Immigration

Immigration Green Card FAQs


Q: Does the fiance(e) visa automatically change to an alien registration card (green card)?


  • A:No. After the marriage takes place, the U.S. citizen must contact Immigration and Naturalization Service to change the alien spouse's status to legal permanent resident. This information is given to the alien fiance(e) upon his/her entry to the U.S.


Q: How can an alien become a legal permanent resident or green card holder?


  • A:To become a legal permanent resident, an alien must first be admitted as an immigrant. There are two basic methods for obtaining an immigrant visa:

    • Through family relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, or
    • Through employment


Q: How can I enter the visa or green card lottery?


  • A:The Visa Office has set up a hotline at 202-331-7199 with recorded information on the visa lottery. Winners are notified by the National Visa Center. Those who are not notified can assume they were not selected and can re-enter the following year.


Q: How can I find out when an immigrant visa number will be available for me?


  • A:Each approved visa petition is placed in chronological order according to the date the visa petition was filed. The date the visa petition was filed is known as your "priority date." The State Department publishes a bulletin that shows the month and year of the visa petitions they are working on by country and preference category. You can estimate the amount of time it will take to get an immigrant visa number by comparing your priority date with the date listed in the bulletin. For instance, suppose you look under your country and preference category, and see that the State Department is working on applications they received in May 1996. If your priority date is May 1998, then you may have to wait several more years for an immigrant visa number to become available. You may access the State Department Visa Bulletin at the State Department's Website, http://travel.state.gov/visa_bulletin.html, or you may call the Department of State Visa Office at (202) 663-1541, to learn which priority dates are currently being processed.


Q: How can I get the Visa Bulletin?


  • A:The Visa Bulletin is available under the Visa Services Home page, http://travel.state.gov/visa_services.html. You may also dial 202-647-3000 from your fax machine. The document number is 1038.


Q: How do I apply for an immigrant visa number?


  • A:You don't directly apply for an immigrant visa number. In most cases, your relative or employer sends a visa petition to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS) for you (the beneficiary) to become an immigrant. (Certain applicants such as priority workers, investors, certain special immigrants, and diversity immigrants can petition on their own behalf.)

    INS will tell the person who filed the visa petition (the "petitioner") if the visa petition is approved. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS) will then send the approved visa petition to the Department of State's National Visa Center, where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The Center will notify you (the beneficiary of the application) when the visa petition is received and again when an immigrant visa number is available. You don't need to contact the National Visa Center, unless you change your address or there is a change in your personal situation that may affect your eligibility for an immigrant visa. You may contact the National Visa Center by writing to: The National Visa Center; 32 Rochester Avenue, Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03801-2909.


Q: I lost my "green card." What should I do?


  • A:You need to call the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS), who issues green cards to legal permanent residents.


Q: Is there a waiting period to receive a visa number?


  • A:U.S. law limits the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available every year. This means that even if the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS) approves an immigrant visa petition for you, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In some cases, several years could pass between the time the Bureau approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. In addition, U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country. This means you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas.


Q: What are the eligibility requirements for getting a Permanent Resident Card?


  • A:If you want to become an immigrant, you must go through a three-step process:

    • The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS) must approve an immigrant petition for you, which is usually filed by an employer or a relative for you
    • A visa number, through the State Department must be immediately available to you, even if you are already in the United States. If you receive an immigrant visa number, it means that an immigrant visa has been assigned to you.
    • If you're already in the United States, you may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available for you. (If you are outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available for you, you must then go to your local U.S. consulate to complete your processing.)


Q: What documents are required for the immigrant visa interview?


  • A:Requirements may differ slightly from post to post, but the basic requirements include: a passport, three photographs, birth and police certificates, marriage, divorce, or death certificates, proof of financial support, and medical examination. More detailed information would have to come from the National Visa Center or the processing post.


Q: What is a "priority date?"


  • A:The priority date, in the case of a relative immigrant visa petition, is the date the petition was filed. In the case of an employer-sponsored petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification was filed with the Department of Labor. The Visa Bulletin - under the Visa Services homepage - gives the changes in availability of priority dates.


Q: What is the difference between an immediate relative petition and a preference petition?


  • A:An immediate relative petition can be filed by a U.S. citizen on behalf of a spouse, parent, or child. A preference petition is filed by:

    • A U.S. citizen on behalf of a son or daughter
    • A legal permanent resident on behalf of a spouse, son or daughter, or child
    • An employer on behalf of an employee


Q: What is the process for obtaining an immigrant visa?


  • A:An alien must be sponsored by a relative or employer, who files the appropriate petition with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (previously INS). The Bureau approves the petition, and it is forwarded to the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Visa Center then informs the beneficiary that an approved petition has been received and provides instructions on next steps. As soon as a visa number is available on a preference petition or as soon as the Bureau approves an immediate relative petition, the National Visa Center sends the beneficiary instructions on the next steps to take.


Q: What is the waiting time for an immigrant visa after the National Visa Center or the foreign service post receives the approved petition?


  • A:Several factors influence how long the process may take. Immediate relative visas aren't numerically limited by statute so, workload permitting, the post may begin processing the approved petition upon receipt. Preference visas are numerically limited, so the post must wait until the priority date on the petition is available before starting to process the case. The major reason for lengthy waits, priority dates that are months or several years earlier than your inquiry, is the fact that each year many more people apply for immigrant visas than can be satisfied under the annual numerical limit set by law for preference cases. Certain categories, such as the family fourth preference, are heavily oversubscribed.


Q: Who is eligible?


  • A:People who want to become immigrants are divided into categories based on a preference system. The immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (which includes parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) don't have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available once the INS approves the application filed for them. An immigrant visa number will be immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. The relatives in the remaining categories must wait for a visa to become available according to the following preferences:

    • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. Adult means 21 years of age or older
    • Second Preference: Spouses of lawful permanent residents, and the unmarried sons and daughters (regardless of age) of lawful permanent residents and their children
    • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children
    • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children

    All people who want to become immigrants based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:


    • First Preference: Priority Workers including aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers
    • Second Preference: Members of Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability
    • Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals and other qualified workers
    • Fourth: Certain special immigrants including those in religious vocations
    • Fifth: Employment Creation Immigrants

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