Here are the main types of immigration statuses:

  • Citizen
  • Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) - green card
  • Non-Immigrant Visas
  • Humanitarian Visas
  • Undocumented
  • Deferred Action

Methods of Becoming a U.S. Citizen:

  • By birth in the U.S.
  • Naturalization - Apply for Citizenship (LPRs married to U.S. citizen are eligible after 3 years - other LPRs are eligible after 5 years), must pass English & Civics Tests
  • Acquisition - Birth to U.S. citizen abroad
  • Derivation – LPR child of a U.S. citizen

Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card)

- status granting foreign nationals the right to reside in the U.S. permanently and eventually apply to become a citizen. Certain actions can lead to an LPR being placed in removal proceedings and being deported to his or her home country.

Ok, here's where things get a little more complicated. In general, there are 2 ways of becoming a permanent resident: Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing. Adjustment of Status is the process of becoming a Legal Permanent Resident while inside the US. Consular Processing occurs through the US consulate outside the US (usually in the applicant’s home country). There are processes for obtaining through family members, employment and humanitarian-based cases.

For Family-based immigration, a US citizen or permanent resident may petition for the immigrant family member. The waiting period depends on the relationship between the two and the country of origin. For example, the processes for spouses is generally several years faster than applying for a sibling. Citizens may file for their spouses, fiancés, children, parents (if the petitioner is at least 21 years old), and siblings (if the petitioner is at least 21 years old). Permanent Residents can file for their spouses and children.

There are a number of bars from becoming an LPR including unlawful presence in the US (with some exceptions). Sometimes an applicant who is currently in the US will need to file a waiver or provisional waiver and go through consular processing to become a permanent resident.

LPRs are eligible to file for naturalization to become citizens after 5 years of permanent residence. It is only 3 years for LPRs married to US citizens. The naturalization process includes an English and Civics exam as well as showing good moral character and that you have been inside the US for at least half of the time the last 3 years without trips abroad of 6 months or more.