The pursuit of a Green Card- what are the various ways to get one?

green card

The Borders are Opening up Again. America’s Calling?

John F. Kennedy, in his book Nation of Immigrants, wrote “The opportunities that America offered made the dream real, at least for a good many; but the dream itself was in large part the product of millions of plain people beginning a new life in the conviction that life could indeed be better, and each new wave of immigration rekindled that dream” And a lot of generational Indian-Americans can vouch for that. Life indeed did look up for them after their exodus!

There are tons of reasons for one to want to move to the US. The high standard of living, the vast number of opportunities, top-tier universities – are enough to justify the great immigrant influx into the US. From Priyanka Chopra to Sundar Pichai, there is no dearth of stories in social media where Indians move to the US with stars in their eyes and end up influencing hundreds of others back home – a very large-scale domino effect.

For the musically inclined, Bono, the lead vocalist of U2 said, “America is not just a country, it’s an idea.”

Moving to the US as a student, or on a work-visa, gives you only limited ways and means to achieve that ideal. On the other hand, a Green Card lets you experience to the fullest (almost) what the US has to offer.

What exactly is a Green Card and what are the benefits one gets?

The term “Green Card” is an unofficial term or a nickname used for the Permanent Resident Card. If you want to get more technical, the official term is Form I-551.

Fact File: The Green card did have a bit of an “identity crisis” and went from blue and pink, to yellow before going green in 2010 again.

The most magnetic thing about the Green Card is that it gives the holder unrestricted work and residence authorization in the US. If you have friends or family studying or working temporarily in the US, you may have heard them worry about their visa expiring, about renewals and rejections. This problem gets alleviated to an extent when you get hold of a Green Card. The holder can enter and exit the country easily, choose freely where they want to live and work, pay a lower amount of fees when they want to study (3-4 times lower when compared to international students)!

Apart from a lifetime permission to live and work in the US, the holder also eventually becomes eligible for Medicare. Travel embargoes are also not applicable to them, and the benefit of this was particularly visible during the pandemic. Family members become eligible for Green cards, and everyone can ultimately apply for US citizenship after 3-5 years.

Now that the power of the Green Card has been established, what are the ways to secure one?

What are the different ways to get a Green Card?

The US offers several ways to get a Green Card.

  1. Family first!

Spouses of US citizens and Green cardholders are eligible for a Green card themselves. This option often gets a bad rep because it is very prone to scams and civil/personal issues. But, it still remains a very legitimate and valid way to get a card.

Not just spouses, it applies even to unmarried children below the age of 21, parents, siblings, stepchildren and step-parents, albeit with a few terms and conditions.

Widows and widowers of US citizens are also included in this category. But they will need to prove that their marriage was valid and authentic.

Cousins, aunts and other extended family members are not included. Only immediate family is eligible.

  1. Employment-based

These are also called EB visas. There are five types, ranging from EB1 to EB5.

  • EB-1– The first-preference EB visa, a person is eligible for this only if he is considered to have an extraordinary ability, is an outstanding researcher or professor, or is a multinational executive or manager. Since it is employment-based, the criteria vary according to the job the person has and the proof he/she carries for his/her ability.

For example, although “extraordinary ability” is an arbitrary measure, a person is eligible under this category if he/she satisfies a few of the many conditions like:

  • Has received a coveted prizes, such as an Oscar, a Pulitzer, a Nobel Prize, an Olympic Medal
  • Has significantly contributed in his/her field
  • Has authored and published scholarly articles
  • Has had his/her work displayed in exhibitions and showcases
  • Commands an exceptionally high salary or remuneration compared to others in his field
  • Has membership in associations that demand a high level of achievement. For a visa under this category, an employment offer is not needed as proof

For the category of “outstanding researcher or professor”, the person must have at least 3 years of teaching experience in his field. The person must show proof in the form of published materials in publications, participation as a judge for others’ work in the same field, or original scientific and scholarly contribution. An employment offer from the employer is mandatory in this case. The employer must also satisfy the condition of having 3 full-time researchers under them.

