The United States’ immigration system can sometimes prove to be tricky, so here we will present a brief summary of how visas and Green Cards work.
What is a Visa?
Visas are immigration documents that are used all over the world by nearly every country. In the United States they are effectively documents which grant the holder the right to come to a port of entry and apply for entry to the United States.
Visas do not come with the guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the United States, rather it is just permission to enter a port of entry.
When you arrive at one of these ports—which can be airports, seaports or even border crossings—an immigration officer will assess whether or not you can enter America. If you are accepted into the country, you will then receive a form I-94, which you should retain for your records.
In the US there are two general categories of visas, Non-Immigrant and Immigrant:
These visas are granted to people who are coming to the United States on a more-or-less temporary basis. Tourists, students, travelers and sometimes workers are granted these documents to do very specific things while in the US.
They are called non-immigrant visas because the people who hold them are not allowed to change their status to permanently immigrating to the country. They will first have to leave the US and then apply for immigration outside of the country.
There are a couple of notable exceptions to this rule (the Fiance and H-1B visas, specifically) and these are called dual-intent visas. However, most people will have to adhere to one or the other.
Visas that allow their holders to live, work, study and travel in the United States freely are called most frequently called Green Cards and have a very different process than non-immigrant visas.
There are several different categories through which you can apply for a Green Card, and therefore immigration to the US:
- Family Based Green Cards,
- Employment Based Green Cards,
- Diversity Visa Green Cards,
- Asylum Green Cards.
You can learn a lot about the different kinds of Green Cards through our blog.
The Importance of Green Cards
Green Cards are absolutely necessary documents for immigrants living in the United States for a variety of reasons:
- Without one you cannot access government services or legally apply for a job.
- You cannot sponsor a family member without Permanent Residency or citizenship.
- Not having a Green Card will put you into unlawful status which will make legal immigration much more difficult in the future.
- In order to apply for citizenship, you must first obtain Permanent Residency through a Green Card.
- You can be deported (forced to leave the United States) at any time without a Green Card.
Diversity Visa Green Cards vs. Other Green Cards
Green Cards are mostly all the same, the primary difference between them is the method by which you obtain one. Diversity Green Cards aren’t much different from any of the other Green Cards in physical appearance, but their justification can be much more complex.
Green Cards granted through the Green Card Lottery (DV program) don’t ask for a lot of requirements to register, very unlike the other Green Card programs which demand that you first obtain sponsorship.
It is for this reason that the Green Card Lottery is becoming more and more unpopular in the United States because they are viewed to be based on something aside from merit, a quality held in high esteem in American culture.
The upshot of this is that 2013 may be the very last year for the Green Card Lottery program and that if you want to come to the US you should apply sooner than later!