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The 4 Routes to U.S. Permanent Residence

Find a Petitioner or Self-Petition?

In order for someone to legally "immigrate" to the U.S.A., (i.e. become a "U.S. permanent resident"), the process virtually always begins with the filing of some sort of "petition" with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

While some people are able to "self-petition", meaning they can independently file petitions requesting U.S. permanent residence, most petitions have to be filed by someone else, such as a U.S. employer (Employment-Based petition) or a relative (Family-Based petition).


It is this critical requirement of finding a "petitioner" that makes it challenging, but not impossible, to be given permission to live in the U.S.A. If you're considering immigrating to the U.S., it is not enough to find someone who is eager file a petition for you. Besides being willing to file a petition, which is indeed half the battle, the petitioner must be ELIGIBLE to file a petition for you.


For example, if your nephew is a U.S. citizen, he is not eligible to petition for you even though your adult American son would be able to do so. The same is true if your grandson or grandparent is a U.S. citizen and wants to petition for you. They are just not eligible to do so.


Self-Petition: Asylum and The "Green Card Lottery".

However, don't be too dismayed just yet. There are a couple of ways to immigrate to the U.S. whereby you don't need to have a petitioner. The first way is by requesting asylum, which will be discussed further below . The second is by being chosen in the annual "Diversity Immigrant Visa Program" (also called the "Green Card Lottery").


More Self-Petitions: Extraordinary Ability, National Interest Waiver, Widow(er) of American, or Victim of Spousal Abuse

Additionally, there are some Employment-Based Petitions that you can file on your own behalf (i.e. self-petition), but you'll need to show that you either have extraordinary ability or a "National Interest Waiver". There is more good news. You can also file some Family-Based Petitions on your own, such as if you are the widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, or were abused by your U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident spouse (VAWA) during your marriage.


There are many other exceptions as well which are too numerous for the purposes of this blog post. However, reach out and discuss your specific circumstances with a U.S. immigration lawyer in more detail to see if you qualify to apply for U.S. permanent residence on your own.


(Check the Comments Section at the bottom for the thoughts of other readers and consider leaving your own).


In the meantime, here are the four major ways by which the U.S. allows foreigners to move to the U.S.A. and call it home.




1. Employment-Based Petitions


U.S. law allows employers to petition for foreigner-employees to immigrate to the U.S. However, the employer needs to be "eligible" as previously mentioned. Over the years, so many foreigners become prematurely excited upon meeting potential employers in the U.S. who were not just willing, but eager to file petitions for them. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those employers, especially small businesses, were not eligible to file petitions because they were not making enough money. This happens often because small businesses consistently try to reduce their reported revenues in order to have lower tax burdens.


The downside to a small business lowering its tax bill is that it becomes much harder to show that it has the financial wherewithal to cover the foreigner's wages. This is where the dreams of many desirous immigrants are quickly crushed. However, for employers who are easily able to show that they can cover the wages of a potential hire, many petitions require them to prove that no U.S. worker is "ready, willing, and able" to do the job. If the employer advertises the vacancy and a "ready, willing, and able" U.S. worker applies for it, the employer cannot proceed to petition for the foreigner. The Employment-Based Petitions are divided up into the following five major categories.


EB-1: For persons who:

(a) possess extraordinary ability,

(b) are outstanding professor or researchers, or

(c) are managers or executives of multinational companies.


EB-2: For members of the professions holding advanced degrees or who have exceptional ability (including requests for "national interest waivers").


EB-3: For skilled workers, professionals, or other workers (such as people performing unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience).


EB-4: For a variety of persons, including religious workers, broadcasters, physicians, employees of international organizations (such as the United Nations), and members of the Armed Forces.


EB-5: For persons who want to make a major investment in the United States, as a result of which they anticipate ultimately creating jobs for at least ten U.S. workers. This is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Visa" program.




2. Family-Based Petitions


IR: Immediate Relative (IR) of an American:

U.S. citizens (who are at least 21 years of age) are eligible to petition for their spouses, parents, and minor children (who have not yet turned 21 years of age) to become U.S. permanent residents. (This process is one of the fastest ways by which foreigners can obtain permanent residence, sometimes in as little as four months from beginning to end).


F1 (First preference): unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of U.S. citizens;


F2A (Second preference): spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents (but be careful of the Preconceived Intent Doctrine);


F2B (Second preference): unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of lawful permanent residents (but be careful of the Preconceived Intent Doctrine);


F3 (Third preference): married sons and daughters (21 years of age and older) of U.S. citizens; and


F4 (Fourth preference): brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older).




3. Asylum


Foreigners must show that there is a “reasonable possibility” that they will be tortured in their home countries or persecuted on the basis of any of the following:

(a) race,

(b) religion,

(c) nationality,

(d) political opinion, or

(e) membership in a particular social group.


While many people claim that they would likely fall victim to crime in general upon being forced to return to their home countries, that is not an adequate basis upon which to request and be granted asylum in the U.S.




4. Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (called "The Green Card" Lottery)


The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program randomly awards up to to 50,000 immigrant visas to program entrants on an annual basis. The program begins accepting applications every October. In order to be eligible for a Diversity Immigrant visa, you must have the equivalent of a U.S. high school education or two years of work experience. See the U.S. Department of State's webpage.


Don't forget to leave your comments at the bottom, especially if you think that they may help other readers. Good luck with any of these immigration pathways that you ultimately decide to pursue.

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