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There are many ways to obtain permanent residence status (the “green card”) in the United States. Below, we outline several of those options:

  • Sponsorship by U.S. citizens
  • Sponsorship by permanent resident relatives
  • Special Immigrants
  • A petition based upon a job offer and sponsorship by an employer
  • Foreign Nationals who are Extraordinary or Outstanding in their field
  • Registry
  • Refugee or asylum status
  • Diversity Visa Lottery Program
  • Sponsorship by U.S. Citizens

With the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many important immigration benefits are now available to same-sex couples and their children.

U.S. citizens may petition for their children who are under the age of 21, for their spouse, and for their parents under the immediate relative classification. The U.S. citizen child petitioning for a parent must be 21 years of age or over. An alien who was the spouse of a U.S. citizen at the time of the citizen’s death is also considered an immediate relative. There are no limitations on the number of persons admitted as immediate relatives, and visas are always available.

U.S. citizens can also petition for their unmarried children over age 21 under the first preference and for their married children over age 21 under the third preference. U.S. citizens over age 21 can petition for their siblings under the fourth preference. There is a waiting list for visas to immigrate in these categories.

Sponsorship by Permanent Resident Relatives

Lawfully admitted permanent residents may petition for their spouses and for their unmarried children under the second preference. There is a waiting list for visas to immigrate in these categories. It is necessary for a permanent resident to become a U.S. citizen to be eligible to sponsor other relatives.

G-4 Special Immigrant Applications

The G-4 Special Immigrant section of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that certain G-4 visa holders who, while maintaining status as a G-4, have resided in the U.S. for specified periods can become permanent residents. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires an applicant for G-4 special immigrant status file a petition (Form I-360) to establish eligibility. The I-360 petition can be filed as part of the adjustment of status application. If the individual is not filing an adjustment of status application, but is visa processing abroad, the Form I-360 is filed first with USCIS. Those eligible under these provisions include the following:

1. The unmarried son or daughter of an officer or employee, or of a former officer or employee, of an international organization who, while holding a G-4 visa or an N visa, has resided and been physically present in the U.S. for periods totaling at least one-half of seven years preceding the date of the application, and for a period or periods aggregating at least seven years between the ages of 5 and 21 years. Absence by the unmarried son or daughter while enrolled in school abroad will not be counted toward the physical presence requirement. The application for a visa or adjustment of status must be made no later than his/her 25th birthday.

2. The surviving spouse of a deceased officer or employee of an international organization who, while holding a G-4 visa or an N visa, has resided and been physically present in the U.S. for periods totaling at least one-half of seven years before the date of the application, and for a period or periods aggregating at least fifteen years before the date of the death of the officer or employee of an international organization. The petition must be filed no later than six months after the date of the death of the officer or employee.

3. A retired officer or employee of an international organization who, while holding a G-4 visa, has resided and been physically present in the U.S. for periods totaling at least one-half of the seven years before the date of the application and for a period or periods aggregating at least fifteen years before the date of the officer or employee’s retirement is eligible for permanent residence. The spouse of the retiree is also able to become a permanent resident and is not required to hold a G-4 visa for these periods. However the spouse can not file independent of the principal G-4 retiring. The petition must be filed no later than six months after the retired officer or employee’s date of retirement.

Please Note:

Under U.S. immigration law, employment-based green cards are subject to annual quotas. The G-4 Special Immigrant provision falls into the employment-based category – Employment Fourth Preference (EB4). At the time of filing the G-4 Special Immigrant green card application, an immigrant visa number must be available in the EB4 category. If an immigrant visa number is unavailable, the applicant can only file the I-360 petition and cannot file to change status to a green card holder. Immigrant visa numbers are published every month by the Department of State in the Visa Bulletin –

In addition to checking the Visa Bulletin before filing a green card application, applicants must also check USCIS’ Adjustment of Status Filing Chart to determine which numbers from the Visa Bulletin are being used for the current month –

Because these are complex issues, anyone filing a green card application should have, at a minimum, a consultation with an immigration lawyer.

