Can someone who has lived in the US for over 12 years illegally obtain his or her green card?
The unlawfully present foreign national will be required to
voluntary leave the US or be deported to their country of
Due to their unlawful length of stay he or she will be barred
for applying for reentry into the US for 10 years.
The exception would be if the foreign national qualifies as a
refugee or asylee.
The above answer is both misleading and incorrect. The
CORRECT answer is:
Who Qualifies for a Green Card (Permanent Residence)
Categories of people who can apply for a green card, to make
their home in the U.S.
A green card identifies its holder as a U.S. permanent resident,
with rights to enter, exit, work, and live here for their entire
life. But before you think about applying, make sure you're
eligible under one of the following categories.
1. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
Immediate relatives include:
- spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and
- unmarried people under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen
- parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is at least
- stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage
creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before
the child's 18th birthday, and
- adopted children of U.S, if the adoption took place before the
child reached age 16.
An unlimited number of green cards are available for immediate
relatives whose U.S. citizen relatives petition for them --
applicants can get a green card as soon as they get through the
paperwork and application process. For more information, see Nolo's
articles on Sponsoring a Fiancé or Spouse for a Green Card or
Sponsoring a Family Member for a Green Card. Also see the book
Fiancé & Marriage Visas: A Couple's Guide to U.S. Immigration ,
by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
2. Other Family Members
Certain family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents
are also eligible for green cards -- but not right away. They fall
into the "preference categories" listed below, meaning that only a
certain number of them will receive green cards each year
(480,000). The system is first come, first served -- the earlier
the U.S. citizen or permanent resident turns in a visa petition,
the sooner the immigrant can apply for a green card. The waits
range from approximately three to 24 years in the family preference
categories, which include:
- Family First Preference. Unmarried adults, age 21 or older, who
have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
- Family Second Preference. Section 2A: Spouses and unmarried
children of a green card holder, so long as the children are
younger than age 21. Section 2B: Unmarried children age 21 or older
of a green card holder.
- Family Third Preference. Married people, any age, who have at
least one U.S. citizen parent.
- Family Fourth Preference. Sisters and brothers of U.S.
citizens, where the citizen is age 21 or older.
For more information, see Nolo's articles Sponsoring a Fiancé or
Spouse for a Green Card or Sponsoring a Family Member for a Green
Card. Also see the book How to Get a Green Card , by Ilona Bray
3. Preferred Employees and Workers
A total of 140,000 green cards are offered each year to people
whose job skills are needed in the U.S. market. In most cases, a
job offer is also required, and the employer must prove that it has
recruited for the job and not found any willing, able, qualified
U.S. citizens or residents to hire instead of the immigrant.
Because of annual limits, this is a "preference category," and
applicants often wait years for an available green card. Here are
Employment First Preference. Priority workers, including:
- persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, the sciences,
education, business, or athletics
- outstanding professors and researchers, and
- managers and executives of multinational companies.
Employment Second Preference. Professionals with advanced
degrees or exceptional ability.
Employment Third Preference. Professionals and skilled or
Employment Fourth Preference. Religious workers and
miscellaneous categories of workers and other "special immigrants"
Employment Fifth Preference. Investors willing to put $1 million
into a U.S. business -- or $500,000 if the business is in an
economically depressed area. The business must employ at least ten
For more information, see Nolo's article Sponsoring a Worker for
a Green Card: Employer's Tasks. Or get the book U.S. Immigration
Made Easy , by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
4. Green Card Lotteries: Ethnic Diversity
A certain number of green cards (currently 50,000) are made
available to people from countries that in recent years have sent
the fewest immigrants to the United States. For more information,
see Nolo's article Winning a Green Card Through the Visa Lottery.
Also see the book U.S. Immigration Made Easy , by Ilona Bray
5. Special Immigrants
Occasionally, laws are passed making green cards available to
people in special situations. The current special immigrant
- clergy and other religious workers for legitimate religious
- foreign medical graduates who have been in the United States
- former employees of the Panama Canal Zone
- foreign workers who were longtime employees of the U.S.
- retired officers or employees of certain international
organizations who have lived in the United States for a certain
- foreign workers who were employees of the U.S. consulate in
Hong Kong for at least three years
- foreign children who have been declared dependent in juvenile
courts in the United States
- international broadcasting employees, and
certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces who enlisted overseas
and served 12 years.
6. Refuge and Political Asylum
The U.S. government offers refuge to people who fear, or have
experienced, persecution in their home country. A person still
outside the United States would apply to be a refugee; a person
already here would apply for asylum.
The persecution must be based on the person's race, religion,
nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular
social group. If you are fleeing only poverty or random violence,
you do not qualify in either category.
For more information, see either How to Get a Green Card or U.S.
Immigration Made Easy , both by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
7. Amnesty and Special Agricultural Worker Status
Years ago, a green card based on "amnesty" was offered to people
who had been living in the United States illegally since January 1,
1982. There was a similar amnesty for laborers who worked in the
fields for at least 90 days between May 1, 1985 and May 1, 1986.
Although the application deadlines have long passed, certain class
action lawsuits mean that some applications haven't yet been
decided on. See an attorney if you should have qualified.
In 1997, Congress added an amnesty for Nicaraguans and Cubans,
called the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act
(NACARA). Some provisions also benefit Salvadorans, Guatemalans,
and Eastern Europeans. The deadline for filing applications has
8. Long-Time Residents
The law allows certain people who have lived illegally in the
United States for more than ten years to request permanent
residence, usually as a defense in immigration court proceedings.
You must also show that your spouse, parent, or children -- who
must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents -- would face
"extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship" if you were
forced to leave. Consult a lawyer if you think you qualify. Do not
go straight to USCIS -- you could cause your own deportation.
Another remedy called "registry" allows people who have lived in
the United States continuously since January 1, 1972 to apply for a
green card. You'll need to show that you have good moral character
and are not inadmissible. Your stay in the United States need not
have been illegal -- time spent on a visa counts. For more
information, see the book How to Get a Green Card , by Ilona Bray
9. Special Cases
Individual members of the U.S. Congress have, on occasion,
intervened for humanitarian reasons in extraordinary cases, helping
someone get permanent residence even if the law would not allow