"Green card" is the common term used to describe lawful permanent residency. Two different routes exist for obtaining permanent resident status: (1) adjustment of status, for those inside the United States and otherwise meet eligibility requirements, and (2) consular processing at the U.S. Consulate abroad (for those not eligible for adjustment of status).
Eligibility for adjustment of status is sometimes a complex issue. Generally, a person who entered the United States after inspection and admission or parole, is otherwise admissible, and is eligible to receive an immediately available immigrant visa filed or to be filed by a qualified family member or employer, may apply for adjustment of status. Other requirements include an Affidavit of Support that demonstrates financial ability and willingness of the petitioner and/or a joint sponsor to provide financial support if necessary. Complex rules govern whether a person is admissible. If a person is inadmissible, a waiver of the ground of inadmissibility may be available. If a person is eligible, the visa petition and application for adjustment of status may be filed concurrently.
In addition to the many personal reasons a person may have for becoming a U.S. citizen, there are a number of legal advantages as well. For example, a United States citizen generally cannot be ordered removed from the United States. Also, a U.S. citizen can petition for certain family members to immigrate to the United States without the lengthy wait that would be required if the petitioner were a lawful permanent resident. Additionally, only citizens are legally authorized to vote. Finally, upon becoming a U.S. citizen, a person is no longer subject to losing his or her status by living outside the United States for more than six continuous months.
Generally, a lawful permanent resident is eligible to naturalize after being a permanent resident for five years. A person who became a permanent resident based on marriage to a U.S. citizen may apply after only three years. The person must show physical presence in the United States for at least half of that time. Absence from the U.S. of more than six continuous months during the preceding five year period renders the person ineligible.
The applicant must also show that he or she has been and is still a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States. While the law allows an examination of the applicant's entire history, the essential inquiry focuses only upon the preceding five years.
The applicant must also demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including the ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language, and must also demonstrate a knowledge of the history and government of the United States.
Removal proceedings can be initiated against any person who is not a United States citizen, regardless of the age of the person or length of residence in the U.S. Removal proceedings begin with the filing of a Notice to Appear, which alleges the factual and legal reasons why the government believes that the person is removable. Whether the person is removable is generally argued before the Immigration Judge at one or more court hearings. If the Immigration Judge determines that the person is not removable, the proceedings are terminated. If the person is found to be removable, an opportunity is provided for the person to seek relief from removal. Various forms of legal relief from removal exist, and a person's eligibility for and likelihood of obtaining relief depend on a variety of factors.
Even lawful permanent residents are subject to removal from the United States. Living outside the United States for more than six months may constitute abandonment of the permanent resident status. Also, commission of a crime may subject a lawful permanent resident to removal, although various forms of relief from removal may be available to prevent actual removal.
An applicant for asylum seeks permanent resident status based on proof that he or she is unable or unwilling to return to his/her home country because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution. The persecution must be on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Withholding of removal is a form of relief in removal proceedings. Withholding of removal is similar to asylum, but carries a higher burden of proof and provides more limited relief. If a person fears torture at the hands of the government or individuals who have the approval or acquiescence of the government, and can show the likelihood of torture, he or she may seek relief under the Convention Against Torture. Please note that we do not handle asylum cases at this time.
The Diversity Lottery Program awards immigrant visas to applicants whose home country typically has low immigration rates compared to other countries. There are always more applicants than the maximum number of visas available, and the visas are granted at random to those qualified under the program.
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