Obtaining a green card, which signifies your lawful permanent residence in the United States, comes with a number of benefits. It’s not the right choice for everyone, though.
With a green card, you can live or work anywhere in the United States. You’re allowed to change jobs as often as you’d like (or not have a job at all), and you can move from state to state without restriction. A green card is also the last step on the path to U.S. citizenship. Check out this guide to the pros and cons of obtaining a green card in the United States so you can make the right decision for your future.
Obtaining a Green Card in the United States
A green card enables many immigrants to begin their journey to full United States citizenship. Highly sought-after green cards grant their holders lawful permanent residency in the United States.
Although green card holders are not citizens, they may live and work in the country indefinitely. Learn about some of the benefits and drawbacks of green cards so you can make a decision that’s right for your future.
The Benefits of a Green Card
Green card holders, also known as lawful permanent residents, enjoy benefits that visa holders do not receive, including the following.
- If you have a green card, you can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years (three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen).
- With a green card of your own, you may sponsor certain relatives for visas or green cards.
- A green card enables you to travel in and out of the U.S. more easily.
- You’ll be eligible for local tuition, which means you’ll spend less money on college, university, or vocational school tuition.
- You can simply renew a green card every 10 years.
- A green card makes you eligible to make financial contributions to U.S. elections, which means you can support candidates that have policies that will make your life easier or that you otherwise agree with.
In addition to being granted these rights, green card holders are also expected to uphold their responsibilities, including the following:
- Obey all laws of the U.S. states and localities.
- File income tax returns and report income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities.
- Support the democratic form of government and not to change the government through illegal means.
- Register with the Selective Service, if you’re a male and between the ages of 18 and 25. The Selective Service is a registry of military-aged men who can be called to serve the United States in the event of a military emergency.
The Drawbacks to a Green Card
One of the few drawbacks to being a green card holder is that you do not have the full rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, which include the following:
- Have the right to vote.
- Get priority in sponsoring family members for green cards.
- Obtain citizenship for children born outside the U.S.
- Become an elected official.
- Travel with a U.S. passport.
- Receive full protection from deportation.
Although these aren’t necessarily drawbacks, they are things that you can only do if you take the next step and become a naturalized U.S. citizen. You cannot do any of these things with a green card.
Green Card Eligibility Requirements
In order to apply for a green card, you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Typically, most immigrants receive a green card through family or through employment. You can also obtain a green card as the victim of abuse, as a special immigrant, through registry, or through refugee or asylum status.
The following are the main eligibility requirements to obtain a green card:
- Be the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, which includes being the spouse of a U.S. citizen, an unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, or the parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old.
- Be another relative of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident under the family-based preference categories.
- Be the fiance(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiance(e)’s child.
- Be the widow(er) of a U.S. citizen.
- Be an immigrant worker or investor or have a physician national interest waiver.
To view the full green card eligibility requirements from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), click here.
Who Cannot Obtain a Green Card?
Davis & Associates’ founder and lead attorney, Garry Davis, answered this question perfectly in The Attorney At Law Magazine:
People often ask me how difficult it is to obtain a green card. In typical lawyer fashion, I generally answer, ‘It depends.’
For someone with a significant criminal record or a string of deportations on his or her record, it will be near impossible for that person to obtain a green card.
For someone who entered the United States legally, has never had any issues with law enforcement and has always maintained a perfect immigration record, it would not be as challenging. Many of my clients are somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
Green Card With a Criminal Record
The most obvious bar to immigrating to the United States is a criminal record. Not all crimes have immigration consequences, but any encounter with law enforcement will have to be documented before a green card would be granted.
Any drug-related offense, other than one offense for simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana, is likely to result in a permanent bar to a green card.
Any offense deemed a “crime involving moral turpitude” may also result in a bar with the exception of a petty offense for a relatively minor misdemeanor.
Other offenses that may result in a bar to obtaining a green card include prostitution, drug and people trafficking.
Non-drug related offenses that do not involve moral turpitude, such as disorderly conduct and strict liability crimes, or crimes of negligence, generally will not have immigration consequences.
Under current law, driving under the influence or while intoxicated generally does not factor into a green card decision.
Also, attempts and conspiracy to commit crimes count as though they were the crimes themselves and potentially carry the same consequences. Finally, a plea of guilty or no contest and punishment are equal to a finding of guilt for immigration consequences, even if the criminal case is ultimately dismissed.
