Getting a Green Card, which bestows permanent resident status in the United States, isn’t any easier now than it was ten years ago, but it isn’t any harder either. The main difference is that the process may take a little longer than it once did due to national security reasons.
This is understandable. While it is true Green Card applicants have always been subject to national security concerns, the screening process now involves the Department of Homeland Security, which absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 2003. This, in turn, resulted in two more separate agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services. Suffice it to say that Green Card applications today have to wend their way through a lot more red tape than in the past.
The essential thing to remember is that the requirements for obtaining a Green Card are the same; but all applications undergo a more thorough scrutiny. Some might think this unfair, but the fact remains that the biggest terrorist threats facing the United States are from people entering the country from abroad. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, nearly two dozen foreign terrorists have been Lawful Permanent Residents or naturalized citizens. The 9/11 hijackers did not hold Green Cards, but all were here on temporary visas; a situation which is not likely to occur again since Homeland Security has taken over the immigration service.
Most people go online to apply for a Green Card at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. The primary ways to qualify for a Green Card are:
• Through a family connection, this includes having an immediate relative who is a United States citizen, and special category exceptions, such as a child of a foreign diplomat or a widow or widower of a United States citizen
• Through a potential employer, this includes a permanent job offer by a United States employer, and other special circumstances, such as investors who create new jobs in the United States
There are other programs through which a Green Card is obtainable:
• The Green Card Lottery (Diversity Immigrant Visa Program)
• LIFE Act (Legal Immigration Family Equity)
• SIJ (special immigrant juvenile status)
• K Visas or Fiancé Visa (fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens and their accompanying minor children)
The bulk of the application process is done online, but sooner or later, you will have to visit an INS field office to be photographed, fingerprinted, and interviewed.
You can conduct the entire application process yourself for a modest cost, but if you use a private company or a lawyer to help you acquire a Green Card, you will pay far more.
Finally, when you get your Green Card, you will notice it is not green. Don’t panic. They haven’t been green for a long time. Some Green Cards are blue, some are pink, but most are white. It is the size of a credit card, and you should guard it like a credit card. If your Green Card is lost or stolen, you have more paperwork and fees to deal with. By law, you must carry your Green Card with you at all times, especially if you are traveling outside the United States. It’s wise to keep a photocopy of it in a safe deposit box in case of loss or theft; this makes the reapplication procedure a little easier should the card get lost or stolen. Barring any such disasters, your Green Card must be renewed every ten years unless you become a U.S. citizen.