Green Card, formally known as US permanent resident card (USCIS Form I-551), is an identification card which shows your immigration status as well as if you are legally authorized to live and work in the United States. It attests to your permanent residency and possessing it does not make you a US citizen. However, it is the first step to becoming a citizen as you are required to secure a green card first before proceeding to apply for naturalization. Other than the right to live and work in the United States, your green card gives you certain rights which include traveling in and out of the country freely as long as you adhere to certain rules, and conditions that come with the card.
There are three main ways to become a green card holder:
-Sponsorship by a family member in the United States
-Sponsorship by an employer’s offer of permanent employment in the United States or through your own entrepreneurship
-Green card lottery
*In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself, also known as applying for a green card through self-petition
To qualify for a green card, you must meet the following requirements:
-You must belong to one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
-You must have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions)
-There must be an immigrant visa immediately available for you
-You must be admissible to the United States
Every year, about 50,000 immigration visas are issued out through the Diversity Visa (DV) Program also known as Green Card Lottery. This is issued to people born in countries with low immigration rates into the US. Applicants of the lottery only qualify by country of birth and not by nationality. If you are selected, you reserve the opportunity to apply for permanent residence and also apply for your spouse and children who are not married and are under the age of 21. Once permanent residency is granted to you and your family as the winner, on meeting the required conditions, you will receive an immigration visa in your passports which has to be activated on or before six months of issuance at any port of entry into the States. In addition, this attracts a stamp on your visa and a signature on your passport as proof of lawful entry into the United States. Hereafter, you reserve the right to live and work permanently in the United States. Your Green Card afterward will arrive by mail a few months later.
If you decide to apply for a green card through self-petition and you have not stayed past the departure date on your Arrival-Departure Record ( I-94 form), your next step is to apply for an adjustment of your status. You will fill Form I-485 which you can find online at uscis.gov. Ensure that you read the form instructions carefully and submit all required documentation and evidence. After your application is filed, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will ask you to appear at an Application Support Center where your picture, signature and fingerprints would be taken and a background check will be run to ensure your eligibility for green card status. Thereafter, you will then be notified of an interview at a USCIS office to answer questions under oath or affirmation regarding your application. After the process is complete, the USCIS will contact you to notify you of their decision regarding your permanent status.
US Green Cards are valid for permanent residents for a period of 10 years and 2 years for conditional residents. At the expiry of any of these periods, you reserve the right to renew or replace the card. The application can take years and requires a three-step process before it is issued inclusive of petition and processing. During the process of the application, you can obtain two important permits; a work permit and the permit to enter and re-enter the country. Previously, the status of permanent residents when they re-enter the United States after traveling abroad was only checked and if you are not a citizen, you could be asked to present your green card or any other proof to show the validity of your resident status. Currently, it is compulsory that if you are a permanent resident of US and up to eighteen years of age and above, you are required to carry your valid Green Card at all times and to present it on request by an immigration officer. Failure to do this violates the Immigration Nationality Act and would attract a fine of up to $100 and or imprisonment of up to 30 days.
Consequentially, the US authorities reserve the right to revoke the status of your permanent residency if the resident commits an offense that constitutes grounds for deportation. Other reasons to revoke one's residency permit status include; if you spend more than 365 days outside the United States without obtaining permission before leaving if your residency permit was obtained fraudulently, and failure to submit your resident’s income tax report while outside the United States. Failure to renew your permanent resident card does not result in loss of residency status except for conditional permanent residents. It is advisable that you renew your card on time as it can act as a work and travel permit. However, there is no penalty or extra fee for late renewals. Once you lose your permanent residency status, you are expected to leave the US immediately as soon as possible or face expulsion and deportation. In some cases, you can be deported and banned from re-entering the country for three years, seven years or even permanently.