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Adjustment of status is the process of applying for lawful permanent status when you are present in the U.S., otherwise referred to as applying for your green card. Adjustment of status may become available in different ways, including holding nonimmigrant visas, such as family-based or employment-based visas, or being granted political asylum.

Immigrant visas are available to those who intend to stay in the U.S. permanently. These visas can be family-based, employment-based, or for religious workers, among other categories.

U.S. citizens can file immigration visa petitions for their spouses, children, parents, and siblings. U.S. lawful permanent residents can only file immigrant visa petitions for their spouses or unmarried sons or daughters.

A foreign citizen seeking a family-based visa may be sponsored by an immediate relative who is at least 21 years of age and is either a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident. There are two types of family-based immigration visas. There are visas for immediate relatives based on close family relationships with U.S. citizens, including spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, or parents. The number of these type of visas are unlimited each fiscal year. 

There are also family preference visas for specific and more distant family relationships with U.S. citizens and, in some cases, with lawful permanent residents. The number of immigrant visas in these categories is limited each fiscal year.

The following are the preference immigration categories:

  • First preference (F1) - unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens aged 21 years or older.
  • Second preference (F2A) - spouses and children that are unmarried and under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third preference (F3) - married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. 
  • Fourth preference (F4) - brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens aged 21 years or older.

Below are some examples of family-based visas that are available to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents:

  • IR-1 and CR-1 visas are available for spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The IR-1 visa is available to spouses married to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents for at least two years. The CR-1 visa is for spouses married to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents for less than two years. CR-1 visa holders must stay married for two years and apply for removal of conditions to get their permanent residency, which is not required for IR-1 visa holders.
  • IR-2 visas are available to unmarried children under the age of 21 of U.S. Citizens or lawful permanent residents.
  • IR-3 are visas available to children adopted abroad by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
  • IR-4 visas allow U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to obtain guardianship of children in foreign countries and then complete the adoption in the U.S.
  • IR-5 are visas available to parents of U.S. citizens.
  • K-1 visas are available to fiancées of U.S. citizens who will marry their U.S. sponsors within 90 days of arrival.

Approximately 140,000 employment-based immigration visas are available to qualified applicants every fiscal year. Generally, the applicant’s prospective employer must obtain a labor-certification approval from the Department of Labor.

The following are the employment visa categories by preference:

  • First preference (E1) priority workers and persons of extraordinary ability.
  • Second preference (E2) - professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability.
  • Third preference (E3) - skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers.
  • Fourth preference (E4) - certain special immigrants. These applicants must be the beneficiaries of approved Petitions for an Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with exceptions for Certain Employees or Former Employees of the U.S. Government Abroad. Labor certification is not required for any of the Certain Special Immigrant subgroups. 
  • Fifth preference (E5) - immigrant investors. 

Political Asylum, or Asylum, protects refugees who arrive in the U.S. To be eligible for Asylum, you must demonstrate that you were persecuted or harmed or have a well-founded fear of persecution or harm in your home country due to your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Once your asylum application is approved, you can stay in the U.S. indefinitely as long as you maintain your asylum status.
You may apply for Adjustment of Status one year after your asylum application was granted. Adjustment of Status is applying for your lawful permanent residency (green card).

Nonimmigrant visas are visas that are available to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily. The purpose of travel to the U.S. can be for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary employment, or study.

Below is a list of common nonimmigrant visas:

  • B-1 visas are available for temporary business visitors. This visa is available for visitors who will be participating in business activities of a commercial or professional nature in the U.S. For example, the visitor may be entering the U.S. to attend scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, negotiate contracts, or participate in short-term training.
  • B-2 visas are available to tourists, who may travel to the U.S. to vacation, visit friends and relatives, or receive medical treatment.
  • F and M visas are available to students who want to enter the U.S. to study. The visa is available for students in college, high school, private elementary schools, and any other academic institution, including the language program. The visa is available for students who want to enter a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution.
  • V visas are available to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPR). These visas allow family members to be in the U.S. with their LPR spouses or parents while waiting to complete their immigration process.
  • H-1B visas are available to citizens of foreign countries who wish to enter the U.S. to work in a specialty occupation requiring a higher education or equivalent. You must have specialized knowledge in your field to apply for this visa.
  • U visas are available to victims of certain criminal activity. The applicant must be a victim of substantial mental or physical abuse due to criminal activity and possess information concerning the criminal activity. A certification from law enforcement authorities that you have cooperated in a criminal investigation or prosecution is also required.

This list is not meant to be exclusive. Many nonimmigrant visas are available for those who wish to enter the U.S. on a nonpermanent basis.