U.S. Green Card: History, Benefits, Types, Process, and More

A green card is a commonly used name for a permanent resident card in the United States of America. Unsurprisingly, the green card takes its name from the color of the card and shows proof of permanent residence. For those who wish to come to the United States on a permanent basis and potentially even become U.S. citizens, obtaining a green card is a crucial step.

Getting a green card will grant the owner of the card many rights not available to people in the country on a temporary basis. A standard green card is valid for 10 years. The green card holder can renew the card every 10 years as long as they don’t do anything to violate their right to permanent residency in the meantime.

For some people, obtaining a green card is a mere formality. However, for others, it can be a years-long struggle for rights and freedoms that the applicant currently lacks. Immigration solutions companies aim to help all applicants receive their green cards as quickly as possible.

History of the Green Card

For much of the history of the United States, immigration into the country was unregulated. Eventually, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created in 1933 as a division of the Department of Labor. In 1940, the INS was moved out of the Department of Labor and into the Department of Justice.

In the ‘40s, the Alien Registration Receipt Card was awarded to applicants seeking permanent residence in the United States. The Alien Registration Receipt Card was the predecessor of the Permanent Resident card that exists today. The original Alien Registration Receipt Card was bright green, which is why people began referring to it as a green card.

In 1977, the name of the green card was officially changed from an Alien Registration Receipt Card to a Resident Alien Card. Then, in 1997, the name was changed again, to the current Permanent Resident Card. In 2003, the INS has renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is the current issuer of green cards.

The history of the green card is ever-evolving. Many other changes have been made to the card over the years. While some were minor, including changing the color of the card for some years, most were done to increase the security of this identification card.

Benefits of a Green Card

A green card grants many rights and benefits to the owner. The primary right imparted on a green card holder is indicated by its official name of Permanent Resident Card. As implied, this card signifies that the holder has the right to remain in the country on a permanent basis as long as they do not commit any acts that would make them removable under immigration law.

Additional benefits of a green card include granting the permanent resident the right to:

  • Work anywhere in the United States (exceptions include many federal jobs and working for certain companies operating under federal contract)
  • Join and serve in the United States Armed Forces (this includes many law enforcement agencies that are not federal agencies
  • Receive equal protection as U.S. citizens under the laws of the United States, the green card holder’s state of residence, and local jurisdictions.
  • Sponsor certain family members to immigrate to the United States and become permanent residents in their own right
  • Travel freely outside the country for up to one year without the loss of residency status

Another benefit of receiving a green card is that it is a required step on the road to obtaining U.S. citizenship. Before applying for citizenship, a permanent resident must hold this status for at least five years or three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens have the additional rights of voting, running for public office, and working for the federal government.

Furthermore, the government can not revoke citizenship except in very specific and rare cases. That means that your residency in the United States will be protected. And unlike with green card holders, you will never need to reapply for the extension of this right.

Types of Green Cards

There are two main types of green cards. Most people who receive permanent residency are granted a permanent green card. However, the first card that some applicants receive will be a conditional green card.

Permanent Green Card

As mentioned, most green card applicants will receive a permanent green card the first time they apply. This green card is good for ten years and can be renewed indefinitely. However, a permanent green card can still be revoked if you violate certain conditions of your residency.

Applying for citizenship when you become eligible can help protect your right to remain in the country. Only very rare circumstances can empower the government to revoke citizenship once it has been attained.

Conditional Green Card

Those receiving a green card through a new marriage or as an investor will instead be granted a conditional green card the first time they apply. As the name suggests, certain conditions must be met before a permanent green card can be issued.

A conditional green card is valid for two years, and once that period has expired, permanent residency gets revoked, and the holder is subject to deportation. However, this is avoided if they have filed to have the conditional status of the permanent residency removed. This application must be submitted up to 90 days before the conditional green card expires.

Marriage-based conditional green card holders will need to file Form I-751: Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. Investment-based conditional green card holders must file Form I-829: Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions. Once the application is filed, permanent residency will be extended in one-year intervals until the request is approved or denied.

