Visa Information: Questions with Answers

Green Card: Rights to the Holder

A green card is also known as an alien registration receipt card and as Form I-551 or its older version Form I-151, gives you the right to live and work legally in the U.S. and to travel freely outside the U.S. as long as you make the U.S. your permanent home, do not commit any deportable crimes, and report all income to the U.S. government.

What is the expiry period for green cards?
All green cards carry an expiration date after ten years of issue, after which they must be renewed, or you may apply to become a U.S. citizen.

If I have a valid non immigrant visa, can I apply for a Green card?
Non-immigrant visas are issued only after you can show that you do not intend to stay within the U.S. beyond your approved length of stay. If you apply for a green card or permanent residency status while possessing a non-immigrant visa, your visa may be taken away from you unless you can show that you did not intend to do so when you applied for your temporary visa.

Exceptions to this rule include:

If you possess a non-immigrant employment visa and you apply for a green card, you must use another employer to petition for you.

Is it a must for me to apply for a new visa, while in possession of a H-1B visa while applying for employment in the US?

At present, the holder of a current H-1B work visa who changes jobs or employment must obtain a new or amended H-1B visa before starting work with a new job or employer. Since it can take at least 3-4 months to complete this process, there is mounting pressure by employee advocacy groups and tech industry groups to alleviate this restriction.

Where can I apply for a visa?
You may apply for a visa either at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country, or in rare cases, at the U.S. embassy in a third country where your home country lacks diplomatic relations within the U.S.

If you are already within the U.S. you may apply for immigrant or non-immigrant visas at the regional BCIS (formerly INS) office nearest you or your employer but must travel outside the U.S. to actually receive your visa. If you do not intend to travel outside the U.S. during the duration of your visa, you may apply for a green card or non-immigrant status without leaving the U.S. but a visa will not be issued to you.

Where is the best place toapply for a visa extension?
Visa extensions are best handled in the U.S. since visa stamps can be extended within U.S. borders.

Extensions vary according to the type of visa:

  • H-1B visas may be extended up to 3 years
  • B-1, B-2 visitor/student visas may be extended up to 6 months at a time.
  • E-1, E-2 treaty trader and investor visas may be extended up to 5 years at a time.
  • Visa Waivers may not be extended

Why should I hire an immigration lawyer?

Because of the complexity of immigration law it is often difficult for laypersons to determine which visa might be best for their particular situation. For example, one type of family preference visa might be faster to obtain but might prevent you from bringing relatives into the U.S. A lawyer can actually save you time and money by looking at your needs and ensuring the visa you apply for is right for your situation. An attorney can also make sure your application is as complete and thorough as possible. Incomplete applications may result in untimely delays or even a rejection of your application.

Differences between Visas and Green Cards

Visas and green cards are documents issued by the government. But visas are different from green cards. Citizens of foreign countries cannot travel to the U.S. without visas; visas grant the holders the right to travel to America.
U.S. consulates and embassies issue visas and these visas will permit the holders to travel to a U.S. port of entry. At the port of entry, immigration authorities will grant the foreign nationals entry into America if they are admissible into the country. The U.S. government issues two types of visas, immigrant and non-immigrant visas.

Non-immigrant visas are for people who seek to visit the country on a temporary basis. Temporary visitors, tourists and students can obtain non-immigrant visas and visit the country for a short period of time. Most non-immigrant visas do not permit the holders to work in the country but foreign workers who hold work visas can work in America. People who hold non-immigrant visas will have to extend their visas if they seek to extend their stay. If not, they need to leave the country prior to the expiration of their visas.

A green card is issued to a foreign national who enters the country with an immigrant visa. People who hold immigrant visas will be permitted to enter into the country as permanent residents. Unlike non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who wish to settle in the U.S. and who are eligible for legal status in the country.

Immigrant visa holders who travel to the U.S. will be issued green cards. These cards refer to permanent resident status. Green cards are not similar to non-immigrant visas like tourist visas or work visas. These cards are identification documents issued to non-U.S. citizens as proof of their legal status in the country. Foreign nationals can obtain these cards in few different ways. They can get green cards based on family sponsorship, employment or through the green card lottery program.

People who hold these cards can remain in the U.S. for any number of years. However, this does not mean that the green card holders can travel freely in and out of the country. Green cards are revocable. Resident cards are issued only to those who wish to make the country their permanent home. Permanent residents who plan to make another foreign country their permanent home are likely to lose their green cards. The country will consider that such residents have abandoned their U.S. residence and cancel their green cards.

Legal residency authorizes immigrants to permanently live and work in the U.S. Permanent residents can apply for U.S. citizenship after living in the country for a five year period. They also need to meet other eligibility requirements to do so.

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