Factors That May Prevent You From Getting a Green Card

Overview of how basic ineligibility, criminal charges and other grounds of inadmissibility, or difficulties in the application process prevent some applicants from success.

In the United States, a permanent residence card is referred to as a green card. Although hundreds of thousands of people obtain U.S. green cards each year, many more who want green cards do not receive them. This may be because they:

  • have no basis for green card eligibility under the U.S. immigration laws
  • are technically eligible, but unable to claim the green card due to a separate ground of inadmissibility, or
  • couldn't deal with all the application requirements.

Your Basic Eligibility for a U.S. Green Card

There are several ways to qualify for a U.S. green card. One common way is through an immediate family member who is a U.S. lawful permanent resident or citizen, like a spouse or a parent. Another way is to have a job or an offer of a job, in which case your employer would sponsor you. If you are an entrepreneur with at least $500,000 to invest in a U.S. business that creates jobs, you may also qualify for a green card. Or, if you are fleeing persecution, you may become a refugee or asylee, and then apply for permanent residency a year after obtaining your refugee or asylee status. 

These are not the only ways to apply for a green card -- but like all the eligibility categories, they are narrowly defined. There is no avenue to a green card, for example, for people who simply have friends in the U.S. who like and wish to sponsor them, or who can show that they would make good members of American society. You have to fit within one of the preexisting eligibility categories.

Some people try to squeeze into a category that doesn't really fit them, for example by claiming to be the unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident when in fact they're already married, or by marrying a U.S. citizen whom they've paid to sponsor them. That can lead to big trouble, and of course denial of the green card -- either immediately or after the person has settled in the United States.

For more information on the various eligibility categories for a U.S. green card, see "Can You Get a U.S. Green Card?"

Inadmissibility as a Factor Leading to Denial 

No matter how neatly you fit into a category of eligibility for a U.S. green card, you must also show that you're not inadmissible to the United States -- in other words, that you don't pose a danger to U.S. society on financial, health, security, immigration violation, or criminal grounds.

Perfectly ordinary people are found inadmissible -- this isn't just something that happens to criminals or terrorists. For example, if you conceal something on your application, have tuberculosis, overstayed a visa by six months or more, or you and your family sponsor can't show enough income and assets to cover your household expenses in the United States, you might be found inadmissible. A waiver (legal forgiveness) may be available in some cases, but these require extra documentation and are not always granted.

You are definitely facing a denial if you have committed certain crimes, like aggravated felonies, drug crimes, or acts of terrorism.

Complications or Mistakes in the Application Process

Applying for a green card involves filling out and preparing a lot of paperwork. Sometimes people destroy their own claim by failing to fully follow the instructions or complete the forms, or submit the correct fees. The immigration authorities will usually send things back for another try, but this can lead to delays and even denials if the applicant doesn't get the right items submitted by the right time. In some cases, inconsistencies in filling out the forms can lead the immigration authorities to conclude that the applicant is lying, or not credible.

Getting Help

Applying for a green card isn't easy for anyone. The law is complicated, and the paperwork tough to deal with. You may wish to consult with an immigration attorney to get help and to learn what you can do to minimize the risk of your application being denied.

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