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Are you eligible for a green card?

With all the talk about immigration reform, you may be wondering if the path to life in the United States is open to you. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are many ways you may qualify to apply for a green card - the documentation that allows you to live here as a permanent resident. However, there are limits to the number of visas that are granted each year in most cases, and your preference classification may make the difference in whether your application will be considered.

Employment eligibility

Your profession may make you an extremely valuable asset to the country. If you have made notable research contributions to a field, have an ability that is extraordinary or are an executive in a multinational company, for example, you may be given first preference for a green card. Having an advanced degree or a particular skill or qualification may result in second or third preference, depending on the type of work or service you are able to offer. You may be considered as a fourth or fifth preference if you are a religious worker, an investor or an entrepreneur.

Family eligibility

Having a family member who is a U.S. citizen may be the easiest path to a green card, although this depends on how closely you are related. For example, if your child over the age of 21 or your spouse is a citizen, then you are not sorted into a preference list to wait for one of the available visas. You also do not have to wait if you are 20 years old or younger and unmarried and your parent is a citizen. If you are a child of a citizen, 21 or older and unmarried, you must wait for an available visa, but you are considered first.

Even if your spouse or parent is a permanent resident rather than a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for second preference. Third and fourth preferences are for citizens' married children and siblings, as well as the spouses and minor children of these relatives.

Other programs and paths

As a refugee or asylee, you may be eligible to apply for a green card, although you must have been in the country under this status for a full year. Derivative spouses and children may also qualify. In addition, there are programs for battered spouses and children, spouses of deceased citizens and victims of trafficking, as well as special job categories including members of the armed forces, some translators and employees of certain international organizations.

Because there are so many possibilities, you should not decide you are ineligible until you speak with an immigration lawyer. Once you know which category of eligibility you are in, an attorney can assist you in gathering required documentation and filling out the application so you do not miss your chance of a green card on a technicality.

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