To get permanent residence, an immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process. The entire process may take several years, depending on the type of the immigrant category and the immigrant’s country of birth.
A foreign national can get two permits while the case is pending, after a certain stage is passed in the green card process (filing of I-485). The first is a temporary work permit known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), through which the foreign national can take employment in the US.
The other is a temporary travel document that will allow the foreign national to re-enter the US. Both permits have benefits that are independent of any existing status granted to the foreign national. For example, the foreign national might already have permission to work in the US under an H-1B visa.
The USCIS will review the immigrant petition for permanent residence by a qualifying relative, an employer or the applicant himself and come to a decision on it. If a sibling is applying, he/she must have the same parents as the applicant.
Immigrant Visa Availability
Unless the applicant is an “immediate relative”, an immigrant visa number through the National Visa Center of the US Department of State (DOS) should be available. Even if the USCIS approves the petition, a visa number may not be available immediately because the number of immigrant visas is limited every year according to the quotas in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). There are also certain restrictions due to one’s country of birth and generally, most immigrants will be placed on lengthy waiting lists. Those immigrants who are immediate relatives of a US citizen are not subject to these quotas and may proceed to the next step immediately.
Immigrant Visa Adjudication
When an immigrant visa number becomes available, the applicant must either apply with USCIS to adjust their current status to permanent residence status or apply with the DOS for an immigrant visa at the nearest US consulate before being allowed to come to the US.
Adjustment of Status (AOS)
An adjustment of status application is submitted to USCIS by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The USCIS will conduct a series of background checks and make a final decision on the application. If the application is accepted, the applicant is allowed to stay in the US even if the original period of authorized stay on the Form I-94 is expired. But the applicant is not allowed to leave the country until the application is approved or rejected.
If the foreign national has to leave the US during this time, he/she can apply for a travel document at the USCIS by filing Form I-131, Application for Advance Parole. If the applicant’s work visa will expire or the applicant wants to start working in the US while waiting for the decision about his/her application to change status, he/she can file Form I-765, to get Employment Authorization Document and be able to continue or start working legally in the US. If the application is approved, the foreign national will become a LPR, and the green card is mailed to his/her address.
If the applicant is outside of the US, he/she may make an appointment at the US embassy or consulate in his/her home country. If the case is approved, an immigrant visa is issued by the US embassy or consulate. The visa entitles the holder to travel to the US as an immigrant.
To get permanent residence, an immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process.