How Long Do I Have to Stay in the USA to Get a Green Card?

Green Card

Getting a green card is a big step for anyone who wants to live and work permanently in the United States. It’s important to understand the rules and requirements involved in this process. 


Knowing how long you need to stay in the USA and meeting the residency requirements can make a big difference in your journey to becoming a permanent resident.


In the below guide, we explain the key asylum application processes involved in getting your card. This includes tips on how to maintain your official immigration status and how to avoid complications.


Know Your Green Card – A Simple Introduction


Let’s get started with a simple introduction to Lawful Permanent Resident status. It’s important you understand exactly what this status is, and how the Green Card processes work.

What is a Green Card?


A green card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, allows you to live and work in the USA permanently. 


It is proof that you have legal permission to be in the country as a resident, not just as a visitor or temporary worker. 


Think of it as the next step after gaining asylum status. It gives you a more secure anchor into American society and allows you to build a more stable life. Typically, people seeking refuge in the US follow the path below:


  1. Application for asylum (Form I-589)
  2. Obtain Legal Permanent Residence (Form I-485)
  3. Gain U.S. Citizenship via Naturalization (Form N-400)


As you can see, it is the middle step, and the end goal for many is to become a U.S. citizen.


What Benefits Do You Gain From a Green Card?


With this card, you get many benefits. You can work anywhere in the USA without needing special permission and travel in and out of the country more easily. You can also eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. 


LPR status also gives you access to certain public benefits. It means you can also sponsor family members for their green cards. We’ve summarized the benefits below:


  • Ability to apply for citizenship.
  • Protection from being deported.
  • Protection under U.S. laws.
  • Simplified international travel.
  • Ability to live and work in the U.S.
  • Option to claim federal benefits.
  • Ability to sponsor family members for their applications


As you can see, LPR status is a big step up from asylum status. It allows you to integrate better into American society. You can also start to build a better, more secure life. Things like Green Card applications and sponsorship for family members mean the potential for reuniting too.

What are the Different Ways of Getting a Green Card?


There are several paths to getting a green card. The most common ways are through employment, family sponsorship, and the Diversity Visa Lottery. Some people also get green cards as refugees or asylees. Each path has its requirements and processes.


What are the Residency Requirements for Green Card Eligibility?

Green Card Lawyer

To be eligible for a green card, you must meet specific residency requirements. These rules are about how long you stay in the USA and how often you are present in the country. 


Some types of LPR status can be applied outside of the U.S. too. These do not have the same residency requirements. A Green Card attorney can give a consultation and help determine your eligibility. We also explain the basic principles below.

Continuous Presence Requirement


The continuous presence requirement means you need to live in the USA for a certain period without leaving for long trips. For most green cards, this means you cannot leave the country for more than six months at a time without special permission.


We advise against foreign travel during your approval period to avoid any potential setbacks. If it is essential, you must gain the correct authorization and a reentry permit. Failing to do some could mean you are detained on reentry or even denied entry into the U.S. Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document) is what you must complete for authorization to travel while an asylum seeker waiting for LPR approval.

Physical Presence Requirement


Physical presence means the actual time you are physically in the USA. For many green cards, you need to be physically present in the USA for at least half of the required residency period. This ensures you are truly making the USA your home.

What Factors Can Affect Your Green Card Eligibility?


Several factors can affect your eligibility for a green card. These include your current visa status, criminal record, and compliance with immigration laws. Even minor issues can delay or complicate your green card application, so it’s important to stay informed and follow the rules carefully.

Understanding the Different Green Card Scenarios


There are different scenarios and categories under which you can apply for a green card. Each one has specific requirements and processes. We’ve detailed the immigration services process for the different scenarios below.

Employment-Based Green Cards


Employment-based green cards are for people who have a job offer in the USA. These can be for skilled workers, professionals, or other types of employees. Your employer usually sponsors your application and proves that there are no qualified U.S. workers for the job. Employment-based Green Cards are split into three main categories:


  • First Preference (Priority workers, people with extraordinary abilities in a specific field).
  • Second Preference (People who hold advanced degrees or have exceptional ability).
  • Third Preference (Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers).

Family-Based Green Cards


Family-based green cards are for people who have close relatives in the USA who are citizens or permanent residents. Common examples include spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Your relative must sponsor you and show proof of the relationship. As with employment-based Green Cards, there are several categories of family-based Green Cards, such as the Green Card through marriage:


  • First Preference (Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of U.S. citizens).
  • Second Preference (Spouses and children under 21 of LPR residents).
  • Third Preference A (Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of LPR residents).
  • Third Preference B (Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens).
  • Fifth Preference (Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over 21).

Diversity Visa Lottery


The Diversity Visa Lottery is a program that randomly selects people from countries with low immigration rates to the USA. If you win the lottery, you can apply for a green card. 


The lottery has strict entry rules and deadlines, so it’s important to follow them carefully. You can manually submit an entry into the DVL via the official website. There is a limited period for submissions each year and you can only submit one entry per person.