For the category of “multinational manager/executive”, the person must have been outside the US for one year out of the preceding 3 years. The employer in the US must employ the person in a managerial or executive role only.

  • EB-2 – To be eligible for this visa, the person must hold an advanced degree and the academic record must show this.

This visa also has an aspect called “national interest waiver” wherein you can prove that your employment in the US would benefit the nation. The waiver is for Form 9089 that would otherwise need to be submitted for getting an EB-2.

  • EB-3 – Those eligible include skilled workers with 2 years of job experience/training, namely unskilled workers that required less than 2 years of training. The caveat here is that the work which the person will be doing in the US must be due to a skill for which workers are not readily available in the US i.e., the person must be bringing something new to the table.

Labour certification and a full-time job offer are mandatory for this visa.

  • EB-4 – This applies if you are a “special immigrant”. The person could be a religious worker, a broadcaster (reporter, writer, editor, producer for USAGM), physicians licensed and practising in the US as of Jan 9, 1978, and a few others as determined by the USCIS.
  • EB-5 – This visa allows individuals and investors to obtain a green card by investing in the US economy. They need to invest a certain amount in a business and help create employment (or prevent possible unemployment). Due to this, it is also known as “Cash for Green Card”. This Investor Immigration Program, however, currently stands suspended. Its resurgence is only delayed but will surely come into force in the near future (February 2022).

In 2022, an overall 290,000 (150,000 in excess over the yearly 140,000) employment-based Green cards are expected to be made available. However, it needs to be remembered that the processing time is usually quite slow and a chunk of these are lost to wastage.

  1. The Lottery

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and Chocolate Factory is a book-turned-movie that most of us would have either read or watched. The owner of the chocolate factory gives out Golden Tickets hidden in his chocolates, and the recipient gets to visit the factory. The children who get the ticket come from all walks of life and are chosen at random. This is what the lottery system for a Green Card looks like.

A lot of people rely on the lottery system, called the “Diversity Visa Lottery System”, to get a Green Card. It is the one that has the least amount of prerequisites, unlike EB-1.

Unfortunately, India does not make it to the list of countries that is eligible under the DV Lottery System for 2023. Countries get added and removed every year. So, keep an eye on when India gets added to the list.

  1. Registry

This process can be followed if the person has lived in the US since January 1, 1972, documented or undocumented. A Good Moral Character is essential i.e., they should not have committed any crime. They also should not have left the US since their arrival. They should also be eligible for US citizenship by naturalization.

Are all the methods quick and easy?

No, not really. The processing time could take anywhere from 10 months to 38 months, depending on how and what type of Green card you are applying for.

If you are an immediate family member of a US citizen, then they wait for you might be relatively shorter. If you are an immediate family member of another Green cardholder or are applying for the employment-based Green cards, then expect the wait to be longer, hovering around the two-year mark.

The Family-based Green card costs around $1200-$1700, depending on where you are applying from. It includes the processing fee, USCIS immigrant fee, and medical examination fee. Moreover, one needs to be ready for any kind of additional costs that may crop up during the application process.

Employment-based green cards tend to be a bit more expensive due to the attorney/agency fees for Labor certification, wherever applicable.

If you can afford it, $2500 can be paid as a Premium Processing Fee to shorten the waiting period.

There are a lot more details and criteria involved in each route to the Green Card for Indians. Wrong filling of applications can lead to a huge loss of time and resources. You want to do it once, and you want to do it perfectly, without any hitches. Important points to consider while on the road to getting a Green card are your tax implications and filings. Make sure to take professional help before you start your journey to make it a smooth one with an applause-worthy landing. You will also need the guidance of CFO consulting services to make sure there is no problem while filing taxes once you establish yourself in the US and start living a fully American way of life.