There are several ways in which a person can become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. It is not possible to classify any one way as the easiest way to get a green card.
The ways in which a person can get a green card include:
- Family-based immigration
- Employment-based immigration
- As a special immigrant
- Through refugee or asylee status
- For human trafficking and crime victims
- For victims of abuse
- Through other categories
- Through registry
Some of the most common ways of becoming a permanent resident are through family and through employment.
Certain family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can be sponsored for green cards. Family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents fall into different preference categories:
- Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen
- Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
Immediate Relatives (IR)
If you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse, your unmarried child under the age of 21, and your parent (if you are at least 21 years old) qualify as immediate relatives.
If you petition for your immediate relatives, they need not wait for a visa to become available. As soon as your petition (Form I-130) is approved, they will be able to apply for a green card.
If they are already within the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, they can file Form I-485 concurrently with your I-130 to apply to adjust their status to permanent resident.
If they are outside the U.S., once your petition is approved, they will have to undergo consular processing at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in their country. They will apply for an immigrant visa and will have to appear for an interview. Once approved, they will be issued an immigrant visa that will allow them to travel to a U.S. port of entry. On approval by an immigration officer at the port of entry, they can enter the U.S. as permanent residents.
Relatives other than the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and relatives for permanent residents fall under four preference categories (F):
- First preference (F1) – unmarried sons and daughters, who are 21 years or older, of U.S. citizens
- Second preference (F2A) – spouse and unmarried children below the age of 21 of permanent residents
- Second preference (F2B) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years or older, of permanent residents
- Third preference (F3) – married sons and daughters of any age of U.S. citizens
- Fourth preference (F4) – siblings of U.S. citizens who are 21 years or older
The application process is the same as that for immediate relatives, but the important difference is that a visa is not immediately available on the approval of the petition. Relatives in the preference categories need to wait in line for a visa to become available before they can apply for an immigrant visa.
Each category has a fixed number of visas allocated per year and the wait times for each category vary. For example, spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 of permanent residents generally have the shortest waiting times among the preference categories and siblings of U.S. citizens have the longest wait time of an average of 10 years before a visa becomes available to them.
There are several ways in which you can get a green card through employment. The employment-based (EB) preference categories are:
- First preference (EB-1) – Priority workers including:
- Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics;
- Outstanding professors or researchers; or
- Certain multinational managers and executives
- Second preference (EB-2)
- Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or who have exceptional ability (including requests for national interest waivers).
- Third preference (EB-3)
- Skilled workers, professionals, or other workers.
- Fourth preference (EB-4)
- Special immigrants
- Fifth preference (EB-5)
- Immigrant investors
The EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 preference categories require that you have an employer sponsor a green card for you. Your employer needs to file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. You need to file Form I-485 to adjust your status to a permanent resident. When you file Form-I-485 you need to have an approved I-140 or an I-140 pending approval that needs to be ultimately approved. There are several other requirements to be met and a visa needs to be available when you apply for and the USCIS makes a decision on your adjustment of status application.
For EB-5, you should be able to make a financial investment in a new or existing business in the U.S. that will also create jobs for U.S. workers.