US immigration law provides a special status for individuals who are not citizens but enjoy the right to live and work freely in this country. Individuals with this status are known as “permanent residents” (or “lawful permanent residents” or “resident aliens”). Permanent residents can enter and leave the US with very few restrictions, work at virtually any job that does not involve national security, sponsor certain family members for permanent residence, and later apply for US citizenship.

If you are a permanent resident you can later lose that status if you obtained that status by fraud, commit certain crimes, or live primarily outside the US. But only an immigration judge can strip you of your permanent resident status.If you are granted permanent residence, you will be given a document confirming that status that is about the size of a credit card and is informally known as a “green card.”

Obtaining permanent residence is not easy and often takes many years. Most often, you will need a sponsor to petition for you.That sponsor is called the “petitioner” and you, as the person seeking a green card, is referred to as the “beneficiary”. The sponsor is usually a close family relative or an employer or potential employer. You can be sponsored by several different family members and by a family member and an employer at the same time but even if you do qualify for sponsorship, it is only the first step in what we describe as a two-step process. The second step involves obtaining a green card, either through adjustment of status in the US or through consular processing abroad. A wide range of obstacles can arise between the first and second steps, including the possibility of many years of backlogs, the death or withdrawal of the petitioner, the presence of the three or ten-year bars, or the occurrence of numerous other “inadmissibility” factors, including criminal convictions, deportation orders, immigration fraud, and health or security related issues.

We briefly review these procedures below. They are discussed in greater detail elsewhere.

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