The nonimmigrant “letter” visas such as B, H, L, E, F and TN all have one thing in common — they are all temporary visas. Sooner or later, the holder of such a visa is expected to leave the United States. Also, these visas are all intended to permit one particular activity: such as tourism, work for a specific employer, study, or investment in a particular enterprise.
The Green Card is different. A Green Card lets a person stay in the United States forever. A Green Card holder may work for any employer, or attend any school. A Green Card is just short of citizenship, but there are several important differences: a Green Card holder can be deported for violating the law; a Green Card holder can lose his status if she leaves the United States for a lengthy period of time; and a Green Card holder may not be eligible for some government benefits. By contrast, a citizen can never be deported for any reason, and a citizen can always return to the United States, even after an absence of many years.
Green Cards are available under a variety of circumstances, including:
- Employment based
- Family based
- Diversity lottery
- Refugees and asylees
Many Green Card categories are subject to annual quotas. The Green Card categories subject to quotas are generally known as “preference” categories. These quotas are based on both the category, and also the country of birth of the applicant. As a result of these quotas, there may be a very long delay, sometimes many years, between the time a person begins the Green Card process, and the time a person actually receives his Green Card. Some categories, particular the “immediate relative” category, are not subject to quotas. An immediate relative is the spouse, minor unmarried child, or parent of a U.S. citizen.