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Immigration 101: Who gets to permanently live & work in the U.S.?

Immigration is a divisive topic. Even if you don’t have a strong opinion in favor or against it, you probably have at least a positive or negative “gut reaction.” The word “immigration” itself carries a certain baggage, from negative stereotypes and discrimination to rich family histories and personal experiences. Through it all, there is one thing at stake: the right to permanently live and work in the U.S.

There are only two categories of people who get to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis: U.S. citizens (through either birth or naturalization) and lawful permanent residents. Lawful permanent residents (LPRs, for short) are also known as “Green Card” holders. Unlike foreign persons living and working in the U.S. under a temporary work visa, the holder of a Green Card has a path to citizenship. That’s what makes the Green Card a coveted document (even though its actual name is not as appealing: USCIS Form I-551).

Most U.S. nationals don’t realize the difference between “having a Green Card” and “being a citizen.” The Green Card is only a step in the path to citizenship, which allows the LPR to live anywhere in the U.S., apply to most jobs, and travel in and out of the U.S. for up to a certain period of time. However, the Green Card holder is still regarded as an alien, and does not have the right to vote, hold federal or state office, or get federal government jobs.

The three major ways of getting a Green Card are through:

(1) family,
(2) employment, and
(3) the Diversity Visa lottery.

Other avenues to permanent residency include refugee or asylum programs. Over the coming weeks, our blog will be covering each of these mechanisms.

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