Law Offices of Chris M. Ingram

American Dream – Green Cards v.s Other Types of Immigration Visas

Green Cards vs. Other Types of Immigration Visas

When we first think about immigrating to the US one thing most people would have heard about is the importance of getting a green card. It’s as if obtaining a green card is some how obtaining the Holy Grail of immigration to the US. In many ways this would not be far from the truth.

Basically, a green card, as commonly called, (although it’s actually now pink in color), is identification for a permanent resident alien (PRA). The green card visa enables the holder to stay in the US for any legal purpose for life. A green card holder can work for himself or herself, for any employer or simply retire. A green card holder has nearly all the rights and privileges of an American citizen. Green card holders do not however have the right to vote in any election.

Once you have a green card you can become a naturalized citizen within three to five years: three years if you marry an American and five years if your acquired green status by any other means.

So getting a green card is a very important achievement. Outside of acquiring your green card through employment yo u can be sponsored for green card status if you have a parent, brother of sister or child over 21 who is an American citizen. However, it must be said that if you are looking to being sponsored by a brother or sister this process can take years, perhaps 10 years on average. Also, parents can sponsor their children into the US. This process is very fast if the child is under 21 as they can be considered as dependents. However the process can be somewhat longer if the child is over 21. Children over 21 will still be processed a lot faster than brothers or sisters since the family link is deemed much closer.

For all people who do not have immediate family members in the US as citizens there are a number of ways to enter the US by way of various types of visas. It is important to say at this point that relocation to the US and the process to achieving permanent resident status should be seen as a long journey that thousands of people currently in the US are still looking to complete. This journey can take many years to complete. So think of the first visa you get as just a step on a very long road.

All visas that do not grant permanent resident status are called non-immigrant visas. Some visas allow you to have what is called ‘dual intent’ when you apply for a particular visa. This is a very significant situation.

Let’s say, for example, that you wanted to enter the US for good, but chose to enter on a 90-day visa waiver. This would not be a legal way to enter and permanently stay in the US. The 90-day visa waiver only allows you to have one intent when you enter the US and that one intent is that within the 90-day period you will return to your home country.

Let’s say that you applied for a six months visa, but you had the overall intention that from this visa you would progress onto another visa and another until you got a green card. If this long-term intention was declared, (whether on the application form or at any subsequent immigration interview), when you applied for your six-month visa this would be denied because that particular visa does not allow dual intent, i.e., the dual intent that you will return to your home country at the end of your visa period, or you will stay in the US longer if you become eligible for a green card.

In contrast, some visas do allow the applicant to have this dual intent, and even if the applicant declares that if they become eligible for a green card they would want to take it, this would not hinder their application because that visa caters for dual intent. So unless the visa you apply for will allow you to have a dual intent, always think of yourself as a temporary visitor first and keep the dream of becoming a permanent resident to yourself.

In truth, once in the US on one visa you can switch to other non-permanent immigrant visas until you obtain a visa that does allow dual intent and then you can apply for your green card without compromising your current visa status. It’s all about stepping-stones, and this is where hiring a good attorney can really be useful. A good attorney will be able to plot out a short-term, mid-term and long-term strategy that will enable you to complete the entire journey.

This relocation guide will focus mainly on the actual practical steps to relocation such as how to prepare yourself and your family for an adjustment in life-style as opposed to writing a detailed legal guide on US immigration law. This guide will educate you on many of the real life issues you need to start thinking about now and after you arrive in the US.