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How to Become a Legal Permanent Resident of the US
by INSGreenCard

Many people who come to the United States want to stay here. The Immigration and Naturalization Service recognizes the need for foreign-born people to live and work legally in the U.S. However, immigration law includes very specific rules about who can become a legal permanent resident of the United States. Relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as expert workers, have a clear advantage when they want to immigrate to the United States.

There are several ways to become a legal permanent resident. The most common way is through a family member who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, parents, children and siblings for permanent residency. Legal permanent residents can sponsor spouses, parents and unmarried children. Spouses and children of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives. Immediate relative are eligible for immediate immigration to the United States. Family members of legal permanent residents and siblings of U.S. citizens must often wait several years before they can live and work in the United States.

You may also be eligible for legal permanent residency through your employment. Employers often look abroad for the talent needed to help their businesses succeed. Foreign-born people with extraordinary or exceptional ability in science, art, education, business, and athletics, and outstanding professors or researchers are highly desirable in the United States. They contribute to U.S. economy and society, and their contributions bring prestige to the nation. Other skilled workers are also eligible to immigrate to the U.S. if their prospective employers take them though a process known as "labor certification." This is a lengthy process that begins at the U.S. Department of Labor and concludes with the INS. To qualify to sponsor a worker, an employer must show that there are no U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident workers who are ready, willing and able to perform the job for which the foreign-born worker has been hired.

It is important to note that being approved for family-based or employer-based sponsorship is not the same thing as being admitted as a legal permanent resident. When the INS approves a visa petition for you, or the Department of Labor approves a labor certification for you, this simply means that you are eligible to apply for permanent residency. It does not mean that you are automatically a permanent resident. After receiving approval for family-based or employment-based sponsorship, you must still apply for permanent residency. In many cases, you will have to wait several months or years to apply.

For example, if you are the spouse of a legal permanent resident, you must currently wait four and a half to five years before you can apply to immigrate to the United States. This is because immigration is a two part process. First, you get approval from the INS. Then, you must wait until a visa number becomes available through the Department of State. There are only a limited number of visas available in each family-based or employer-based category every year. People from some regions of the world have a shorter wait than people from other regions, however. You can find out how long you must wait for a visa by checking the U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin each month on our website.

However, there are some ways to apply for permanent residency that do not require sponsorship. One such method is to become a "treaty investor." A treaty investor is a foreign-born person who invests at least $1 million in a business in the U.S. This person can become a permanent resident without sponsorship. To qualify as a treaty investor, you must invest the $1 million in a new business that employs at least ten U.S. citizens.

If you are granted asylum or refugee status in the United States, you may become legal permanent resident in the U.S. after one year. You must have shown that you were unable or unwilling to return to your home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion.

Finally, you may be eligible to become a legal permanent resident through the Diversity Visa Lottery. Every year, the United States Department of State offers this lottery. People from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. enter the lottery for a chance to win a visa number. Typically, there are up to 55,000 visas available through the lottery. If you are selected in the lottery, you may be eligible to apply to the INS for immigration into the United States. However, there are often more lottery visa numbers given out than there are visas available. Some lottery winners, therefore, will not become legal permanent residents. When you apply for the lottery, you can determine if your lottery number enables you to apply for permanent residency by checking the Visa Bulletin available each month on our site.

As a potential permanent resident, you must prove that you are admissible to the United States before being granted legal permanent residence. When you file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residency or Adjust Status, or any other type of application for permanent residency, you must answer a series of questions about your health, finances and good moral character. You must also provide documentation to prove your admissibility. You must be examined by an INS-approved doctor, and your family sponsor must complete an affidavit of support to show he or she is able to financially support you. To find out more about what to expect after your family member has filed to sponsor you and/or after you have applied for permanent residency, read our other articles in the Legal Permanent Residency and Family Sponsorship sections.

About The Author

INSGreencard was founded by William Carroll and Ben Ferro. Messrs. Carroll and Ferro have over 61 years collective experience as senior officers in the US and abroad for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Mr. Carroll’s responsibilities included supervision as a Director of the Los Angeles, California and Washington, DC INS District Offices and Mr. Ferro was INS Director for all of Europe (including the former Soviet Union) and the Director of the INS Amnesty Program. They each retired from the INS as Directors in 1998 to join private industry and possess unique and valuable knowledge and credibility in the field of immigration. is an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand immigration website brought to you by two former directors of the INS. Visit INSGreencard for expert assistance, helpful explanations, quick answers, up-to-date news, INS info and forms, comprehensive glossary, useful links, and best of all, INSWizard. INSWizard, your online immigration solution, guides you step-by-step through INS applications and petitions. In minutes, you get:

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