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
- 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
- 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.