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Categories of Green Card Applicants

green card

Popularly known as a “green card” due to its green color, the Alien Registration Card indicates the card holder's status as a permanent resident of the United States. Not only does the green card indicate permanent U.S. resident status, but it also allows the holder to work legally in the U.S. whenever and wherever they please. As a note, being a permanent resident of the U.S. does not mean that you are a U.S. citizen. If you intend to apply for a green card, you must be willing to make the U.S. your permanent home and primary residence. This does not mean that you cannot travel; the freedom to travel is an important benefit of a green card. Green cards issued after 1989 are valid for 10 years. Although you remain a U.S. resident after your card expires, you should renew your green card prior to its expiration, especially if you intend to travel abroad.

The following describes the different categories of people who qualify for a green card:

  1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

To qualify as an immediate relative, you must either be the spouse of a U.S. citizen, an unmarried child - under the age of 21 - of a U.S. citizen, or the parent of a child who is a U.S. citizen and 21 years or older. Foreign-born children who were adopted before they turned 16 by their U.S. citizen parents are also eligible to apply for a green card. Stepchildren and stepparents can also qualify as immediate relatives, so long as the marriage creating the relationship with the U.S. citizen occurred before the child’s 18th birthday.

  1. Green Card through Family

Other relationships between U.S. citizens and their non-resident family members may qualify the non-resident family member for a green card. However, there is a limited number of green cards allocated for family members that are not immediate relatives. This has led to several categories being created, with first preference family members receiving priority consideration and fourth preference possibly waiting longer to get their green card.

The categories are as follows:

  • Family first preference – includes the unmarried sons and daughters over the age of 21 who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Family second preference – includes the spouse and unmarried children of lawful\ permanent residents, green card holders.
  • Family third preference – includes married sons and daughters who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Family fourth preference – includes the sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens when the citizen sibling is older than 21.

In summary, you are the family member of a U.S. citizen and are likely eligible to apply for a green card if you are the unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen and you are 21 year old or older, you are the married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen, or you are the brother or sister of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old.

You are the family member of a lawful permanent resident, i.e. another green card holder, and likely eligible to apply for a green card if you are the spouse of a lawful permanent resident, the unmarried child who is younger than 21 of a lawful permanent resident, or the unmarried son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident who is 21 years old or older.

You may also be eligible if you fall into one of several unique categories, such as being the widow(er) of a U.S. citizen. You may fall under this category if you were married to your U.S. citizen spouse at the time of their death. If you are the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child, you may be eligible to be apply for a green card.

  1. Green Cards for Victims of Abuse

If you are the victim of abuse committed by a U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse, a U.S. citizen parent, a U.S. citizen son or daughter, a lawful permanent resident spouse or former spouse, or a lawful permanent resident parent, you may be eligible to apply for a green card. If you have suffered battery or extreme cruelty, then you are a victim of abuse. The Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows you to file a self-petition without the abusive family members knowledge or consent. This application is available to both men and women who have suffered abuse.

  1. Green Card through Employment

People with job skills wanted in the U.S. are also eligible to apply for a green card. There are a limited number of green cards for workers seeking employment. First preference workers are more likely to get their green card sooner. Below are the different preference groups:

  1. You a first preference immigrant worker if
    1. You have extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics;
    2. You are an outstanding professor or researcher; or
    3. You are a multinational manager or executive.
  1. You are a second preference immigrant workerif
    1. You are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree;
    2. You have an exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; or
    3. You are seeking a national interest waiver, which is an exemption from the job offer requirement.
    4. *If you are completing research that may have substantial merit and is of national importance, you may be eligible for a national interest waiver.
  1. You are a third preference immigrant worker if
    1. You are a skilled worker, meaning that your job requires a minimum of two years training or work experience;
    2. You are a professional, meaning that your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree, or a foreign equivalent, and you are a member of the profession; or
    3. You are an unskilled worker, meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than two years of training or experience.
  1. There are two unique categories of workers who are eligible for an employment green card.
    1. If you are a physician who agrees to work full-time in clinical practice in a designated underserved area for a set period of time, you may be eligible for a green card through employment.
    2. If you have invested or are in the process of investing at least $1,050,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. which will create a full-time position for at least 10 employees, you may be eligible for a green card through classification as an immigrant investor.
  1. Diversity Visa: Green Card Lottery

These green cards are based on ethnic diversity, with around 50,000 green cards being offered to people from countries who in recent years have sent the fewest immigrants to the United States. This program is also known as the green card lottery because recipients are chosen at random by a computer program. In order to qualify for the diversity visa lottery, you must register each year before the deadline announced by the Department of State.

  1. Refugees and Asylees

If you are a refugee, then you can apply for your green card one year after you entered the United States. Are you unsure of your status? To qualify as a refugee, you would have to had sought and been granted permission to enter the United States under refugee status. To qualify for refugee status, you must be seeking to escape persecution within your home country based on your race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.

If you are an asylee, you can apply for a green card one year after you were granted asylum in the United States. If you are unsure of whether you have been granted asylum in the United States, it would be best to reach out to an attorney and discuss this topic with them, as your undocumented status may raise legal complications and possibly result in deportation.

  1. Green Card as a Special Immigrant

There are several categories of green card applicants that are given special immigrant status, as listed below –

  • If you are a member of a religious denomination coming to the U.S. to work for a nonprofit religious organization, you may be qualified to apply as a religious worker.
  • If you are a retired officer or an employee of NATO, the OAS, IADB, IADC, IMF, United Nations, World Bank, INTELSAT, or ITSO, or are an eligible family member of such an employee – you may be qualified to apply for a green card.
  • If you are a juvenile who needs the protection of a juvenile court because you have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, then you may be qualified to apply as a special immigrant juvenile.
  • If you were an Afghan or Iraqi translator or interpreter for the U.S. government, were an Iraqi employed by or for the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for at least one year, or were an Afghan employed by the U.S. government or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), then you may be qualified to apply as an Afghanistan or Iraq national.
  • If you are coming to work in the U.S. as a member of the media for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), you may be qualified to apply as an international broadcaster.

The above are some of the most common green card categories. The green card application process can be difficult and confusing. Our team of experienced immigration attorneys here at KI Legal are dedicating to helping you achieve your goal of becoming a United States citizen and advocating for you each step of the way. If you are concerned about your immigration status, or want to learn more about what options are open to you, give us a call at (212) 404-8644 or email




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