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Which is the Fastest Path to a Green Card USA?

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

Which is the Fastest Path to a Green Card USA?

A Green Card will allow you to settle in the USA on a permenant basis. It evidences the authorization granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for non-US citizens to settle in the United States indefinitely as a lawful permanent resident.

A Green Card will allow you to live, work and study in the US on a permanent basis, as well as travel in and out of the country for certain periods of time. It will also provide you with a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

There are various routes to getting a Green Card for the USA, involving differing timescales and eligibility requirements.


What are the different types of Green Card?

There are three primary routes when obtaining lawful US permanent residence, each with their own separate requirements that you must prove you satisfy, as well as their own different wait and processing times. The three main options are as follows:

  • The family-sponsored petition
  • The employment-sponsored petition
  • The Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery


Employment-based Green Card

Within the employment-based green card category, multiple subcategories of workers can apply for lawful permanent residence. In some cases, their spouses and children may also qualify for a green card.

The main categories are as follows:

  • First preference immigrant worker (EB-1) – for priority workers who have an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim; or they are an outstanding professor or researcher; or a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria.
  • Second preference immigrant worker (EB-2) – for those who are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree; or have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; or are seeking a national interest waiver. You may be eligible for an interest waiver where you are a physician who agrees to work full-time in clinical practice in a designated underserved area for a specified period of time.
  • Third preference immigrant worker (EB-3) – for skilled, unskilled and professional workers, namely skilled workers whereby your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience; or an unskilled worker meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience; or a professional whereby your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree, or a foreign equivalent, and you are a member of the profession.

There are also employment-based categories for special workers (EB-4), including media professionals, as well as religious workers and ministers; and a category for the immigrant investor (EB-5). As an immigrant investor you must invest, or are actively in the process of investing at least $1 million, or $500,000 in a high unemployment or rural area, in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees.

The process for employment-sponsored petitions is not overly different from family-sponsored petitions. The visa bulletin lists the different employment-based preference categories and current cut-off dates for each category.

However, the wait times for employment-based immigrant visas are nowhere near as long as family-sponsored petitions. That said, employment-based petitions require a lot more work and documentation from you and your sponsoring employer.


Family-based Green Card USA

You may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence where you are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, ie; the spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent where the U.S. citizen is aged over 21, and that relative is prepared to file a petition on your behalf to sponsor you.

U.S. immigration law also allows certain foreign nationals who are other family members of U.S. citizens, or relatives of lawful permanent residents, to apply for a green card on the basis of specific family relationships.

These are based on the following five immigrant preference categories:

  • First preference (F1) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of U.S. citizens
  • Second preference (F2A) – spouses and children, unmarried and under 21 years of age, of lawful permanent residents
  • Second preference (F2B) – unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age and older, of lawful permanent residents
  • Third preference (F3) – married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and
  • Fourth preference (F4) – brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age and older.

However, U.S. immigration law sets a limit on the total number of immigrant visa numbers that are assigned in each preference category every year, as well as the number that can be given out to foreign nationals from a particular country. This can make the timing of an application for a green card critical.

There are, however, official visa bulletins that provide timing guidelines for foreign nationals seeking to apply for lawful permanent residency. In this way you can check when best to apply, and whether visas are still available, or if there is a backlog for applicants from your particular country.

There are, however, some petition types that are immediately eligible for immigrant visa numbers, in particular, the spouse, children or parents of U.S. citizens are eligible without a wait. As such, these immediate relatives have the least barriers in their path to obtaining a green card.

It is also important to note that the preference type alone does not make one path faster than another. A number of factors play a role in the wait time for an immigrant visa number, such as the number of petitions filed under each preference category and the national origin of the applicant.

In some cases the wait time may be just a matter of a few months, but in others it can run into several years.

Please note, most extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, do not qualify for a family-sponsored green card at all.


The Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is a lottery-style draw administered by the Department of State, open to natives of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the USA.

Enrolment into the U.S. visa lottery is open to those originating from a qualifying country, where fewer than 50,000 natives in various visa categories immigrated to the United States during the previous 5-year period.

Each entrant must also meet the education or work experience requirement by having either completed at least a U.S. high school education, or its foreign equivalent, or obtained 2 years work experience within the past 5 years in an occupation that requires at least 2 years of training or experience.

In the event that you are lucky enough to be selected for a visa under the DV program, an immigrant visa number will be immediately available, thus creating a speedy path to permanent residency. However, being successfully selected for a diversity visa does not guarantee you will be granted lawful permanent residence.

You must still meet the strict eligibility requirements to go on to qualify for a visa, in particular, you must not have a history of criminal activity or U.S. immigration violations. You must also provide proof that you will be able to support yourself, as well as any family members applying with you.

Please note, when applying for a visa under the DV program there is a limited timeframe each year to enter.


Need assistance?

NNU Immigration’s specialist US immigration attorneys can help with all Green Card applications, including advice on eligibility and the application process.

If you have a specific question or require support with your application, please get in touch contact us.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law, (The Legal 500, Who's Who Legal and AILA) and an experienced and trusted advisor to large multinational corporates through to SMEs. She provides strategic immigration advice and specialist application support to corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, actors and athletes from across the globe to meet their US-bound talent mobility needs.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals.

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.​

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.