Prior to the Immigration Act of 1990, approximately 440,000 individuals immigrated to the US. annually based upon petitions submitted on their behalf by close relatives who were US. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Of this total, 216,000 persons immigrated through four family preference categories (1st Preference - unmarried sons and daughters of US. citizens, 2nd Preference - spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents, 4th Preference - married sons and daughters of US. citizens, and 5th Preference - brothers and sisters of US. citizens). The rest immigrated as "immediate relatives" of US. citizens (parents, spouses, and children of US. citizens - children being unmarried and under 21 years of age, and, in the case of a parent of a US. citizen, the petitioning son or daughter being at least 21 years of age). The law placed no numerical restrictions on the immigration of immediate relatives.
The 1990 law retained and renumbered the four family preference categories. The number of visas allocated to family-sponsored immigrants, including immediate relatives, rose from 440,000 to 465,000 in fiscal year 1992, and increased to 480,000 on October 1, 1993. If there are any unused visas from the employment- based categories, they may be used in the family preference categories.
Immediate relatives remain exempt from numerical limitations, and have first claim on family preference visas. For the first time, however, the number of immediate relatives who obtain visas are subtracted from the total number of family-sponsored visas available.
The formula works as follows: Total number of family-sponsored visas less the number of immediate relatives who immigrated during the previous year equals the number of visas available to the four family preference categories. However, the law provides that no matter how many immediate relatives immigrate to the US. in a single year, a floor of at least 226, 000 visas will remain available to persons in the four family preference categories.
The definition of immediate relative has been expanded to include widows and widowers of US. citizens provided that the widow(er) was the spouse of the citizen for at least two years prior to the citizen's death and was not legally separated from the citizen at the time of his or her death. To remain eligible for immediate relative status, the immigrant spouse is required to file a petition for permanent residence within two years after the citizen's death and before remarriage.
Most of the increase in the number of family preference visas was allocated to individuals qualifying under the 2nd preference category. The number rose from 70,000 under prior law to at least 114,200 in fiscal year 1992. Of this number, 77% of the visas are specifically reserved for spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents. Also, 75% of the visas granted to them are distributed without regard to individual country quotas. Prior to October 1991, such quotas resulted in a 10-year wait for 2nd preference visas for persons born in Mexico and seven years for those born in the Philippines. These backlogs have been alleviated while the worldwide backlog has increased dramatically.
Most family and employment-based immigration is numerically limited. Each country and category has its own quota. Because the demand for green cards exceeds the supply in many cases, the State Department publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin to allow you to determine how long it takes to achieve permanent residence according to your country of birth and visa category. It is important to track the movement in a particular category over time to determine how long the backlog is. Often, the waiting time is longer than it appears in the Visa Bulletin. See the latest Visa Bulletin.
The phrase "Green Card" indicates permanent residence or "immigrant" status. The identifying alien registration card has not been green in color since the 1950's, but as the card had virtually been in green color, the term commonly used 'GC' is still being used.
The Green Card accords have the right to live and work in the US for the rest of your life. The GC Holder must pay income taxes, contribute to social security, and register for the military draft if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26. However, it does not accords you may not vote or hold public office, and certain jobs are not open to you. GC Holder are restricted in the amount of time that may spend outside of the US and are limited as to which relatives could sponsor for permanent residence. If the GC Holder are convicted of a serious crime, or otherwise violate the immigration laws, he/she may be subject to expulsion from the US.
You may become a permanent resident by any of the following methods:
:: Through Relatives
:: Through Employment
:: Through Investment
:: Through Persecution
:: Through the Visa Lottery
:: Through Cancellation of Removal
Through Relatives - Amnesty of the 800,000 (approximately) persons who become permanent residents each year are sponsored by close relatives who are US. citizens or permanent residents. US. citizens may file immigration petitions for their spouses, parents, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters (whether they are married or single, and whether they are minors or adults). Permanent residents may only file immigration petition for their spouses and their unmarried sons and daughters.
Through Employment - Up to 140,000 persons are permitted to immigrate annually based upon their employment. They include "priority workers".
(1) Persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics.
(2) Outstanding researchers and professors, and
(3) Certain executives and managers of multinational companies.
In addition, persons of exceptional ability and holders of advanced degrees may immigrate if they are able to demonstrate to the Labor Department that there are no US workers qualified and available to assume their jobs, or that their presence in the US is in the "national interest". Professionals with bachelors degrees, skilled workers and a limited number of unskilled workers may immigrate if their employers can demonstrate the unavailability of qualified US workers to the Labor Department. Finally, a small number of "special immigrants", primarily religious ministers and other religious workers, are permitted to immigrate through employment.
Through Investment - Up to 10,000 investors and their families may immigrate to the US annually. To qualify, you must invest a minimum of one million dollars ($500,000 if the investment is made in a rural or high- unemployment area) in a new commercial enterprise and employ a minimum of ten full-time US workers.
Through Persecution - The US accepts approximately 100,000 refugees and Asylums annually. Refugees apply abroad to immigrate to the US They must demonstrate that they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their home countries. Asylums are similar to refugees except that they are present in the US when they request Asylum.
Through the Visa Lottery - 55,000 people each year are chosen at random to immigrate from millions of applicants for the diversity visa lottery. Although the rules change from year to year, last year, nearly 45,000 of the winners were required to be born in either Europe or Africa. This is because most persons who immigrate to the US through relatives and employment are from Asia and Latin America. The aim of the visa lottery is to insure "diversity" in immigration. This year, subject to certain limited exceptions, persons born in the following "high-immigration" countries are ineligible to apply for the visa lottery: China (PRC and Taiwan), India, Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Poland, United Kingdom and dependent territories (except Hong Kong and Northern Ireland), Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, El Salvador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Through Cancellation of Removal - Even someone who is not legally present in the US, may under certain circumstances, be eligible for permanent residence: An alien in removal proceedings may apply for a green card from an Immigration Judge if he (1) has been in the US for at least ten years before being placed under removal proceedings; (2) is a person of good moral character; and (3) can demonstrate that it would be an "extreme and exceptionally unusual hardship" to his US citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent/s, child/ren if he were forced to leave the US. The Immigration Judge may grant permanent residence to such a person his discretion and subject certain numerical restrictions.
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