Grabbing the Brass Ring
ITIPress.org - Donna Scarlatelli is a partner at Bander & Scarlatelli,
P.A., Immigration Law Firm with over 24 years of practice
Many clients come to us and have been lead to believe that green cards are
hard to get - unless you cheat and marry a U.S. citizen just to get the
green card. Unless you are a professional. Unless you have a unique skill.
Unless you have lots of money. None of these restrictions are true.
Everyone and anyone can get a green card. There are basically only 3
“unless” circumstances: (1) unless you have a serious criminal history,
(2) unless you lie to the Government, and (3) unless you don’t act quickly
enough, wait too long and stay here longer than the Government allowed.
And for some of these three, there are solutions.
There are 4 ways to get a green card:
Through the sponsorship of a close relative who is a U.S. citizen or holds
a green card. I mean close - like a spouse, maybe a parent, maybe an adult
child - nothing more distant than a brother or sister.
Through the offer of a job with a U.S. employer. Or with the same idea but
the actual offer of employment is not necessary because you are so
extraordinary and talented that the Government will overlook the actual
offer of a job because we want you here.
Through asylum- once the Government has granted you refuge in the United
Through the annual diversity green card lottery.
There is a fifth way. But first you have to be in deportation and win your
case before the judge. Not something to be recommended but avoided.
Let’s go through some of the details of these 4 ways to get a green card:
Every country in the world gets the same number of green cards assigned,
approximately 20,000. It’s a bit more complicated than that - but
essentially this is the idea. These 20,000 are broken down into
categories, classifications or priorities. Some categories have more
applicants than there are green cards available. Similarity, some
countries have more applicants than there are green cards available. So
some people, depending on what category they fall into or what country
they are from, have to wait until their place in the line comes up.
For example, for sponsors who only have green cards themselves and are not
citizens of the United States, the wait for their relatives who are
applying for their own green cards can be long- as much as an average of 5
or even 7 years. Even for the spouse. And these green card holders can not
sponsor their parents, their brothers or sisters or their married
U.S. citizens can sponsor parents, children (married or unmarried) and
siblings as well as spouses. For spouses, parents and unmarried children
under 21 the line is relatively short. Green cards can be given as quickly
as the Government can do its processing - usually inside of 18 months with
employment authorization granted inside of 90 days.
But even U.S. citizens who sponsor their adult children, married or
single, will have to wait for several years to have their relatives join
them as green card holders. And their brothers and sisters may have to
wait as much as 18 years!
The Government spends lots of money in its budget to investigate marriages
it suspects are fake. When a couple goes for their interview at the local
offices of the USCIS (formerly the INS) they must be prepared to be
questioned as to the legitimacy of their marital relationship. The USCIS
will want to see documents that show the couple has begun a life together.
They look for joint bank accounts, proof of insurance together, leases or
property held in both names, joint credit cards - things like that. Of
course, a baby born to the couple is often the best proof that the couple
married for what the Government calls “love an affection.” So, take heed
of this warning: fake marriages are a “no-no.”
Now not everyone can find a U.S. citizen to fall in love with. For some
people, it is out of the question - they are already married! But just
about everyone can find a job and an employer who is willing to help them
grasp that brass ring- the green card.
The employer has to be a U.S. employer. In other words, a U.S. citizen or
a green card holder if it’s a private employer - like a home for a
domestic worker. Or a U.S. company, meaning a company that is organized
and registered in the U.S. That company can be owned by foreigners - even
by foreigners who are illegal. It’s still a U.S. company.
But it can not be your own company. That is because for this process there
must be an “employer-employee” relationship. If it’s your company, you
can’t fire yourself! And the U.S. employer must be able to pay you the
salary or wages that the Government is going to tell you are normally
required for that kind of a job.
This process is called a “labor certification.” That means that the U.S.
employer is going to run some ads in the newspaper as a test of the U.S.
job market to see if it can find qualified, available and willing American
workers. Once the employer has done this and files its application with
the State Department of Labor, if the employer has does it correctly, then
the Labor Department will “certify” that the job market has been tested
and no American workers were to be found. The Government will issue a
certification which functions like a clearance for the employer to now
move to the next step - the sponsorship petition to the USCIS.
Labor certification is not easy and it must be done well. I always explain
to my clients that this is like constructing a building - if this
foundation is not laid properly the building will collapse. It is the most
important part of the green card process and the most complicated - but it
can and is done every day for hundreds of thousands of families.
We’ll discuss all of the details of the labor certification process in
another article. For now, just remember that this is an equal opportunity
for all. The job market is being tested for American workers. If the
employer finds another illegal worker, another foreign worker, that does
not count. So, for many unskilled or less-skilled kinds of jobs, it is
sometimes easier to get a labor certification. These jobs are not
attractive to U.S. workers and none apply.
Getting a green card through asylum is easy once you have won asylum. But
the hard part is winning asylum in the first place! One year after you win
asylum, either by the USCIS or the Judge, you can apply for the green
card. But there is a long line because the category has a small share of
the 20,000 green cards each year. So, the line can be as long as 7 years!
And the diversity green card lottery is just that- a lottery. It’s a game
of chance. You play the game and if you are lucky, maybe you’ll grab that
brass ring and win yourself a green card!
Now, those are the basic ways you can qualify for a green card. But no
matter how you qualify, you always end up at the same last step: making
your personal application for that green card. There are 2 ways that can
If you are in the United States and are legally here - have never broken
the immigration laws like maybe overstaying your time the Government gave
you to stay, working without permission or maybe not working for the
employer whom you were supposed to work for - then the Government grants
you a privilege. That privilege is to finish the green card process in the
U.S. Under the current law, the only people who get this privilege who
have violated the U.S. immigration laws are those who marry U.S. citizens
after they originally came here legally or the minor unmarried children or
parents of U.S. citizens who also originally came here legally. For
everybody else, let’s take a look at #2:
If you are not in the United States or if you are not here legally, then
you can still qualify to claim your green card. But you can not complete
the process in the U.S. You will have to have an interview at the American
Consulate in your home country and enter the U.S. to be granted the green
card. That means that if you are here, but not legally, then you will have
to leave, go to the Consulate and re-enter the U.S. to get the green card.
Now, pay attention! If you have overstayed the period of time the
Government gave you to stay in the country, and then you leave, you can
not come back to the United States for 3 or even 10 years! So, if the only
way you can make that personal application to claim your green card once
you qualify through one of the ways we talked about above, is to leave,
well then you have a problem because you can’t come back! This is why it
is so important to start the green card process early in your visit to the
United States. You want to be sure that you are going to be able to grab
that brass ring and claim that prize. After all, this prize requires time,
effort, planning and money. You don’t want to waste these resources only
to find out you’ve come close but can’t quite close your fingers around
Before April 30, 2001 there was a special section in the law that allowed
people who were illegally in the United States to finish the process here
by paying a $1000 fine instead of having to leave to claim the green card.
As long as you got your first sponsorship papers filed with the Government
by that date, you could be included in this special law. That may apply to
some of you reading this. If so, you are the smart ones and the lucky
ones. You have an excellent chance to claim your ultimate big prize- the
"For every difficulty that supposedly stops a person from succeeding
there are thousands, who have had it a lot worse and have succeeded
anyway. So can you." – Brian Tracy