In the United States, a permanent resident card is often referred to as a green card. Although hundreds of thousands of people obtain U.S. green cards each year, many more who want them do not receive them. This might be because they:
There are several ways to qualify for a U.S. green card. Many foreign-born people obtain one through a close 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 from a U.S. company, 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 might also qualify for a green card. (That minimum figure becomes $900,000 on November 21, 2019.)
Or, if you are fleeing persecution, you might apply to 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.
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 immigration 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) might be available in some cases, but these come with their own eligibility requirements and require extra documentation. They are not always granted.
You are definitely facing a denial of your green card application if you have committed certain crimes, like aggravated felonies, drug crimes, or acts of terrorism.
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 U.S. immigration authorities will usually send things back for another try, or send a "Request for Evidence" (RFE), 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.
Applying for a green card isn't easy for anyone. The law is complicated, and the paperwork tough to deal with. You might 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. Learn more about how much this might cost.