See Also: How to Remove Conditions on Green Card

The process to obtain a Green Card

The process for obtaining a green card can vary dramatically depending on the path you are taking to achieve permanent resident status. No matter what road you are taking, you can expect the process to be a lengthy one, and in most cases, getting a green card will not come cheap.

While USCIS is constantly working to improve processing times and get applicants their green cards quicker, the wheels of the government turn slowly. That coupled with the fact that the number of green card applications continues to grow with each passing year means that you will likely have to be very patient when applying for a green card.

Let’s take a more thorough look at some of the different paths available to obtaining permanent residency and getting your green card.

Green Card Through Family

Obtaining a family-based green card is one of the most common paths taken toward immigration to the United States. You can qualify for a family-based green card through several different familial relationships. The closer your relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the quicker and easier the process of obtaining permanent residency will be.

You can apply for a green card as:

  • An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen (spouse/unmarried child under the age of 21/parent)
  • Another type of relative of a U.S. citizen (unmarried child age 21 or older/married child/sibling)
  • A fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen
  • A child of a fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen
  • A widow(er) of a U.S. citizen
  • A family member of a lawful permanent resident (spouse/unmarried child under age 21/unmarried child age 21 or older)

To begin the process of getting a green card through family, the sponsoring relative must file Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative, as well as provide proof of their status as a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and proof of your familial relationship.

Meanwhile, if you are outside of the United States, you will have to go through consular processing. Once the submitted Form I-130 has been approved, it will be sent to the embassy or consulate in the country where you reside. You must submit Form DS-260: Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration and have a one-on-one interview with a consular officer.

If you are already in the U.S., you need to file Form I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with the USCIS. This form can be submitted simultaneously with Form I-130 if you are an immediate relative and must be submitted along with the required documents. You will then go through biometrics screening and an interview with a USCIS officer.

Green Card Through Employment

Obtaining a green card through employment is another common path that people take to permanent residence. The difficulty of obtaining an employment-based green card will vary depending on your experience, education, and skill level, as well as the industry in which you work.

Workers who possess extraordinary ability in the fields of art, science, athletics, education, and business have first preference. Also in this category are outstanding professors and researchers, as well as multinational managers or executives.

Second preference workers must work in a profession that requires an advanced degree or display exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business. Meanwhile, third preference workers perform skilled or unskilled labor and can work in a profession that requires education up to a bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent.

When applying for an employment-based green card, your employer will submit Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers and pay the associated fee, as well as paying the fee for Labor Certification, if necessary. Meanwhile, you will have to go through consular processing or submit Form I-485. Investors can also get this type of green card by creating U.S.-based jobs.

Green Card Through Refugee Status

If you have experienced persecution or fear persecution in your home country because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or affiliation with a particular social group, you can seek refuge in the United States by applying for a refugee visa. If refugee status is granted, you can come to the United States and, after one year, apply for a green card.

You will apply for a green card through refugee status by submitting Form I-485. You will then go through fingerprinting and biometric screening. The fees for filing and biometrics are waived for refugees. After that, you will have your interview with a USCIS officer.

Green Card Through Asylee Status

The process for getting a green card through asylee status is much the same as for a refugee. The only real difference is that refugees apply for their initial refugee status while abroad, whereas asylees apply while already in the country.

Green Card Through Special Immigrant Status

There are many other smaller categories of immigrants that are grouped together under the status of special immigrants. You can obtain a green card as a special immigrant if you fit into any of the following categories:

  • A religious worker in the U.S. working for a nonprofit religious organization
  • A special immigrant juvenile who has been victimized by abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a parent
  • A national of Afghanistan or Iraq who worked as a translator or in another position for the U.S. government
  • An international broadcaster who is a member of the media for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) or a USAGM grantee
  • An employee of an eligible international organization or NATO, or a family member of an employee for one of these organizations

The specific process varies slightly for special immigrants depending on their particular status. However, generally speaking, they will need a sponsor to file paperwork supporting their permanent residency.

Afterward, the applicant can submit Form I-485 or Form DS-260, depending on whether or not they are in the country. They will then have biometrics taken and have a one-on-one interview before potential approval of their application for permanent residence.

