Green Cards

Can someone who has lived in the US for over 12 years illegally obtain his or her green card?

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2009-09-15 02:34:45



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

    age 21

  • 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

the subcategories:

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

unskilled workers.

Employment Fourth Preference. Religious workers and

miscellaneous categories of workers and other "special immigrants"

(described below)

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

categories are:

  • clergy and other religious workers for legitimate religious


  • foreign medical graduates who have been in the United States

    since 1978

  • 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


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