Immigration Basics: What’s a Green Card?

One of the primary objectives of this blog is to help our readers make sense of the complicated U.S. immigration system. Today, we’re going to discuss the green card – what it means, who is eligible, how to acquire one, and more. Let’s dive in…

A green card signifies that you have the legal right to live and work in the United States. You have most of the rights of a U.S. citizen: you may study, leave the U.S. and return, start a business, or work at any kind of job.

There are three primary ways of residing legally in the U.S., and they all have different rights associated with them. The first is living in the U.S. with a visa. This is a very common route for people who have jobs in the U.S. Many people reside here with the H–1B visa, which an employer applies for on behalf of an employee.

People with the H-1B or other work visas often apply for green cards. It’s also possible to acquire a green card through investment, through having a relative in the U.S. who is either a citizen or legal permanent resident, through marriage to a U.S. citizen, through the green card lottery, or through asylum. The length of time it takes to acquire a green card varies widely. Marriage to a U.S. citizen is one of the fastest ways of getting a green card. It sometimes takes only six months or so to obtain a green card by marriage, while green cards in other categories can take years to obtain. However, marrying for the purpose of acquiring a green card is illegal and can lead to significant consequences.

In some circumstances a conditional green card is issued. A green card based on marriage when the marriage is less than two years old, for instance, will be a two-year conditional card. Immigrants who have been married to a U.S. citizen for more than two years and immigrants who immigrate to the United States on the basis of having family members who are U.S. citizens are eligible for the ten-year unconditional green card. Green cards must be renewed before they expire.

There are many ways green cardholders can lose their cards. Failure to maintain residence in the U.S. is one way to lose your green card status. Certain criminal acts will also result in the loss of a green card. Sometimes simply failing to notify immigration authorities of an address change can be enough to be deported.

Many immigrants apply for citizenship as soon as they are eligible, the third way of living legally in the U.S. The waiting period for eligibility for citizenship is usually five years after receiving a green card. If you’re a citizen there are advantages that you don’t have with a green card, such as the freedom to travel outside of the U.S. for extensive periods without losing your right to reside in the U.S.

Immigration law is very complex, and if you would like to learn more, or if you need assistance with an immigration matter, please contact us today!


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