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How To Work in the US Without a Green Card

A US Green Card, otherwise known as a Permanent Resident Card, is the best option for immigrants living in the USA to be able to lawfully work and live in the United States permanently. However, there are many ways you can reside and work in the US without a Green Card, or whilst you are waiting for your application to be granted.

Understanding which visa is right for you and how to apply for permanent residence in the US can be very complicated. IAS are here to help. Contact us today online or call us on +1 844 290 6312.

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    What’s the Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card?

    Whether you are a visa holder or a Green Card holder, both allow you the opportunity to work and live in the USA. However, certain visas have restrictions on the amount of time you can spend in the USA, and no visa offers the same benefits as being a Green Card holder.

    A Green Card cannot be obtained without an initial visa. Below are the key differences between a non-immigrant visa, an immigrant visa, and a Green Card.

    Non Immigrant Visa Immigrant Visa Green Card
    Can Obtain Before Arrival in the US? Yes Yes No
    Have an expiration date or require renewal? Yes Yes No
    Gives you permanent residence in the USA? No No, but you can apply for a Green Card with this visa Yes
    Allows you to apply for citizenship? No No, but it is a pathway to gaining the Green Card, which does allow you to apply Yes
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    Who Needs a Work Permit in the USA?

    Most immigrant and non immigrant visas allow you to work and live in the USA, with restrictions and time limitations. Anyone who wishes to live and work permanently in the USA should look to become a Green Card holder.

    Am I Eligible for a Green Card?


    A US green card offers lawful permanent residency and working rights to applicants, and allows you to travel in and out of the country without immigration restrictions. After 3 to 5 years, so long as you fit the eligibility criteria you can also use the Green Card to apply to become a U.S citizen.

    Green Card Eligibility

    In order to apply for a Green Card, your circumstances must fit into one of the following categories:

    • Green Card through employment
    • Green Card through registry
    • Green Card through family
    • Green Card as a special immigrant
    • Green Card through refugee or Asylee status
    • Green Card for victims of abuse
    • Green Card for human trafficking and crime victims
    • Green Card through other categories, for example:
      • Persons born in the U.S to a foreign diplomat
      • Cuban natives or children of Cuban natives
      • Selectees of the diversity visa in the diversity visa lottery

    Documents Required for Green Card Application

    Each category will have specific eligibility criteria that will require specific documents and timelines. However, in general, applicants for Green Cards must:

    • Complete a Green Card application form (Form I-485)
    • Submit an Immigration Petition form specific to the applicant’s circumstances, which usually requires a sponsor who files the petition on the applicant’s behalf
    • Provide biometric information, which will be organized as part of the application process
    • Provide two recent passport photos
    • Provide a current passport or travel document
    • Provide a birth certificate, translated into English if required. If the applicant doesn’t have a birth certificate, they must provide other documentation explaining why
    • Attend an interview

    The list of documents required is much more exhaustive than this, as it is a long application process. If you are overwhelmed with the application process for a US Green Card, our team of expert immigration lawyers are happy to support you. Contact us online or call us today on +1 844 290 6312.

    Looking for a path to permanent residency? See if you're eligible for a Green Card, contact us and start your journey today. Contact Us

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      How to Work in the USA without a Green Card or Citizenship


      Applying for a Green Card or US citizenship are not the only ways to obtain the right to live and work in the USA. Non-U.S applicants can gain a work permit by applying for one of two types of visas: a non-immigrant visa or an immigrant visa.

      Immigrant Visa

      If you wish to move and live permanently in the USA, you must apply for an immigrant visa.

      Usually, a sponsor or family member must file the application on your behalf, unless you are considered able to petition on your own behalf (this is often offered to investors, for example). The application must be filed with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

      Please note that the immigration visa is not the same as a Green Card, but it is a good step to take towards applying for and obtaining permanent residence in the U.S.

      Non Immigrant Visa

      Non immigrant visas allow the visa holder to travel to the US on a short term, temporary basis. This visa can be issued for tourism, studying, getting medical treatment, and business purposes, and offers working rights for certain lines of temporary work. For example, you can apply for a non-immigrant visa if you are traveling to the U.S as an au pair, or if you have been recognized as having extraordinary talents in the sciences, business, education, sports or the arts.

