Immigration Visas (Green Cards)
For foreign nationals interested in immigrating to the United States, the path to citizenship starts with Lawful Permanent Residence which may be obtained via a family based petition or a permanent employment (or investment) based petition (EB). Family based petitions are filed on behalf of foreign national relatives (spouses, parents, children and siblings) of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. The time it takes to sponsor a foreign national relative depends on the closeness of the relationship. Immediate relatives of United States Citizens, which includes spouses, unmarried children and parents, are eligible for immigrant visas immediately. Non-immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and relatives of Lawful Permanent Residents must wait until a visa number is available. The United States government has placed annual limits on the number of immigrant visas available for these other categories of relatives (called preference categories). Because these limits have been reached, there is a waiting period for each category. Unfortunately, these waiting periods range from one or two years to more than twenty years depending on the preference category and the foreign national's country of origin. Employment based petitions require the sponsorship of a U.S. employer. Employment based petitions are more complicated. Employment based petitions require that foreign nationals have extraordinary abilities, special skills, make significant investment or have advanced degrees or other exceptional abilities. In the case of advanced degrees or other exceptional abilities (the most common employment based immigrant visas), employers are required to show that there are insufficient available, qualified, and willing U.S. workers to fill the position being offered and that hiring the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
What was traditionally considered green card status, Lawful Permanent Residency allows foreign persons to legally live and work in the United States permanently so long as they do not break any serious laws. Foreign nationals presently residing in the United States on non-immigrant visas (tourist visas, business visas, H-1B visas which are non-immigrant employment visas, student visas and others) are eventually required to return to their native country. Lawful Permanent Residents are not. Instead, they become eligible to apply for United States Citizenship after five years (three years in some limited circumstances including those that obtained Lawful Permanent Resident status via marriage to a United States Citizen). The procedures for applying for immigrant visas vary depending on whether the foreign national is already in the United States or is still in their home country. Those already in the U.S. need to take particular care because the laws regarding a foreign national's intentions when they arrive in the U.S. can impact their ability to seek an immigrant visa.
The application procedures for immigrant visas can be cumbersome especially employment based immigrant visas. However, for a large number of qualifying foreign nationals, the difficulties are far outweighed by the benefits of Lawful Permanent Resident status and eventual U.S. citizenship. San Diego Immigration Attorney Donald R. Oder assists sponsors and prospective immigrants navigate the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) complex visa procedures.