coming initially as a nonimmigrant and then trying to become a permanent resident. This second application process is much more complicated and requires expert assistance to make sure that no misrepresentations or other errors are committed that would make it difficult to later obtain residency.
Losing permanent Residency
A person may put permanent resident status in jeopardy by committing criminal acts, by falling into one of the categories of inadmissibility and then traveling outside of the U.S. for more than 180 days, or by falling into one or more of the categories of “deportable” persons.
One cannot lose the status without an opportunity of a hearing before an immigration judge. Permanent residency cannot be taken away casually by an immigration officer refusing to allow admission into the country or by a Consular officer taking away a person’s proof of permanent residency (green card). If this should happen, see a lawyer who specializes in immigration law immediately.
A unmarried minor (under 21) may obtain permanent residency if he or she is eligible for long-term foster care or has been placed in the custody of a state agency or department, where it would not be in the child’s best interest to return to the home country.
Abused Spouses And Children
Persons who are married or the children of permanent residents and U.S. citizens and become the subjects of abuse or extreme cruelty by the spouse or parent may in some situations become permanent residents. The person must also have been present in the U.S. for 3 years and be of good moral character, and removal would cause extreme hardship.
Long-Time Illegal Residents
Over the years, Congress has enacted so called “amnesty” laws that allow persons who were in the U.S. as of a specified date to be granted permanent residency after following an application process.