Green Cards Allow Foreign Nationals to Live and Work in U.S.

​​Q: What is a green card?
A: While not actually green in color, the identity cards known as “green cards” are issued to foreign nationals who are lawful permanent United States residents (LPRs) and are permitted to live and work in the United States permanently. The green card is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and serves as evidence of lawful immigration status, identity and employment authorization. 

Q: What are the responsibilities of a green card holder?
A: Green card holders must abide by U.S. law, and may have their permanent resident status revoked if they fail to do so. Also, LPRs risk losing their status if they fail to file tax returns as U.S. residents, if they reside in another country, or if they are absent from the U.S. for more than one year without first obtaining a re-entry permit. They have almost all the same benefits as U.S. citizens, except that they cannot vote in any election.

Q: How does someone apply for a green card?
A: Permanent residency is most commonly obtained through employment or family. In most cases, USCIS first must approve an immigrant petition for the foreign national, usually filed by an employer or relative. Once an immigrant visa becomes available for that foreign national, then he or she may either apply for permanent resident status through USCIS (if legally in the U.S.) or go through consular processing at an overseas American embassy or consulate for an immigrant visa (if living outside the U.S.).

Q: How does the U.S. limit the number of immigrant visas issued each year?
A: Congress limits, by statute, the number of immigrant visas that are issued each fiscal year. The U.S. Department of State tracks the number of immigrant visas issued, and allocates visas to eligible foreign nationals upon availability. Immigrant visas are also limited by country. Nationals from countries with high demand for immigrant visas, such as China, India, Mexico and the Philippines, face a longer wait than those from all other countries.

Q: When can a foreign national apply for an immigrant visa?
A: Each approved immigrant visa petition is placed in chronological order according to the date the petition was filed (the priority date). A foreign national becomes eligible for an immigrant visa once his or her priority date becomes current.

Q: Who is eligible for a green card?
A: Family-Based Petitions: An immigrant visa is always available to a U.S. citizen’s spouse, parents and unmarried children under the age of 21. These relatives do not depend on immigrant visa availability to apply, and there is no backlog or wait for these visas, other than processing delays if the relative is not in the U.S. There are four preference categories for family-sponsored petitions that require an immigrant visa: 1) unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens; 2) spouses and children of LPRs, and unmarried adult children of LPRs; 3) married adult children of U.S. citizens; and 4) siblings of adult U.S. citizens.

Employment-Based Petitions: Employment-based petitions are allotted by a visa priority system, and not all require an employer to petition on the foreign national’s behalf. ​First preference includes aliens with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; and certain multinational executives and managers. Second preference includes positions that require advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business. Third preference includes skilled workers, professionals and other qualified workers. Fourth preference includes religious workers and other special immigrants. Fifth preference includes entrepreneurs making qualifying investments in the U.S.

Q: How does an employer sponsor a foreign national for permanent residency?
A: For petitions that require an employer sponsor, the typical route to permanent residence begins with labor certification. The labor certification process ensures that there are no qualified, able and willing U.S. workers available for the position. If no qualified U.S. workers are found, then an application for Permanent Employment Certification (PERM) is submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Upon DOL certification, the employer files an immigrant petition on behalf of the beneficiary employee. The employee’s priority date for green card eligibility is the date that the PERM application was accepted for processing.  

Q: Who else is eligible for a green card?
A: Those seeking asylum and refugees may be eligible for permanent residency. Asylum is granted to individuals present in the U.S. who have been persecuted in their home country, or fear they will be persecuted, on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Refugees who meet this definition and seek entry into the U.S. also may be granted asylum. 


This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.  It was prepared by Cleveland attorney Francis Fungsang of Margaret W. Wong & Associates Co., L.P.A. 

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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