The United States immigration system is complicated, to say the least. For individuals pursuing permanent residence, it can be a daunting task to understand all the processes, countless requirements, and numerous twists and turns along the way.
To help you navigate the immigration maze, we have created a flow chart that explains the different paths to becoming a legal immigrant. It is effectively a roadmap to green card.
Click on the image below to see PDF version:
The flowchart contains nearly all paths leading to a green card: employment-based, family-based, diversity visa, and immigration through investment. They are the four major sections of the map, each with a different color coding.
There are two methods of obtaining a green card: adjustment of status for people who are already in the United States, and consular processing for individuals who are outside the U.S. and must go through visa interviews at U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad. These two routes are also illustrated in the map.
Note that a person may qualify for multiple green-card processes. Whether one should go through two or more paths simultaneously depends on the situation, but it is certainly possible.
Multiple U.S. government agencies are involved in the immigration process, including:
The time it takes to become a permanent resident varies dramatically, affected by many factors such as USCIS processing, visa availability, labor certification/background check delays, the applicant's qualifications, nationality, residence, profession, luck, and so on. Most people are probably looking at 5 - 15 years. Some also spent several years in a nonimmigrant status prior to starting the immigration process. After green card, add roughly 5 - 7 years towards citizenship.
A portion of the waiting time can be seen in the visa bulletin, and we publish a graph that shows the number of years, historically, before a category becomes "current." Although visa availability has been the bottleneck in the immigration process lately, there are other steps that can be very time consuming as well.
There are certain "fast" tracks to green card, for people such as immediate family members of U.S. citizens, world famous scientists and NBA stars. But they too have to deal with all the red tape and road blocks on their way to legal permanent residence.
One critical note to everyone reading the flowchart is that U.S. immigration laws and policies keep changing, all the time! It is thus very important to obtain the latest information before making a decision regarding your immigration matters. Although we make every effort to make sure the flow chart is accurate and up to date, it can only offer general guidance, and should not be used in place of a consultation with a qualified immigration professional.
As always, you are welcome to contact us with questions or suggestions.