- A permanent resident is a foreign national who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, a person is granted a permanent resident card, commonly called a “green card.” Foreign nationals can obtain permanent residence through sponsorship by an immediate family member who is already living in the United States, or by an employer.
- The first step in the permanent resident process is for a family member or sponsoring employer to file an immigrant petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on behalf of the foreign individual. Unless the individual is an “immediate relative,” an immigrant visa number must be available. The Department of State must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to an individual, even if the individual is already in the United States. When an immigrant visa number becomes immediately available, an individual can apply to have one of the immigrant visa numbers assigned to them. A visa number might not be immediately available even if USCIS approves the petition, because the amount of immigrant visa numbers is limited by quotas set in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). When an immigrant visa number becomes available, an individual must either apply with USCIS to adjust their current status to permanent resident status or apply with the Department of State for an immigrant visa at the nearest United States consulate before being allowed to come to the United States.
Family Based Immigration
- Immediate Relatives are:
- Spouses of United States citizens,
- Children (under the age of 21) of United States citizens, and
- Parents of United States citizens who are over 21
There is no limit to the number of individuals who can immigrate to the United States under the immediate relative category. This means that such a person can immigrate as soon as the USCIS approves their case. For a person living outside the United States who fits within this category, there are three distinct steps. The first step is filing the appropriate petition with the immigration service. Once the petition is approved the Department of State will send the petitioner a set of forms to fill out and return to the Department of State. After the forms are returned to the Department of State, an interview is scheduled for the immigrant family member at the appropriate American Consulate. For people in the United States, the process is usually shorter and is called adjustment of status.
For family-based immigrants who are not immediate relatives, there is a Family Preference System that limits the number of immigrant visas to different foreign nationals. Backlogs in the quotas are common in these situations.
There are four family preferences:
- First preference – sons and daughters over 21 years old of United States citizens
- Second preference – unmarried sons and daughters and spouses of permanent residents, divided into two categories:
- 2A – sons and daughters under 21 years old and spouses
- 2B – sons and daughters over 21 years old
- Third preference – married sons and daughters of United States citizens
- Fourth preference – brothers and sisters of United States citizens