U.S. Immigrant Visas (Permanent Resident Status)

The United States immigration law provides for immigrant visas (“green cards”) to be obtained in four main ways:

  • Family-Based Immigration
  • Employment-Based Immigration
  • Diversity Visa Lottery Program
  • Refugee and Asylum Benefits

Family-Based Immigration

Permanent resident status is mostly obtained by relatives of United States citizens or legal permanent residents. This type of immigration is divided into two sections:

Immediate Relatives: Includes spouses of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens over age 21, and unmarried children of U.S. citizens. This group is not subject to any quota limitations and applications for green cards are processed quicker than others.

Other relatives: Includes adult or married children of U.S. citizens, and spouses and minor children of permanent residents, unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. This group is subject to quota limitations which cause years of delay. (For information on quotas and numerical availability, please check the monthly visa bulletin on our website.)

Employment-Based Immigration

Permanent resident status may be obtained through employment or investment under five preference categories. Up to 140,000 individuals per year obtain their green cards through their work or their skills.

First Preference: Persons with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, art, education, business or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; and multi-national executives or managers

Second Preference: Professionals that possess advanced degrees and workers with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business (40,000 visa numbers per year and any unused visas from first preference)

Third Preference: Professionals without advanced degrees, skilled workers, and unskilled workers (40,000 visa numbers per year and any unused visas from first and second preferences)

Fourth Preference: Special immigrants, including religious workers (10,000 visa numbers per year)

Fifth Preference: Investors who invest at least $1,000,000.00 in commercial enterprises in the United States to benefit the economy and create or save at least 10 full-time jobs (10,000 visa numbers per year)

Diversity Visa Lottery Program

This annual program accepts entries from anyone who has completed high school and is a citizen of a designated country. Under this program, 50,000 green cards are randomly awarded to eligible applicants.

Refugee and Asylum Benefits

Permanent resident status may be obtained by refugees who have proven that they possess a well-founded fear of persecution based upon political opinion, religion, race, or membership in a particular social group. Persons who are already in the United States and have been granted asylum may file for a green card. Due to numerical limitations on immigrant visas, asylees face delays of several years before they can obtain permanent resident status. (10,000 visa numbers per year)