There are two routes to obtain permanent residency (i.e., a “green card”) in the U.S. – employment-based and family-based.
1. Employment-Based Permanent Residence:
Approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are made available to qualified applicants every fiscal year. These immigrant visas are divided into five preference categories.
First Preference (EB1): EB1 applicants include: 1) persons of extraordinary ability; 2) outstanding professors and researchers; and 3) multinational organization managers and executives. Labor certification is not required.
Second Preference (EB2): EB2 applicants are professionals who have advanced degrees or their equivalent, or are individuals who will substantially benefit the U.S. economy, cultural or educational interests because of their exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business. Labor certification is required, but can be waived for individuals with advanced degrees (or who are Ph.D. students) if he or she can demonstrate that his or her admittance is in the national interest (i.e. national interest waiver).
Third Preference (EB3): This preference category has three sub-categories: 1) professionals, 2) skilled workers, and 3) other workers. Labor certification is required.
Fourth Preference (EB4): This category is for “special immigrants,” including Ministers of religion, employees of international organizations and the U.S. Government, dependents of juvenile courts or in state custody, and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Fifth Preference (EB5): This preference category is for immigrant investors. Labor certification is not required and conditional residency is granted. EB5 applicants must invest between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in a commercial enterprise in the U.S. which creates at least 10 new full-time jobs for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or other lawful immigrants, not including the investor and his or her family.
2. Family-Based Permanent Residence:
Individuals may immigrate to the U.S. based on a relationship to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The spouse of a U.S. citizen, parents of U.S. citizen children over 21, and unmarried children of U.S. citizens can qualify for a green card as an immediate relative. The immediate relative category has no annual quota restrictions, making this avenue one of the faster routes to obtaining a green card.
The other categories for obtaining a green card through a family member have annual visa quota restrictions and are broken down into the following four preference categories:
First Preference: This category includes unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21, married child(ren) of any age, or brothers and sisters of a U.S. citizen (if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21).
Second Preference: This category includes the spouses and unmarried sons or daughters of lawful permanent residents. Spouses and sons and daughters under the age of 21 constitute the family-based second preference “A” category. Sons and daughters over the age of 21 constitute the family-based second preference “B” category.
Third Preference: This category includes the married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
Fourth Preference: This category includes brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens age 21 and over.
Below are additional routes to Permanent Residence for Family members:
K1 Fiance Visa: The K1 fiancé visa allows the fiancé of a U.S. citizen to enter the U.S. for the purpose of marrying the U.S. citizen. The couple must have met each other within the last two years (unless a waiver is granted) and the marriage must take place within 90 days after the fiancé enters the U.S. Once married to the U.S. citizen, the K-1 visa holder must apply for permanent residence.
K3 Visa: The K3 visa allows spouses of U.S. citizens who have pending immigrant visa petitions to enter the U.S. The U.S. citizen spouse would adjust status to a permanent resident once the immigrant visa petition is approved. The purpose of the K3 is to shorten the time that a married couple must remain apart while an immigrant visa petition is pending.