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Choosing the Best Path to a Green Card

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on October 10, 2016

There are many paths to obtaining a Green Card. Deciding which path is best to follow depends on an individual’s personal circumstances. Whichever path is taken, a Green Card grants an individual permanent residency. This allows immigrants to live and work in the United States for a period of 10-years at which point the Green Card will need to be renewed unless the individual obtains citizenship during that time.

Employment Based

Individuals with extraordinary ability may apply for a Green Card. These include professors, researchers, managers, executives, etc. These individuals are given first preference.

Second preference is given to individuals who hold advanced degrees or demonstrate exceptional abilities within their field. These include highly skilled individuals who perform tasks and functions in computer science, mathematics, engineering, etc.

Individuals may also qualify for a National Interest Waiver. Green Cards can be issued to individuals who demonstrate professional capabilities that benefit the US national interest. Examples may include individuals who work as nurses, physical therapists, or work in another field where there is a recognized labor shortage in the United States.

The final category for employment based Green Cards includes both skilled workers such as individuals who hold the equivalent of the US bachelor’s degree and unskilled workers.

The Diversity Lottery

Each year, the US Diversity Immigrant Visa Program holds a congressionally mandated lottery. This lottery issues 50,000 Green Cards to the United States. However, it is only available to individuals who are native to countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. This significantly limits the number of eligible lottery participants.


Individuals who can invest $500,000 in a commercial operation may apply for a Green Card. The business must be located within a targeted employment region that will create at least 5 full-time positions within the US.

Individuals who invest $1,000,000 or more, may open a business in the region of their choice so long as the business creates a minimum of 10 full-time positions. Both forms of investor status are subject to conditions for the first two years. If the conditions are met within this two year period, holders of investment based Green Cards can petition to have the conditions of their residence removed.

Asylum and Refugee Status

Green Cards may be issued for foreign nationals who are unable or unwilling to return to their native country due to fear of persecution or threat of violence. These fears must be well-documented in order to qualify for asylum status.

Refugee Green Cards can be issued to individuals whose native country is embroiled in war, gripped with political or civil unrest, or experiencing severe famine. Individuals from Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, Congo, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and many other countries can qualify for refugee based Green Cards.

Special Immigrants

There are a number of people who are eligible for Green Cards based on special circumstances. These include many foreign nationals who have worked for the US government such as employees of the Panama Canal Zone, veterans of the US military, retired civilian employees of NATO, and individuals who worked in foreign diplomatic posts.

Other individuals who qualify for special status include religious workers, highly skilled agricultural workers or employees of international broadcast services.

Individuals who are spouses or children of SN-1 visas or spouses or children of BC-1 visa holders also qualify for special status. The status is also granted to permanent residents who have resided outside of the US for more than 12 months, or for the abused spouse or children of US citizens or Green Card holders.

Private Bill

These Green Cards are exceedingly rare and require approval from the US Senate or House of Representatives. They are issued to individuals who demonstrate compelling humanitarian reasons for staying in the United States that are not covered under USCIS guidelines.

Path for Relatives

Certain relatives of US citizens can obtain a Green Card with little difficulty. Qualifying individuals include parents or stepparents. It also includes unmarried children/stepchildren under the age of 21, and adopted children under the age of 18. These applications are relatively easy to process.

Other relatives of US citizens that may qualify for a Green Card are married children of any age, brothers, or sisters; however, these can take considerable time to process.

There are fewer paths available for relatives if the individual only holds a Green Card and not citizenship. In such cases, Green Cards are only available for spouses, adopted children under the age of 16, and unmarried children or stepchildren.

An immigration lawyer in Illinois can help individuals seeking a path to a Green Card. There are many paths available and it is worth taking the time to investigate and pursue the most expedient option. The process can be completed in as short as 6 months, or as long as several years depending on the documentation and path that is chosen.