Why Is a Green Card Like an Apple?

Why Is a Green Card Like an Apple?

I’ll start by defining what I mean by “green card.”  It is the popular reference to US permanent residence, which is evidenced by a plastic card issued by the Department of Homeland Security.  Many years ago the “green card” was printed on green paper, and the name stuck.

So, what is permanent residence?  Think of it as one step below US citizenship. Anyone born in the United States is automatically a US citizen, thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment.  Everyone else (nearly) has to become a permanent resident in order to “naturalize” to US citizenship.

Is permanent residence a big deal?  You bet it is.  Permanent residence offers, as the name suggests, the right to live (and work) indefinitely in the United States.  It’s beyond the reach of most of the world’s population — in fact, so is getting any legal status in the United States … even a visa … but that’s for another post.

You might say wanting a green card is like wanting a tempting piece of fruit.  (Apple, anyone?)  And like the apple in the picture, the permanent residence process has two halves.  The two halves represent the two parties in the permanent residence process — the sponsor or “petitioner” and the “applicant.”  In most cases, it takes two halves to make the whole, petitioner and applicant.  (There are exceptions but they are rare; notably, refugees and asylees, and individuals of extremely high talent and recognition.)

I know — it’s a silly, too-simple illustration, but I use it to explain the process to my clients.  And they smile … because they get it.  So please let me share it with you.

The two models, the two paradigms, for this two-part permanent residence process are “family-based” and “employment-based.”  In many cases, there are numerical limits on the number of green cards that may be allotted each year; the exception is for“immediate relative” family-based cases, such as those involving a US citizen and foreign-national spouse.

In the employment-based green card process, a US employer (petitioner) must willingly offer a job to the foreign-national applicant, after first proving to the satisfaction of the US Department of Labor that there is a shortage of American workers for the position in question.  Then the applicant may accept the position as the basis for the green card.  So, two halves, and one “whole” apple — full-time employment.  Everybody benefits.

In the “family-based” green card process, a US citizen petitioner is tied by blood or marriage to the applicant.  In some cases — marriage and parenthood — the petitioner may be a permanent resident.  Let’s look at marriage between a US citizen (“Jane”) and foreign national (“Juan”), in terms of the two halves of the apple in the picture.    Jane is, as we know, the petitioner and will thus sponsor Juan as his legally-wedded spouse.  She must also provide proof that she is able to support Juan, through an “Affidavit of Support.”  These are what make up Jane’s half-apple.  Juan, as applicant, must prove that he is legally eligible for permanent residence — either because he has entered the United States legally or has obtained a waiver based on proof of family hardship.  This is what makes up Juan’s half-apple.

Here’s the point:  What joins Jane and Juan is the marital relationship, the commitment that they have for one another.  And so it is with the “apple” that is their permanent residence case.  Their bond brings the two halves into one whole.


A point of clarification:  A two-year status called “conditional residence” is conferred on Juan for the first two years of the marriage.  Later he and Jane will apply to have it converted to full permanent residence — again, based on the marital bond.