      How Do I Apply for an Immigrant or Non-Immigrant Visa?

      In most cases, you can apply at the US consulate in the country you are traveling from, and this is relatively simple to do for certain categories of the non-immigrant visa such as for tourism or business.

      However, further documentation and authorisation may be required for other classes, such as for those traveling to the USA for study purposes.

      Applying for a visa for the USA can be daunting for many, as it can be difficult to know which visa is best suited to your personal needs. You may have concerns that you do not have the right documentation, or that your circumstances will be cause for questioning by the U.S authorities. We understand how stressful this could feel.

      This is why IAS exists. We can support you with your application so that you know that you can live and work in the United States as a foreign national without worry. Contact us online or call us today on +1 844 290 6312.

      Visa Waiver Program

      The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows foreign nationals from certain countries to travel and work in the United States without needing to apply for a visa.

      You can find a list of participating countries here.

      Please note that you still must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) on your person when entering the country. These are usually issued for a period of two years, so be aware that you must update your ESTA if it expires, or if you get a new passport or emergency passport during that period.

      Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015

      As of 2015, certain citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program will not be permitted to travel and work in the United States with an ESTA, and will have to apply for a visa instead. This applies to the following:

      • Citizens of VWP countries who have traveled through one of the following countries: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011
      • Citizens of VWP countries who have dual citizenship in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

      There may be some exceptions if your travel was for military or diplomatic purposes.

      Ready to take the next step? Contact us and apply for your immigrant or non-immigrant visa today. Contact Us

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        What Happens if I Am Caught Working in the USA Illegally?

        Currently, it is not a crime within the US for an immigrant to be working illegally in the country.  However, if you are working illegally as an employee, you will very likely be subject to deportation and are unlikely to be offered re-entry rights. Therefore it is essential that you gain the right immigration status that offers you the work permit you require.

        Your employer will be subject to criminal penalties if they are caught employing you illegally, so be mindful that if you don’t receive the correct employment authorization document, you could not only risk deportation but could negatively impact your employer too.

        How IAS Can Help

        Many foreign nationals from around the world apply to become lawful permanent residents of the United Sates every year. Some simply want the opportunity to spend time and work in the U.S for a short period of time, and enjoy the many exciting opportunities and experiences that the country has to offer. Others look to join their family members, or have been sponsored by their employer to work in the States.

        Whatever your reasons, we know what a big step it is to spend time away from the country of your national origin. We also appreciate how complicated the application process can be, especially for certain foreign individuals who come from countries with a complicated political relationship with the USA. We know how disappointing it would be to be refused.

        That’s why we are here. We can help you understand which visa is the right visa for you to enter the country with, so that you can then look to pursue working, living, or becoming a legal permanent resident of the United States.

        Contact us to speak with an experienced immigration attorney today by messaging online or calling us on +1 844 290 6312.

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                  Frequently Asked Questions

                  In general, you do not need to be living in the US to begin the green card application process, but you do need a visa when you enter the country.

                  For example, if you are applying for a family-based Green Card, you can be living abroad but one of your relatives must be 21 or older and have a valid address where they reside in the U.S.

                  If you as the applicant are currently in the U.S, you must be on some form of short term dual-intent visa to apply.

                  No, the immigrant visa is not the same. Though the immigrant visa allows you to live and work permanently in the UK, the Green Card is the actual residence permit for the Unites States and allows you to apply for citizenship. The pathway to citizenship, for example, is as follows:

                  1. Apply for an Immigrant Visa before arriving in the U.S
                  2. Once settled in the United States, apply for a Green Card
                  3. Once you are issued a Green Card, apply to become a United States Citizen.

                  The price of the visa very much depends on the visa that you are applying for. Generally, the price ranges from $160 to $600, though may cost more. Please note that prices are subject to change.

                  For example, a non immigrant visa for the purposes of tourism, business, medical treatment or studying costs $160, whilst an immigration visa petition for a relative costs $535.

                  Some people are still able to become lawful permanent residents of the USA if they have a criminal record, though it depends on the severity of the crime. It is important to include any documentation explaining your criminal record in your application to avoid refusal.