“N” Visa Nonimmigrant Visa Status for Parents or Children of G-4 Special Immigrants

A nonimmigrant visa is available under the “N” visa category to the parent of a child who has obtained permanent residence under the G-IV special immigrant provisions, but only until the child reaches his or her 21st birthday. The “N” visa is also available to the child under the age of 21 of a parent who has obtained permanent residence under the G-IV special immigrant provisions or who has been granted an “N” nonimmigrant visa. The “N” visa includes permission to work although an employment authorization document must be obtained. The “N” visa is not available to the parents of U.S. citizen children born in the U.S. and under the age of 21.

NATO visa holders are also special immigrants

As with G-4 visa holders, certain NATO employees (NATO-6) are eligible to file for green cards if they meet the G-4 Special Immigrant Provisions.

Employer Petitions – PERM

When an employer sponsors a foreign national for permanent residence, he or she must show that the individual will not be taking a job from a U.S. worker. This is shown by obtaining a labor certification (PERM) from the U.S. Department of Labor. If the alien meets the qualifications for the job as stated in the PERM application and meets all other USCIS requirements, permanent residence status is granted.

Categories for employment-based immigration include the following: professionals with advanced degrees or the equivalent, or with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business; professionals with bachelor’s degrees and skilled workers performing jobs that require at least two years of experience; and unskilled workers performing jobs requiring less than two years of experience. PERM applications are required for these categories. After successfully obtaining an approved PERM application, the alien may apply for permanent residence and await the availability of a visa under the applicable preference classifications. When an immigrant visa becomes available, the alien can either adjust status to permanent residence at a USCIS office, if eligible, or obtain the visa through consular processing abroad, if eligible.

In addition there is the priority worker category for which a PERM application is not required. Priority workers include individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business, education, and athletics; outstanding professors and researchers with three years experience and international recognition; and certain multi-national corporate executives and managers employed overseas by a parent, subsidiary or branch of the petitioning U.S. employer.

Another category that does not require a PERM application is for aliens with advanced degrees in professional fields or of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business whose employment would be in the national interest. USCIS exercises discretion in determining whether benefits to the U.S. in such areas as business, medicine, science, culture, and education are sufficient to qualify for this category.

While the procedures for obtaining permanent resident visas based on a job and a PERM application or as a priority worker are complex, obtaining the visa is worth the effort: permitting the principal visa holder to work and stay indefinitely in the U.S., and qualifying to file taxes as a resident. Spouses and minor children can usually apply for permanent resident status with the sponsored alien.

There is a waiting list for visas for some employment-based categories. It will be necessary to obtain a valid nonimmigrant visa to stay in the U.S. during the application process and while waiting for an immigrant visa.

Please note that a G-4 dependent with Employment Authorization can be sponsored by his/her employer while G-4 status through the PERM process.

Foreign Nationals who are Extraordinary or Outstanding in their Field

The EB 1 preference category is another option to obtain U.S. permanent residence. Those are foreign nationals who either have “extraordinary abilities”, or are “outstanding professors or researchers”, and also includes executives and managers of foreign companies who are transferred to the U.S. Applicants who can demonstrate their extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim are not required to have a permanent offer of employment in the US and are eligible to self-petition, however, they must intend to work in the U.S. in their field of expertise.

The visa is granted to three types of foreign nationals:

  • Those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation. The foreign national can self-petition under this category.
  • Outstanding professors and researchers who are recognized internationally for their outstanding academic achievements in an academic field. An employer is required to petition for the foreign national  under this category. The criteria includes at least three years of   experience in teaching or research in that academic area.
  • Executives and managers of foreign companies who are transferred to the U.S. and have been employed, during the last three years, for at least one year outside of the U.S. in a managerial position in the same company that is going to employ them in the U.S. or in a related company.

We have been very successful in filing applications under these categories.  In addition there is the National Interest waiver. Jobs that qualify for a National Interest waiver are not defined by statute. National interest waivers are usually granted to those who have exceptional ability and whose employment in the United States would greatly benefit the nation. Those seeking a national interest waiver may self-petition or have an employer sponsor them.

