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Family is important in the immigration process

This year has brought uncertainty for many immigrants and their families both in the United States and around the globe. For immigrants hoping to establish permanent residency in the U.S., a green card is the most sought after document because of the rights it grants to its holders. However, to many, getting a green card feels less like a legal process and more like a lottery. Does it ever get more clean cut?

Family and employment are two keys to earning a green card

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Pew Research, more than half of green cards issued since 2004 went to immigrants who were already in the country in another status. Additionally, 85 percent of the green cards issued to new arrivals were sponsored by a family member.

Immigrants on an asylum or employment status also fared well in earning permanent residency. Switching from an asylum or work visa to a green card requires an adjustment in status. People who were already in the U.S. for employment and adjusted their status were in their prime working years of 25 to 64. Meanwhile, those younger and older who received green cards were more likely to be new arrivals but still had a family member in the U.S. as a sponsor.

Who is eligible for a green card?

The U.S. government recognizes nine categories of people who may be eligible for permanent residency including:

  • Those with immediate family members who are U.S. citizens.
  • Extended family members of U.S. citizens or residents.
  • Workers with in-demand job skills.
  • People who would provide ethnic diversity.
  • Men and women in need of asylum or refugee.
  • Special cases approved by Congress.
  • Those in need of legal amnesty.
  • Long-time residents who may be facing deportation after 10 years.
  • People who have otherwise lived in the U.S. since 1972.

Although there are many paths to permanent residency, immigrants with a loved one or employer already in the U.S. seem to have an easier time. Why might this be?

First, the U.S. gives preference to people who may be a dependent of a family member such as a minor child or spouse. Second, having an "in" on the system can make the process easier to understand. No method can guarantee permanent status, but the latest data shows that family is arguably the most important factor in the process.

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