Permanent Residence

Permanent Residency is the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Often people refer to this immigrant status as having a "green card". A limited amount of "green cards" are made available by the Government for each fiscal year. When the numbers are exhausted, wait lists are compiled which can be years long. The U.S. Department of State maintains the wait list, and publishes a monthly bulletin containing this information each month.

Please note that Harvard University is able to provide employer sponsorship for faculty and high level researchers. USCIS has formal notification that the HIO is the only university office that may act as a signatory for immigration based applications which require job offers from Harvard University and/or signatures on immigration forms from the HIO.

Obtaining Permanent Residence

There are numerous ways to pursue permanent residency. Some of the most commonly utilized routes are sponsorship by an employer and self petitioning procedures by which applicants prove national interest or exceptional ability, sponsorship by a qualifying family member, investors, religious workers, asylum, and the diversity lottery.

Employment Based Permanent Residence

Routes that are connected to employment and self petitioning procedures by which foreign nationals prove national interest or exceptional ability relate to multiple types of applications. These routes may either prove to the Department of Labor that there were no minimally qualified candidates for a position, or that the person is outstanding or exceptional in the field of endeavor. Visit the Department of State website for more information on employment based permanent residence.

Family Based Permanent Residence

A family member can offer sponsorship of permanent residence by means of a qualifying family relationship. This is most frequently achieved for spouses of United States Citizens (USC) who are considered to be Immediate Relatives and for whom there is no quota or backlog. If in the United States when a foreign national (FN) marries a USC, they are immediately eligible to file both a Relative Petition and Application to Adjust Status. These application packages should be filed together. The Government will schedule both an appointment for fingerprinting and a mandatory interview with the couple, and if approved will eventually result in Conditional Permanent Residence for the Foreign National. The couple must file to remove the conditional nature of the approval at a later date. Visit the Department of State's website for more information on eligibility and application procedures.

Religious Worker Based Permanent Residence

A religious worker is a person who for the past two years has been a member of a religious denomination which has a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States; and who has been carrying on the vocation, professional work, or other work described below, continuously for the past two years. Read more on religious workers

Asylum Based Permanent Residence

An asylee is a person who cannot return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. An application for asylum is made in the United States to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. For more information on this category of permanent residence please Read more on Asylum

Investment Based Permanent Residence

Investors must invest between $500,000 and $1,000,000, depending on the employment rate in the geographical area, in a commercial enterprise in the United States which creates at least 10 new full-time jobs. Read more on Investors

Diversity Visa Lottery

Each year the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas, drawn from random selection among all entries to persons who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Click here for Diversity Visa Lottery Instructions.

We would like to thank Attorney Dan Berger for the following information (Curran & Berger LLP, Northampton MA, 413-584-3232).

It is important to remember that winning the lottery is just the first step. Selection does not guarantee you will receive a green card. In order to receive a green card through the lottery you must still meet all eligibility requirements under U.S. law and must either adjust status in the U.S. via completing the Form I-485 or choose to process at a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. by the stated deadline.  If your case is not APPROVED by then, you lose the opportunity.  It's exciting to win the lottery, but these cases are harder than they seem!

Some reasons why a lottery win might not turn into a green card

1.  Your interview just isn't scheduled before the stated deadline for various reasons such as lost files, security delay, etc.

2.  DV green card numbers run out before the interview.  More people are chosen than there are numbers available on the assumption that some of those chosen will not pursue the green card or will be disqualified.  Again, winning the lottery is just the first step and is not a guarantee that you will receive a green card.

3.  The applicant went to a high school that is non-traditional or not accredited.  One lottery requirement is a high diploma or two years of work experience.

4.  If you have a spouse or children, you need to show enough income to support them.

Points to consider

1.  Before applying for a green card, you should consider if you will really stay in the US. Some are not sure, and in that case it might not make sense to move off of a temporary visa.
2.  Be sure to only reply to a .gov email, not a .com email.  There are lots of scams out there.

Further Information

Department of State (DOS) maintains a list with helpful immigrant visa information, as well as many links to comprehensive details on eligibility and application information.

Maintaining Status

To maintain your status as a permanent resident in the United States, you must have a primary residence in the United States and obtain a Re-entry Permit from USCIS for any trip outside of the United States which will last longer than one calendar year.

USCIS Guide for New Immigrants

USCIS publishes a helpful detailed guide for new immigrants which covers many topics, including a section on the rights and responsibilities of permanent residents.


When a foreign national obtains permanent residence, the spouse and all children under the age of 21 are also eligible to receive permanent residence.

Employment Permission

Permanent residents are eligible to work in the United States without restriction.

Social Security Numbers

Permanent residents are eligible to obtain Social Security Numbers in the United States. Most individuals already have Social Security Numbers by the time they obtain their permanent residence status.

Those who may need Social Security Numbers must take their passports and proof of Lawful Permanent Resident status to the Social Security Administration office. The address is 10 Fawcett Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge.


Permanent residents in the United States are taxed in the same manner as U.S. citizens; a permanent resident must pay taxes on worldwide income. More information is available on the Internal Revenue Service web site.


Permanent residents do not need a visa in order to enter the United States. In order for a permanent resident to make an entry into the United States the individual will generally have to show a valid passport and the permanent resident card, otherwise known as the "green card" or the "I-551".