A green card is a powerful visa that confers lawful permanent residency. Lawful permanent residents can live anywhere in the United States, and only qualifying green card holders will be eventually eligible for citizenship.
Acquiring a green card can be a notoriously difficult process, but some methods for obtaining them are traditionally quicker than others. It is important to understand that there is no way to immediately or instantaneously procure these visas: Even the most efficient options will still take several months, at least. Faster timelines also assume all immigration paperwork is properly completed and that there are no complications in your case. Below, we review some of the fastest ways to get a green card.
Family Sponsorship If You Are an “Immediate Relative”
Current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents can both sponsor certain types of relatives for green cards. A sponsored family member will be considered either an “immediate relative” or a “family preference relative.”
You will be considered an immediate relative if you are the spouse, parent, or unmarried child (under the age of 21) of a U.S. citizen. Only citizens can sponsor immediate relatives. Citizens can also sponsor married children, children older than the age of 21, and siblings, but these types of family members will be considered family preference relatives. Lawful permanent residents can only sponsor their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, all of whom will also be considered family preference relatives.
This distinction is important, as only a limited number of green cards are issued to family preference relatives each year. Immediate relatives face no such restriction, and an unlimited number of visas are available.
Because there are almost always more applicants than visas offered, family preference relatives cannot instantly proceed when their petitions are approved. They must first wait for visas to become available. An applicant’s wait time will depend on their relationship to the sponsor, their country of origin, and the case backlog. Many applicants will unfortunately face waits of 20 years or more.
When an immediate relative petition is approved, the applicant can immediately request an adjustment of status or initiate consular processing. Many immediate relative applicants see their petitions approved within 2 years. A subsequent adjustment of status can usually be approved within 14 months or so, but keep in mind applicants can remain in the United States while they wait. Consular processing will usually only take between 4 and 6 months but must be accomplished abroad.
If you are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, family sponsorship can be one of the most reliable and straightforward means of obtaining a green card. Family preference petitions tend to be less practical due to the exorbitant wait times associated with them.
The EB-1A Visa If You Have “Extraordinary Ability”
Most types of employment-based immigration require applicants to already have a permanent job offer from a U.S. employer. The sponsorship process generally requires employers to obtain a labor certification before proceeding. On top of that, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) caps how many visas are issued each year across several preference categories.
Despite these obstacles, you may be able to obtain a green card quickly if you can prove you have “extraordinary ability” in your field of work. This typically means you must demonstrate that you have been the subject of acclaim and that your achievements have been recognized by other professionals in your field. Individuals who meet these qualifications can petition for an EB-1A visa. EB-1A applicants do not need permanent offers of employment and thus do not need labor certifications.
USCIS puts a top priority on EB-1A visa applications. There also tend to be fewer qualified applicants than there are visas available, meaning there tends to be no additional wait time if your petition is approved. In many cases, applications are processed within 8 months. If you pay for premium processing, you may be able to get a decision ever faster.
The EB-2 Visa If You Qualify for a National Interest Waiver
There may be another option if you are hoping to efficiently procure a green card through employment but do not have a permanent job offer. Individuals who otherwise qualify for the EB-2 preference category can apply for a national interest waiver, which, if granted, permits them to obtain a visa without an offer of employment.
To qualify for the EB-2 green card category, you must either demonstrate “exceptional” ability in your chosen field, have an advanced degree (such as a Master’s degree or foreign equivalent), or have a bachelor’s degree with at least 5 years of relevant work experience. To qualify for a national interest waiver, you must prove the work you intend to do in the United States is of “substantial merit” and “national importance.” You must also establish that you are qualified to carry out the work you propose to do.
This strategy is not as fast as applying for an EB-1A visa, but it is generally easier to prove “exceptional ability” versus “extraordinary ability.” However, you will need to make a persuasive case in your application, as USCIS has substantial discretion when reviewing these requests. You also cannot pay for premium processing when filing a national interest waiver petition. If everything goes well, though, your application could be processed within 9 months.
The EB-5 Visa If You Have Funds to Invest
If you have a significant amount of funds that you are willing to risk, you can potentially obtain an EB-5 green card through investment. As of December 2021, you may only need to invest a minimum of $900,000 if you put your resources into a Targeted Employment Area approved by USCIS. Otherwise, you will need to be ready to put up at least $1,800,000.
Most EB-5 visa petitions are processed within 24 months. If your application is approved, you will receive a conditional green card once you complete consular processing. This green card expires in only 2 years, but you can “remove conditions” once you demonstrate that your investment created or preserved at least 10 U.S. jobs.
This strategy is not necessarily feasible if you do not have substantial financial resources. It can help you obtain a green card relatively quickly if you are not eligible under employment-based or family-based categories.
Green Cards through Asylum
You can seek asylum protection in the United States if you have been persecuted or fear future persecution in your home country on the basis of your race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership in a particular social group. Asylees can live in the United States indefinitely and are eligible to apply for green cards one year after receiving their status. USCIS usually processes asylee requests for green cards within 14 months.
Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to secure asylum status, even if you have ample evidence of past or feared persecution. If you are able to obtain this type of protection, there is a clear path for also becoming a lawful permanent resident.
The Diversity Visa Lottery
Each year, 50,000 randomly chosen immigrants and their immediate families are awarded green cards through the Diversity Visa lottery. To enter the lottery, you must hail from a country that does not send many immigrants to the United States. You must also have at least a high school degree or at least 2 years of skilled work experience. Lottery winners must still request visas, and petitions are generally processed within 14 months.
Our skilled attorneys at Smith Law Offices, LLC have over 3 decades of combined experience. We can review your unique circumstances and advise on the most efficient means of obtaining a green card. Our team knows how to navigate complex cases and can provide the knowledgeable guidance you need to achieve your immigration goals.
Get your green card questions answered by calling (636) 400-1177 or contacting us online.