Immigration Law

What is a Green Card?

A United States Permanent Resident Card, known popularly as Green Card, is an identification card for a permanent resident of the United States of America who does not have U.S. citizenship. It is proof that the holder has permission to permanently reside and take employment in the U.S.


An immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process to get the green card, which entitles him/her to live and work permanently in the United States. The whole process may take several years depending on the type of application and the country of origin.

In the first step, USCIS approves the immigrant petition by a qualifying relative, an employer, or in rare cases such as with an investor visa, the applicant.

Second, unless the applicant is an “immediate relative”, an immigrant visa number through the State Department must be available. This number might not be immediately available even if the USCIS approves the petition because the amount of immigrant visa numbers is limited every year. There are also certain additional limitations by country. Thus, most immigrants will be placed on lengthy waiting lists. Those immigrants who are immediate relatives are not subjected to the limited quotas of immigrant visas and may proceed to the next step immediately. Immediate relatives are defined as spouses and children under 21 of U.S. citizens, and parents of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or over.

Finally, when an immigrant visa number is available, the applicant must apply with USCIS to adjust their current status to permanent resident status. If the applicant is outside the U.S., he/she has to apply for an immigrant visa at the nearest U.S. consulate before being allowed to come to the U.S.

What is a Visa?

If you’re a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you’ll need a visa to enter the United States.

A visa doesn’t permit entry to the U.S., however. A visa simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer has determined you’re eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. Consular affairs are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State.

A visa allows you to travel to the United States as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) and ask the immigration officer to allow you to enter the country. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States. He or she decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant.

Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis – for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to go to the U.S. on a temporary basis – for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.

U.S. law requires that people who apply for nonimmigrant visas provide evidence that they don’t intend to immigrate to the United States. It’s up to consular officers at U.S. embassies and consulates to determine eligibility on an individual basis on the merits of each case. Providing requested documents does not guarantee that you will receive a visa. There is no entitlement to a visa.

And, because each person’s personal situation is different, people applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. Under U.S. law, the authority to issue or refuse visas is vested solely in consular offices abroad. Consular officers have the authority to decide whether the evidence submitted in support of an application is sufficient to establish an applicant’s eligibility for a visa. Consular officers may request additional information or documentation depending on their assessment of each person’s situation.