U.S. Green Card for Canadians: Employment, Family or Investment?

Canadian citizens usually have an easy time entering the U.S., but with the exception of a few special rules, Canadians must use the same routes as immigrants from other countries.

This article provides an overview of the most likely possibilities for Canadian citizens to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. (in other words, obtain U.S. green cards). The article primarily focuses on obtaining a green card through an offer of permanent employment with a U.S. employer, through the sponsorship by a U.S. citizen/permanent resident relative, and through the Canadian citizen's investment in a U.S. industry.

Canadians also enjoy a few special, albeit more rarely available, special rules. When those rules do not apply, the application options are much like immigrants from most other countries.

Access Through Employment

If your U.S. employer is willing to sponsor you for immigration, there are many options you can pursue, depending on the job offered, your qualifications, and so forth.  A few of the most popular options are explained below. In all cases, either you or your employer must file an I-140 Immigration Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf.  This petition is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Do You Work for a Multinational Company?

If you work for a multinational company that has a branch in the U.S., you may qualify for the Employment Based First-Preference immigrant category as a multinational executive. To qualify, you must have been employed outside the United States for at least one year in the three years preceding the petition. You must be coming to the U.S. to continue that employment. The U.S. employer must offer you a managerial or executive position. In this case, the employer files the I-140 petition (and if that is approved, you follow up with a green card application).

Do You Possess Extraordinary Credentials in Your Field?

If you are particularly renowned in your field, you may qualify for the Employment Based First-Preference immigrant category as an alien of extraordinary ability. You must provide evidence that you meet three of the ten statutory prongs of extraordinary ability:

1. publication of scholarly articles in your field
2. role as a judge of the work of others in your field
3. you previously served in a critical role for an organization with a distinguished reputation
4. you have awards based on your work in your field
5. you are a member of organizations that demand outstanding achievements as a prerequisite to membership
6. you made original contributions of major significance to your field
7. newspapers, journals, or other publications have published about you and your work
8. you receive high remuneration with respect to your colleagues
9. you enjoy commercial success in the performing arts, or
10. your work is displayed at artistic showcases or exhibits.

If you fit this category, you can file the I-140 petition with USCIS by yourself.  No offer of employment is required if filing under this category.

What If None of These Options Apply to Me?

If you do not fit into either of the above categories, your U.S. employer may still be able to sponsor you for a green card under another category, through the labor certification process (commonly referred to as “PERM”). The PERM process requires that your employer test the U.S. labor market by advertising for your offered position, and then certifying to the Department of Labor that no qualified U.S. workers are available to fill the position. Once the DOL approves the PERM application, your employer files the I-140 petition with USCIS (and you follow up with a green card application).

Sponsorship by a Family Member in the U.S.

You may qualify for a family-based immigration category if you fall into one of the groups described below. If so, then your family member would normally start the process by filing an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative to USCIS on your behalf.

  • You are a spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, or you are the parent of a U.S. citizen who is age 21 or older. These relatives are considered “immediate relatives.”
  • You are an unmarried son or daughter over the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, a married child of any age of a U.S. citizen, or a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen (and the U.S. citizen is 21 or older). These relatives are considered “preference relatives.”
  • You are a spouse or unmarried child of a green card holder (lawful permanent resident in the U.S.). These relatives are considered “preference relatives.”

For a more complete set of eligibility requirements and categories, see Who Is Eligible for a Family-Based Green Card?

Please note that preference relatives typically have to wait for several years before receiving a green card. The reason is that the annual supply of visa numbers in these categories is limited. They have become severely backlogged, as people who applied several years ago wait their turn in line.

Immigration Based on Investment in The United States

You may qualify for a green card based on investment through the “EB-5” program.  To become an EB-5 investor, you must invest at least $1 million USD into a new commercial enterprise, and this investment must create ten full-time jobs for U.S. workers. If you choose to invest in a “targeted employment area” (a high-unemployment area or rural area) then the required investment is adjusted downward to $500,000.

Please note that if you obtain you green card through investment, you will qualify for temporary lawful permanent resident status for two years, and after the two years you must apply for your unconditional lawful permanent resident status by demonstrating you have met the investment requirements.

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