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Immigration Laws: Becoming a Permanent Resident in America

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on June 10, 2016

Obtaining permanent residency in the United States is a lengthy process and takes several years for many applicants to complete. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for approving permanent residency visas, or “green cards” as they are more commonly called. Working with the USCIS can be a confusing and challenging process, especially for families that may not use English as their first language. An immigration attorney can be of great assistance to individuals seeking residency for their spouse or qualified immediate family members. For families in Illinois, a Chicago immigration attorney can help with each step along the way to becoming a permanent U.S. resident. Here is an overview of the basic “green card process” as it will pertain to most applicants. For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on obtaining permanent U.S. residency for the immediate family of a U.S. Citizen.
Who can apply for permanent residency?
There are several ways to obtain a Green Card, such as through refugee status, a job, asylum, religious work and more… but one of the most common ways to obtain permanent U.S. residency is through family. More specifically, through an immediate relative who is already a U.S. Citizen. The USCIS defines “immediate relative” as a spouse, unmarried child (or children) under the age of 21, or parents. A U.S. Citizen may sponsor any of their immediate relatives to apply for permanent residency. U.S. Citizens may also sponsor other family members that are not considered “immediate” by the USCIS, but fall under the “family preference category.” Relatives under this category include brothers and sisters, married children (of any age), or unmarried children over 21 years old.

How does the green card process begin?
Obtaining permanent residency for an immediate relative happens either through an application while inside the United States, or through “Consular Processing” while outside the United States. Consular Processing works by issuing a visa (when available) to the green card applicant so they may travel to the United States and immigrate as a “permanent resident” upon entry. For many applicants, the process will take place inside the United States for an immediate family member that is already present on U.S. soil. In this case, either a “one step” or “two step” process will happen.

The “two step” process happens when first the U.S. Citizen files the “Petition for an Alien Relative” form. This form must be approved or considered pending by the USCIS. Then, the “alien relative” (the person seeking residency) will receive a notice that the form has been received. The second step in this process is when the alien relative then files an application to “adjust” their status. Once adjustment of status is processed and granted by the USCIS, the relative then is “adjusted” from “alien relative” to “permanent resident” and will receive their green card in the mail.

The “one step” process is basically a combination of the latter mentioned steps, allowing the applicant and U.S. Citizen to file their petition and application simultaneously. This is a much easier process, although only certain applicants are allowed to file their applications at the same time – a processed deemed “Concurrent Filing” by the USCIS.

What other forms and steps are part of the process?
Although the process may sound fairly simple when broken into either a “one step” or “two step” application system, the opposite is usually true. Besides the petition and application, an “Affidavit of Support” must also be completed, proving that the sponsoring relative has the financial means to support the immigrating family member. The Affidavit of Support is a legally binding contract between the applicant and petitioner. A Chicago immigration attorney can better explain what this contract means for the Illinois family sponsor and their immigrating relative.

Along with the “Petition for an Alien Relative” form, a “Biographical Form” must also be included (for both the petitioner and the applicant). There are also filing fees to pay and specific ways to submit each form (depending on the applicant’s nationality, location and status). It may also be necessary for the applicant to request “premium processing” for an expedited process.

For U.S. Citizens in Chicago, Illinois who want to sponsor an immediate family member to become a permanent U.S. resident, an experienced Chicago immigration attorney can assist in the lengthy and sometimes overwhelming process. From filling out the forms to submitting paperwork and filing fees, a family immigration lawyer can be of great assistance to frustrated petitioners and applicants. It is also important for the sponsoring individual to understand the legally binding contracts that are signed during immigration processing. A Chicago immigration attorney will be able to explain these complex forms and make sure both parties understand their importance.