Family-basedFor many people, the fastest way to a green card is being sponsored by a relative. United States citizens can file for their children, their parents, their siblings, and their spouse. Green card holders can file for their unmarried children and their spouse.
The process starts with the United States citizen or permanent resident filing a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative with USCIS, which must include all the initial evidence USCIS needs to approve the petition. Relatives in the United States can then obtain their green card by filing Form I-485 Application for Lawful Permanent Residency. For relatives outside of the United States, after the I-130 petition is filed and approved, the U.S. consulate in your relative’s country of residence will finish processing for the immigrant visa.
The amount of time the relative has to wait for their green card depends on the current visa availability, which is laid out in the Visa Bulletin. The Bulletin lists the current priority date for each class of immigrant visa. A “priority date” is assigned to each petition based on when the petition is received by USCIS. Thus, the date listed on the Visa Bulletin is the current priority date that has visas available.
After his or her priority date becomes current, an alien has a limited amount of time in which to follow through on the visa application, so it’s important to pay attention to the Visa Bulletin. Although USCIS, through the National Visa Center, is supposed to inform aliens when their priority date becomes current, their failure to do so is not an excuse if the alien doesn’t file in time.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, which include parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21, are eligible for immediate processing. The only wait time is based on the actual processing time itself, and the relative does not have to wait until a visa is available. Immediate relatives who are in the U.S. can file both the I-130 and I-485 at the same time, which increases the speed with which the relative will receive his or her green card, and allows for work authorization throughout the adjustment process. Immediate relatives have other benefits as well: unauthorized employment and overstaying a visa are forgiven in the adjustment process.
Employment-basedAn alien has many options when applying for a green card based on a combination of education and experience. Immigration classifies aliens into categories, such as Employment-based 1 (EB-1), 2 (EB-2), and 3 (EB-3). Other categories exist for religious workers and other “special immigrants” (EB-4) and immigrant investors (EB-5). For EB-2 and EB-3, the process begins with a labor certification application through PERM. After approval, the alien must petition for the immigrant visa through filing an I-140, and, after the priority date becomes current, the alien can apply for their green card. The entire process is complex, and Muennich & Bussard, LLP will explain the process to you and keep you informed at every step in the process.