Those who have or whom the government has reason to believe have engaged in terrorist activity are not eligible for immigration benefits. The bar includes any spouse or children of that person. Terrorist activity is defined very broadly and no intent to participate in a terrorist organization or activity is required.
Green Card after Deportation, Fraud or with Medical Problems
In addition to criminal records, immigration history can create challenges for those seeking permanent residence in the United States. For example, someone who has been deported from the United States, either at inspection, by the immigration authorities inside the United States or by an immigration judge, will create a bar to returning to the United States or becoming a permanent resident. The bar will be either five, 10 or 20 years depending on the section of law under which the person was ordered deported from the United States.
Overstaying a period of admission also creates a bar to immigrating to the United States. The bar will be either three or 10 years depending on the length of overstay. For someone who has been deported from the United States for unlawful overstay of more than one year and who leaves the United States and re-enters illegally, will received a lifetime bar to immigrating to the United States. The only possible exception is a potential waiver for someone who has been outside the United States for at least 10 years without returning to the country illegally.
One of the cardinal sins in immigration law is fraud. Everything centers on an applicant’s credibility. Any fraud or misrepresentation for any legal benefit creates a bar to a green card. For someone who makes a false claim to U.S. citizenship for any legal benefit, a lifetime bar is received without waiver.
Certain medical issues can also bar a person from becoming a permanent resident, such as communicable disease, a lack of required vaccinations, drug abuse or addiction, or mental health issues that result in the person being found to be dangerous to others.
For some of these issues, a waiver is available, but not guaranteed to be approved. A waiver is a discretionary application processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. An applicant must establish that failure to grant the applicant permanent residence will result in extreme hardship to qualifying family members.
Taking the Final Step From a Green Card to Naturalized Citizenship
If you have a U.S. green card, you can apply for naturalization. Naturalization is the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, with all the same rights and responsibilities that other U.S. citizens have.
When you become a U.S. citizen, you keep all the benefits you enjoyed under a green card, such as the right to qualify for local tuition at school, make financial contributions to U.S. elections, and travel in and out of the United States more easily. You may also sponsor certain relatives for green cards or visas. However, you gain new benefits, as well. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you may:
- Vote in elections
- Get priority in sponsoring family members for green cards
- Obtain citizenship for your children born outside the United States
- Become an elected official
- Travel with a United States passport
- Receive full protection from deportation
You can become a naturalized U.S. citizen if you:
- Are at least 18 years old at the time you file your application
- Have been a lawful permanent resident (green card-holder) for the past three or five years (depending on which naturalization category you are applying under)
- Have continuous residence and presence in the U.S.
- Can demonstrate good moral character
- Can read, write and speak basic English
- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and the U.S.’s form of government
- Demonstrate loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
- Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States
Many people choose to work with a Dallas or Houston immigration attorney to apply for naturalization. In order to start your petition, you’ll need to gather a series of documents to support your petition. Your attorney can give you the guidance you need to get the process started, and he or she can fill out and file your paperwork for you. For many immigrants, the process of becoming a naturalized citizen is easy. However, U.S. immigration law can be complicated – especially if you have extenuating circumstances – and it may be best for you to work with an experienced attorney who understands the latest developments in immigration law.
Interested in a Green Card? Contact Us Today
There are many reasons and incentives to obtain a green card, either for yourself or for a loved one. At Davis & Associates, our immigration attorneys can help you through the process and ensure everything is filed properly. We understand the significant benefits that come with being a lawful permanent resident, and we want to help you achieve this immigration status. We provide the reliable counsel and compassionate guidance you need to reach this goal.
About Davis & Associates:
Davis & Associates is the immigration law firm of choice in Houston & North Texas including Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and surrounding areas. Their attorneys provide expert legal counsel for all aspects of immigration law, including deportation defense, writs of habeas corpus and mandamus, family-sponsored immigration, employment-sponsored immigration, investment immigration, employer compliance, temporary visas for work and college, permanent residence, naturalization, consular visa processing, waivers, and appeals. Attorney Garry L. Davis is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Dallas Contact Info:
Address: 17750 Preston Road Dallas, TX 75252
Houston Contact Info: Address: 6220 Westpark Dr, Suite 110, Houston, TX 77057
Phone: (832) 742-0066