For a foreign national to live and work permanently in the U.S., he or she must become a Lawful Permanent Resident. This is a complicated process, requiring permission to immigrate to the U.S. from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the foreign national becomes the recipient of an immigrant status. Permanent Residents are then issued a Resident Alien Card or what is commonly known as a "Green Card", or form I-551, which indicates his or her eligibility to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restriction.
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In order to obtain a green card your qualifying relative must file an immigrant petition on your behalf called an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. The petitioner must include biographical documents with the application, showing proof of your relationship to the alien. The I-130 petition must be approved by the USCIS before proceeding to the next stage.
Second, a visa number, through the State Department must be immediately available to you in order to adjust your status to permanent residence, even if you are already in the United States. If you receive an immigrant visa number, it means that an immigrant visa is available and has been assigned to you. You can check the status of a visa number by checking your priority date on the Department of State's Visa Bulletin published every month. By law, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) limits the number of immigrant visas that may be issued to foreign nationals who wish to immigrate to the United States. Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year. Employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. It is for this reason that the Visa Bulletin exists. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence. he Department of State and Department of Homeland Security jointly release the Visa Bulletin on a monthly basis estimating immigrant visas available for prospective immigrants.
Third, if you are already in the United States, you may apply to adjust your status to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available to you. (If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to your local U.S. consulate to complete your processing). If the alien resides abroad they must file the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Application with the Department of State.
Family based immigrant visas are divided into preference systems and priority dates. This refers to one of the various categories under which an individual qualifies for U.S. residency, and must wait for a visa to become available.
- First Preference: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. This category refers to the adult children of U.S. citizens or those who have reached the age of 21 years prior to issuance of the immigrant visa;
- Second Preference: a) spouses and children under the age of 21 of U.S. permanent residents; b) unmarried sons and daughters over the age of 21 of U. S. permanent residents;
- Third Preference: married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
- Fourth Preference: brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.
There is also a separate preference for immediate relatives (spouses, mothers and fathers, etc.) of U.S. citizens. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens..
What is a priority date?
A priority date is generally the date when your relative properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS (Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative).
If you would like to know more about priority dates and the visa bulletin please clickhereto learn more.
Certain documentation must be submitted with the petition to prove the legal status of the petitioner, and that the stated relationship exists between the petitioner and his/her relative such as proof of citizenship or permanent residence, copies of the marriage certificate, or birth certificate if the petition is for a child or parent.
When the visa petition is approved, USCIS will notify the person who filed the visa petition (the petitioner). USCIS will then forward the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The NVC will notify the beneficiary of the application when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. Alien Registration Cards (Green Cards) are issued for ten-year periods. From the date of filing the I-130 application generally takes approximately 3-4 months to be approved.
If you plan to immigrate a spouse from overseas, please click here for a video on the process from beginning to end.