Who is Eligible for a Permanent Resident Card?

The permanent resident card – or green card as it is referred to for its distinctive green color – is the penultimate goal for nearly every immigrant to the United States. It is the last step before applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship, but it is not available to everybody. There are only certain categories of people who are eligible to apply for and receive a permanent resident card. They are:

  • The immediate relatives of people who are U.S. citizens. This is a broad category that includes spouses (including widows and widowers); unmarried people under the age of 21 who have at least one U.S. citizen parent; parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21; stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens if the marriage that created the stepchild relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday; and adopted children of either U.S. citizens or permanent residents if the adoption took place before the child’s 16th birthday where certain conditions have been met.
  • Other family members of U.S. citizens or green card holders. This is considered a “preference category” and the number of applicants that will be eligible is limited to less than half a million each year, on a first-come, first-served basis. The process is administered in priority order, with a priority order of unmarried adults who are 21 or older and who have at least one U.S. citizen parent; spouses and unmarried children of green card holders if the children are younger than 21; unmarried children of a green card holder who are 21 or older; married people of any age who have at least one U.S. citizen parent; sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens where the citizen is 21 or older.
  • Preferred employees with U.S. job offers. Every year there are 140,000 of these cards available. Employers must demonstrate that they have recruited for the job and were not able to find any qualified or willing U.S. workers.
  • Each year 50,000 green cards are made available to people from the countries that have seen the fewest immigrants to the United States. This is referred to as the diversity lottery.
  • Special immigrants represent individuals such as international broadcasters, retired employees of the U.S. government abroad, and young people under the care of a juvenile court.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers. These people have experienced or fear persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
  • Long-time residents of the United States. This category describes those who have lived illegally in the U.S. for more than ten years. Their extended stay can be used to request permanent residence in the face of immigration court proceedings.

The rules surrounding immigration can be difficult to understand. For help with applying for a green card for yourself or a loved one, contact our experienced immigration attorneys today.