Green Card Types

Finding the right green card for you

What is a green card?
A green card identifies you as a permanent resident of the United States . It is more than a work permit, although it allows you to work.

How do I get a green card?
In order to be eligible for a green card, you must fall into one of the categories below. Some categories receive more preference than others. Since the demand for green cards is always greater than the number of cards available, people who apply under categories with a low preference will have to wait longer than those who are eligible under high-preference categories.

What are the green card categories?
The most common categories include:

Preferred Employees and Workers

Each year, 140,000 green cards are available to people with job skills that are under-serviced and needed in the U.S. Generally, you need to have a job lined up before you apply, but if there is a workforce shortage in your skill set, you might be accepted without being sponsored by an employer.

The number of green cards issued is limited and if there are more applicants than green cards, you will be placed on a waiting list - whether you have a job lined up or not. The U.S. government gives preference to certain job categories; thus if you're skilled in a low-preference area, your wait will be longer than someone skilled in a high-preference area. Currently, priority is given to:

  • people with special skills in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics
  • professors and researchers
  • managers and executives of multinational corporations

Special Immigrants

Sometimes green cards are available for people who have unique circumstances. Although the requirements can change, currently special immigrants include:

  • Workers for recognized religious organizations, including clergy
  • Medical graduates who have been in the U.S. since 1978
  • Former employees of the Panama Canal Zone
  • Former long-time employees of the U.S. government
  • Retired officers / employees of international organizations who have lived in the U.S.
  • Employees who worked at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong for at least three years
  • Children declared dependent in juvenile courts in the U.S.
  • International broadcasting employees

Refuge and Political Asylum

If you are in danger of persecution or have been persecuted in your home country, the U.S. government may offer you refuge. Coming from an extremely poor country or an area suffering from random violence doesn't qualify you, however. The persecution must be based on:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Political beliefs
  • Member of a targeted social group

What's the difference between refuge and political asylum?
Both offer protection, but you apply for refugee status if you are outside the U.S. , and for political asylum is you're already in the U.S.

Are there quotas?
Each year, the President of the United States decides how many refugees will be allowed into the country. This can vary each year. For people seeking political asylum, there is currently no limit.

My application was turned down. Can I get temporary protection?
Perhaps. If your home country has become dangerous, sometimes the U.S. government grants Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This protection does not allow you to apply for a green card though.

Who qualifies for TPS?
Because this protection is in response to changing circumstances, the answers will change. Some countries will be added, while others will be removed from the list. Current information can be found at the USCIS site.

Long-Term Residents

I've been living illegally in the U.S. Can I get a green card?
If you have lived illegally in the U.S. for more than 10 years, you might be able to become a legal permanent resident. In order to qualify, your spouse or children must be U.S. citizens and you must be able to prove they would “face extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship” if you were deported. If you think this situation could apply to you, consult a lawyer. Do not go to the USCIS before you get legal advice, since you can be deported without adequate proof.

Alternatively, if you have lived illegally in the U.S. since January 1, 1972 you can apply for a green card through a program called “Registry.” You must be able to prove you have good moral character and are otherwise admissible.