Expand All | Collapse All

When we speak of the process of Immigration, we are talking about trying to obtain U.S. Permanent Residence for a foreign national – often someone already in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa. Permanent Residence means the same thing as a “Green Card” and some people correctly use these terms interchangeably. It does NOT refer to the process of obtaining U.S. Citizenship, also known as “Naturalization,” though many people will incorrectly talk about “getting citizenship” when they really just mean getting permanent residence/a green card. For a discussion of the difference between Citizenship/Naturalization and U.S. Permanent Residence, see our Permanent Residence vs. Citizenship FAQ.

There are many different pathways to permanent residence depending upon an individual’s own situation. Some individuals may qualify for several different ways of obtaining permanent residence, while some individuals may qualify for none at all. There are several broad groups of pathways:
Based upon employment
Based upon family relationship
Based upon the Diversity Visa Lottery
Based upon well-founded fear of persecution in a home country (Asylum)
Based upon a variety of other methods which apply to specific, if sometimes unusual, situations.

This depends greatly upon the method used to obtain permanent residence, but will rarely be less than a year and normally several times that long.

Nonimmigrant visas can normally be obtained in a fairly short time by comparison, and are the primary way most foreign nationals come to the U.S. and remain here while a permanent case is in process. Only certain nonimmigrant visas permit the foreign national to apply for permanent residence while here, and all nonimmigrant visas are for specific situations and allow only certain activities. A consultation with an immigration lawyer would be necessary to determine which nonimmigrant visas an individual might be eligible for, and of those which presents that individual with the most options overall.