Green Card Through the Diversity Visa Program

Under the Diversity Visa Program, up to 50,000 can immigrate to the United States and receive a green card each year. Anyone in a country with low immigration numbers to the United States can apply to get a green card through the Diversity Visa Program, and winners are chosen by lottery.

Entry into the Diversity Visa Program is free. However, those selected will have to pay the necessary fees to proceed with their immigration.

Applicants must first pay the Diversity Visa fee, then, they will either file Form DS-260 if outside the United States or Form I-485 if within the country. Next, biometrics will be taken, and you will have an interview with an immigration officer.

Green Card Through Other Categories

There are many other ways to immigrate to the United States that are fairly uncommon. The process for these applications will vary slightly depending on the specific circumstances. However, in most cases, you will need a sponsor to submit the initial application while you follow up with Form DS-260 if outside the U.S. or Form I-485 if within the country.

You will then likely go through biometric screening and have an interview with a consular or USCIS officer.

Some of the other categories for obtaining a U.S. green card include applying:

  • As a victim of human trafficking or other select crimes
  • As a victim of abuse
  • Through the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
  • Through the Cuban Adjustment Act
  • Through the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
  • As a dependant of an HRIFA residency recipient
  • As a Lautenberg parolee
  • Through the Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act of 2000
  • As an American Indian born in Canada
  • As a person born in the United States to a foreign diplomat
  • As a foreign diplomat or high-ranking official stationed in the United States and unable to return home

How Much Time Will It Take to Get a Green Card?

The processing time for getting a green card can vary wildly depending on the path you are taking to obtain your permanent residency. Even the quickest road to a green card is going to take at least six months, while in some extreme cases, it can take upwards of 20 years to receive a green card.

One of the quickest green cards to receive is as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen. The U.S. puts a yearly cap on most of the paths for obtaining a green card. However, there is no cap when it comes to the immediate family members of U.S. citizens. Because of this, you may receive a green card in as few as six months, and it likely won’t take much more than a year.

Meanwhile, if you are a non-priority family member of a U.S. citizen or green card holder from a country like Mexico or the Philippines where application rates are incredibly high, it can potentially take decades for you to finally get to the front of the queue and get your green card.

Latest Green Card Backlog Statistics

At the close of the 2021 fiscal year, which ended September 30th, 2021, there were more than nine million green card applicants in the processing backlog. Approximately 7.5 million of these applications were for family-based green cards, while about 1.6 million were for employment-based green cards.

Green card processing times continue to increase as the backlog continues to grow. Many potential reforms to green card processing have been proposed to speed up the process. However, as with most things in government, implementing change is a long process.

Recent Developments in Processing and Issuing Green Cards

USCIS has recently taken steps to address the backlog issue and improve the processing and issuing of green cards. In March of 2022, the agency announced three separate initiatives to increase efficiency and reduce the burden on the immigration system.

One of these initiatives is to reduce processing times and shrink the backlog by increasing capacity, improving technology, and expanding staffing. The goal is to reduce processing times to the new target by the end of the 2023 fiscal year.

Another step to reduce the backlog is increasing the forms that qualify for premium processing. In addition to the current expedited processing of Form I-129: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and certain cases involving Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, USCIS will now offer expedited processing for Form I-539, I-765, and more I-140 applications.

Another step being taken is extending the validity periods for certain employment authorization documents as well as providing expedited work authorization renewals for healthcare and childcare workers.

Get Help With Your U.S. Green Card Application Today

Applying for a U.S. green card can often be a long and stressful process. Unfortunately, many factors in the application process are out of your control. However, that makes it even more important to do everything you can to take control of the things you can. An immigration solutions company can help you ensure that your application gets filed correctly.

Mistakes on a green card application can lead to significant delays. By filing everything right from the start, you won’t add any unnecessary time to the processing of your green card application. At ImmigrationDirect, we provide you with the tools you need to fill out your application forms correctly and ensure that you don’t miss any filing deadlines.

A green card can open up many opportunities, including clearing your path toward U.S. citizenship. After you have received your green card and are beginning to approach your eligibility date for citizenship, we can also help you through this process. Don’t hesitate to get started on the path to your new life today.

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