If you are selected, you essentially have to go through the standard immigration process. This includes submitting an application form and supporting documents and attending an interview.


How to Maintain Your Legal Status While Waiting for Green Card Approval?

Green Card Permanent Residence

While waiting for your green card to be approved, it’s crucial to maintain your legal status in the USA. This means following the rules of your current visa and avoiding any actions that could jeopardize your application.

Why is it Important to Maintain Your Legal Status?


Maintaining your legal status is important because falling out of status can lead to serious consequences, including denial of your green card application. Staying in legal status ensures that you are complying with immigration laws and keeping your path to a green card clear.


Your legal status must be maintained once you have your Green Card too. For example, you cannot leave the U.S. for longer than 12 months with LPR status. This can only be extended to 24 months if you get a valid reentry permit before leaving the country.

Mistakes to Avoid That Could Harm Your Approval Chances


Avoid mistakes like overstaying your visa, working without authorization, or committing crimes. These actions can hurt your chances of getting a green card and may lead to deportation.


It’s also important to make sure you have authorization to travel, and a reentry permit before you leave the country. Failure to do so could cause your asylum status or Green Card to be rejected. In most instances, we advise avoiding foreign travel where possible while you wait for your LPR status to be approved.

How to Extend Your Temporary Visa if Needed


If your current visa is about to expire, you may need to extend it. This often involves applying for an extension with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and providing reasons for needing more time. It’s crucial to apply before your current visa expires to avoid falling out of status.


What are the Green Card Exceptions and Special Cases?


Some people may qualify for green cards under special circumstances. These exceptions can make the process faster or simpler. A Green Card lawyer can give you a consultation to see if you meet any of these special circumstances. We explain them briefly below.

Conditional Green Cards


Conditional green cards are given to certain people, like those who are newly married to U.S. citizens. These green cards are valid for two years. 


To remove the conditions, you must prove the legitimacy of your marriage within 90 days before the card expires. The USCIS has a useful calculator you can use to find out exactly when the 90-day limit has been reached.

Special Considerations for Refugees and Asylees


Refugees and asylees have unique paths to getting green cards. They can apply for a green card one year after being granted refugee or asylee status. This process is usually more straightforward but still requires meeting certain conditions.


Eligibility for a Green Card Permanent Residence as an asylee or refugee includes:


  • Filing Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).
  • Be physically present in the U.S. when applying.
  • You have been granted asylum by the USCIS.
  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 1 year after approval.
  • You have not firmly resettled in another country.
  • Your asylum status has not been terminated.

What Options Do You Have if You Face Unforeseen Circumstances?


If you face unforeseen circumstances, such as emergencies or changes in your situation, you may have options like applying for humanitarian relief or special waivers. These options can help you stay on track toward getting your green card.


Maintaining Your Green Card Requires Work and Dedication


Obtaining a green card requires understanding and meeting specific residency requirements. Continuous and physical presence in the USA are key factors, and maintaining your legal status is crucial. Navigating the green card process can be complex. Seeking guidance from an immigration attorney can help you avoid mistakes and understand your options better.


Pursuing permanent residency is a significant journey. Stay informed, be patient, and follow the rules carefully to achieve your goal of becoming a U.S. permanent resident. 


LPR status is your path to a more secure future in the United States. Once you have obtained it, you can start building your American dream. You gain more rights, benefits, and protections and can live with greater freedom.


What is a conditional green card, and how does it differ from a regular green card?


A conditional green card is a temporary, two-year green card given to certain new immigrants, like those recently married to a U.S. citizen. To convert it to a regular green card, you must prove the conditions of your status (like the legitimacy of your marriage) before it expires.

Are there any specific pathways for refugees and asylees to obtain a green card?


Yes, refugees and asylees can apply for a green card one year after being granted their status. Their path is usually more straightforward but still requires meeting specific conditions. Typically, you can apply for LPR status as an asylee after one year but your asylum attorney can clarify this.

What should I do if I encounter unexpected challenges during the green card process?


If you face unexpected challenges, seek advice from an immigration lawyer. They can help you understand your options, such as applying for special waivers or other forms of relief. An asylum lawyer also has an in-depth understanding of the U.S. immigration system and can provide vital support.

Can I work in the U.S. while waiting for my green card?


Yes, you can work in the U.S. while waiting for your green card if you have a valid work permit or visa that allows employment. Make sure you have the proper authorization to work. This is known as an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) and you can apply for it after 150 days of your asylum approval.

What should I do if my visa is about to expire while I’m waiting for my green card?


If your visa is about to expire, apply for an extension or a change of status with USCIS before it expires. This will help you maintain your legal status in the USA. If you have asylum status, this will never expire. It can be terminated if you breach the conditions of your status though.

Are there any activities or behaviors that could affect my green card application negatively?


Yes, activities like overstaying your visa, working without authorization, committing crimes, or failing to comply with immigration laws can negatively affect your green card application. Avoid these to keep your application on track.


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