Public Charge Rule

Effective February 24, 2020, USCIS has implemented new Public Charge Rules. Certain foreign nationals will be inadmissible if they are likely to become a public charge.

Public Charge and Citizenship

The public charge rule does not apply when applying for citizenship. However, an immigration official might ask you questions about receiving public benefits to figure out if you received a benefit when you were not eligible for it. You should review your public benefits history before applying for citizenship.

Public Charge and Green Card Holders

  • Generally, people who already have a green card are not affected by public charge.
  • There is no public charge test to renew a green card.
  • Green card holders cannot be deported simply for using public benefits. It is very difficult for the government to deport a green card holder for being a “public charge.”
  • This public charge rule could apply if a permanent resident leaves the United States for more than 180 days. If a green card holder travels outside the United States for more than 180 days during one trip, the government can ask questions to see if the person is a “public charge” upon returning to the U.S. It is important for green card holders to speak to a trusted immigration attorney before leaving the United States for more than 180 days. This may be problematic for those taking long term overseas assignments. At this moment it is unknown whether holding a reentry permit will mitigate a potential public charge finding.

What’s in the New Public Charge Rule?

  • The new rule defines a public charge as a person who receives any number of public benefits for more than an aggregate of 12 months over any 36-month period of time. Each benefit used counts toward the 12-month calculation. For instance, if an applicant receives two different benefits in one month, that counts as two-months’ use of benefits.
  • The rule expands the list of publicly funded programs that USCIS may consider when deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge, including: Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Section 8 housing assistance and federally subsidized housing.
  • The Rule also considers that all use of cash aid, including not just Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and SSI, but also any state or local cash assistance program, could make an individual inadmissible under the public charge ground.
  • Benefits received by family members of the immigrant will not be considered in the public charge determination.
  • Medicaid received by applicants while under age 21 or while pregnant is not considered.
  • Emergency medical care and disaster relief is not considered.
  • The prior receipt of benefits is only one factor in the public charge test. The new rule sets out criteria for considering several factors in assessing the likelihood that a person will need more than 12 months of public benefits in aggregate over a 36-month period in the future. The rule also elaborates on criteria for considering financial status, size of family, age, education, skills and employment, among others.
  • The rule allows immigration officers to consider English proficiency (positive), or lack of English proficiency (negative); medical conditions and availability of private health insurance; and past use of immigration fee waivers. The rule will require immigrants to attach a Declaration of Self-Sufficiency when applying for a green card in addition to the many forms already required.
  • The rule creates “heavily weighted negative factors” and a couple “heavily weighted positive factors.” It is a heavily weighted negative factor to receive more than 12 months of public benefits in the aggregate over the 36-month period of time before submitting the application for adjustment or admission. Heavily weighted positive factors include having a household income of at least 250% of the federal poverty level. It is not clear how an officer should decide a case that has a heavily weighted factor or both heavily weighted negative and positive factors.
  • Bonds are possible where an immigration officer finds inadmissibility based on public charge. Bonds will be highly discretionary and the new rule says that some factors that will generally make an applicant ineligible for a bond.
  • This new rule will mainly impact those seeking permanent resident status through family- and employment-based petitions. Immigrants should consult with an immigration expert who understands public charge to learn whether the public charge rule even applies to them or their family. Remember, many categories of immigrants are exempt from public charge rules.
  • Going forward, as this process is implemented more information will become available on how to address the requirements and potential new issues.

Registry Applications

Registry is a procedure whereby an alien who has resided continuously in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972, and is not otherwise inadmissible, may obtain permanent resident status.

Diversity Visa Program

This program provides 55,000 diversity visas annually to natives of countries selected through a complicated formula based on the numbers of immigrants to the U.S. by country and region. Eligible countries will be designated by the State Department each fiscal year. The list of countries can be expected to change from year to year. To qualify under the diversity program, a foreign national must come from a designated country, have at least a high school education, or have worked at least two years in an occupation.

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