Adjustment of Status
A green card identifies its holder as a U.S. permanent resident, with rights to enter, exit, work, and live in the United States for their entire life—and to eventually apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship. But before you think about applying for U.S. permanent residence, make sure you're eligible under one of the following categories.
1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
Immediate relatives are at the top of the list when it comes to qualifying for green cards and receiving them quickly. This category includes: spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers; also including same-sex spouses, if the marriage is legally valid in the state or country where it took place unmarried people under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen parent parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen son or daughter is at least age 21 stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child's 18th birthday, and adopted children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, if the adoption took place before the child reached age 16 and other conditions are met.
An unlimited number of green cards are available for immediate relatives whose U.S. citizen relatives petition for them—applicants can get a green card as soon as they get through the paperwork and application process.
For more information, see Sponsoring a Fiancé or Spouse for a Green Card or Green Cards for Your Family: Sponsorship Categories.
2. Other Family Members
Certain family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are also eligible for green cards—but typically not right away. They fall into the "preference categories" listed below, meaning that only a certain number of them (480,000 total) will receive green cards each year. The system is first come, first served—the earlier the U.S. citizen or permanent resident turns in a petition on Form I-130, the sooner the immigrant can apply for a green card.
You can’t predict the wait time with any certainty. Wait times depend on the category of visa you’re asking for, the country you are from, how many other people from your country are asking for your type of visa, and the workload at the immigration agencies. They can range from no time at all (as is sometimes the case for spouses and minor children of permanent residents) to 24 years (as is often the case for siblings of U.S. citizens who are Philippine citizens).
Family First Preference ("F1"). Unmarried adults, age 21 or older, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
Family Second Preference: "F2A:" Spouses and unmarried children of a green card holder, so long as the children are younger than age 21. "F2B:" Unmarried children age 21 or older of a green card holder.
Family Third Preference ("F3"). Married people, any age, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
Family Fourth Preference ("F4"). Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, where the citizen is age 21 or older.
Owing to high demand, the waits for people from China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines tend to be particularly long. For more information, see Sponsoring a Fiancé or Spouse for a Green Card or Green Cards for Your Family: Sponsorship Categories.
People who received a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but later divorce, often worry about how this will affect their citizenship application.
As long as your marriage was the real thing—that is, not a sham for purposes of acquiring your green card—and you got all the way to being approved for permanent (not merely conditional) residence, divorce will not invalidate your green card. Many people get divorced, and the immigration laws recognize that the United States may have become home to the divorced immigrant, with or without the ex-spouse.
The divorce may, however, make the USCIS officer interviewing you for citizenship wonder whether you faked it through the green card application process. USCIS officers won’t automatically assume from your divorce that your marriage was a sham—but they may want some reassurance.
Prepare for this by gathering documents that prove your marriage was genuine (and make sure they’re more recent than the documents already in the USCIS file from your green card application). Don’t include these documents with your citizenship application. Instead, make copies and take these, with the originals, to your citizenship interview. The following documents may help:
rent receipts or a home title in both your and your ex-spouse’s names (showing that you lived together)
birth certificates of children born to the two of you
a letter from your spiritual or psychological counselor describing your meetings—particularly where your marriage was discussed. (If possible, the letter
3. Preferred Employees and Workers
A total of 140,000 green cards are offered each year to people whose job skills are needed in the U.S. market. In most cases, a job offer is also required, and the employer must prove that it has recruited for the job and not found any willing, able, qualified U.S. workers to hire instead of the immigrant. Because of annual limits, this is a "preference category," and some applicants wait years for an available green card. Here are the subcategories:
Employment First Preference. Priority workers, including:
persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, the sciences, education, business, or athletics
outstanding professors and researchers, and
managers and executives of multinational companies.
Employment Second Preference. Professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability.
Employment Third Preference. Professionals and skilled or unskilled workers.
Employment Fourth Preference. Religious workers and miscellaneous categories of workers and other "special immigrants" (described below).
Employment Fifth Preference. Investors willing to put $1 million into a U.S. business—or $500,000 if the business is in an economically depressed area. The business must employ at least ten workers.
According to the Board of Immigration Appeals, a crime of moral turpitude is inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to social standards of morality, and done with a reckless, malicious, or evil intent. In short, this is a subjective, catchall term that can be used for any crime that USCIS considers offensive. For example, USCIS has judged moral turpitude to be present in crimes involving great bodily injury, sexual offenses, kidnapping, stalking, fraud, theft, embezzlement, bribery, and unlawful use of a Social Security number.