An immigrant is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of living and working permanently in the United States. You must go through a multi-step process to become an immigrant. In most cases, USCIS must first approve an immigrant petition for you, usually filed by an employer or relative. Then, an immigrant visa number must be available to you, even if you are already in the United States. “Immediate relatives” of a U.S. citizen (spouse, parents, and unmarried children under age 21) are exempt from any annual numerial limitations. If you are already in the United States, you might be eligible to apply to adjust to permanent resident status. If you are outside the United States, you will be notified to go to a U.S. consulate to seek an immigrant visa. If your application is approved, you will receive a permanent resident card, or “green card,” as it is popularly known.
Applicants for adjustment of status to permanent resident who are within the U.S. are eligible to apply for a work permit while their cases are pending. Once you are a permanent resident, you should receive a permanent resident card that will prove that you have a right to live and work in the United States.
If you apply for adjustment to permanent resident status, you must receive “advance parole” (a travel permit) to return to the United States if you wish to travel outside the United States. If you do not obtain Advance Parole before you leave the country, you will probably abandon your application with USCIS and you may not be permitted to return to the United States (unless you have H or L nonimmigrant status). If you have been “unlawfully present” within the U.S., be certain to consult with your immigration lawyer prior to seeking or using a travel permit. Otherwise, you might trigger a 3 or a 10 year penalty if you depart the U.S. before qualifying for permanent resident status.