A lawful permanent resident (LPR) is an individual who has been authorized to live legally in the United States forever. This status is only assigned to aliens or other non-citizens and is signified by possessing a permanent resident card, also known as a green card.
As an LPR, an individual gains access to an expanded list of options and abilities that are unavailable to other legal immigrants. These increased permissions include working without restriction, purchasing and owning property, applying for and receiving financial assistance, and joining the U.S. armed forces. LPRs also inherit some of the responsibilities of an ordinary citizen, such as filing income taxes similarly to citizens.
While LPRs enjoy an expanded array of benefits, there are still some restrictions. For example, an LPR cannot vote or run for public office. Those rights are still exclusive to U.S. citizens. Additionally, certain employment opportunities and scholarships may be restricted to U.S. citizens.
The good news is that an LPR can become a naturalized citizen. Once an LPR has lived in the U.S. for at least five years and fulfilled their general naturalization provisions, they can apply for naturalization.
There are several ways for immigrants to be afforded the opportunity to become an LPR. The main piece of legislation controlling the process of becoming an LPR is The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Generally, there are four pathways to LPR status:
Depending on the pathway, the immigrant may need family in the U.S., a job, good luck, or terrible luck. The first two options, family or employment, follow certain preference systems established by the Immigration Act of 1990.
The family immigration path allows someone related to a U.S. citizen or LPR to apply for permanent resident status. The family path prioritizes unmarried children of U.S. citizens first. After that, the family path prioritizes spouses and unmarried children of LPRs, with married children and siblings over 21 falling even further down the list.
There is also a pathway that can grant permanent resident status immediately: the marriage route. Under the marriage route, a noncitizen who marries a U.S. citizen gains resident status immediately. After changes made by the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act of 1986, this residence status only lasts for two years, but if certain conditions are met, then the conditional resident status transforms into LPR status.
The other primary method of acquiring LPR status is through employment. Similar to the family path, the employment path is divided into priorities. The priorities for employment-based immigration are:
Employment path immigrants will have to meet the same restrictions as other immigrants but may be less likely to fail to meet the criteria for ensuring they are not a burden on the government.
The final pathways for immigration are the diversity lottery and asylum programs. The diversity lottery allows LPR status opportunities for immigrants from nations with historically low immigration rates to the U.S. The asylum program offers LPR status opportunities for refugees of turmoil or strife in other countries. However, the diversity lottery only accounts for 55,000 of the 675,000 annual visas issued, and asylum can be a politically fraught topic so these pathways are not as commonly used as the family or employment path.
LPR status has one significant departure from full citizenship legally: conditionality. An LPR can have their status revoked and be expelled from the country if they do not closely follow all relevant laws. For example, if an LPR is outside of the U.S. for more than a year without applying for and receiving a return card, their LPR status can be revoked. Similarly, if the LPR is found to have participated in “criminal or otherwise harmful activity,” they can have their LPR status revoked by immigration officials or the court.
If you are an immigrant looking to take advantage of one of the pathways to becoming a lawful permanent resident, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf to get you the best possible outcome for your case.
Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your alternative options within the immigration system as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.