Eligibility for a Green Card as a Special Immigrant

Here's the list of special immigrant green card categories under which you may be able to get permanent residency in the United States.

There are six main categories of so-called special immigrants (visa category EB-4). The name is somewhat misleading—it actually refers to the employment fourth preference category of potential U.S. lawful permanent residents, which encompasses the categories described below.

A total of 10,000 green cards are available each year for all special immigrant categories taken together. No more than 5,000 of that total can go to non-clergy religious workers.

Qualifying for a Green Card as a Special Immigrant

The special immigrant category is sort of a catch-all, used whenever laws are passed making green cards available to people in special situations. Currently, special immigrant green cards are available to the following types of people:

  • Workers for recognized religious organizations, which includes ministers and other religious workers.
  • Foreign medical graduates who came to the U.S. before January 10, 1978, on either an H or J visa, and can meet other conditions regarding residence and medical practice.
  • Foreign workers who were employed abroad by the U.S. government for at least 15 years and have the recommendation of the principal officer in charge of the U.S. government foreign office in which they were employed.
  • Retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have resided in the U.S. for at least 15 years prior to retirement, on a G-4 or N visa, were physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the seven years immediately before applying for a green card, and apply for the green card within six months after retirement.
  • Foreign nationals who are under age 21 and unmarried and have been declared dependent on juvenile courts in the United States, where the court either says the child is eligible for long-term foster care or has committed the child to the care of a state agency due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment; and the court has determined that it is in the child’s best interest to remain in the United States.
  • Persons who served honorably for 12 years on active U.S. military duty after October 15, 1978, who enlisted outside the U.S. under the terms of a treaty between the U.S. and their country.
  • Panama Canal Treaty employees (a rarely used category).
  • NATO civilian employees (a rarely used category).
  • Persons coming to work as broadcasters for the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or for its grantee (a rarely used category).
  • Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq.
  • Afghan nationals who provided translation or other valuable services to or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan.

Rights and Restrictions of the Special Immigrant Green Card

If you qualify for this type of green card, here are some of its advantages and limitations:

  • Although not many green cards are available in this category, the eligibility criteria are so narrow that if you fit them, you have a good chance of getting a green card.
  • You must actually live in the United States after getting your green card -- you must not use the green card only for work and travel purposes.
  • Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can get green cards as accompanying relatives.
  • As with all green cards, yours can be taken away if you misuse it. See Can I Lose My Green Card and Be Deported?
  • If you successfully keep your green card for five years, and meet the other qualifications (such as being of good moral character, speaking English, and passing a test in U.S. history and government), you can apply for U.S. citizenship.

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