by Elizabeth R. Blandon

The good news: there is no minimum amount of time, so you can theoretically apply to become a legal permanent resident (LPR) today. The bad news: there are reasons why you should wait. This article discusses most of those reasons and the immigration laws generally, but is not intended as legal advice. Every case is different.

There are three main processes through which a foreigner becomes an LPR – family relationships, employment relationships and protection cases, such as asylum. Except for immediate relatives (parents, children and spouses) of U.S. citizens, other relatives apply to become LPRs only after their priority date becomes current. The priority date is the date that the petitioning relative filed the first application with Citizenship and Immigration Service. This is similar to taking a number at a deli; the priority date is the number and only after the foreigner gets to the counter can she apply for LPR. The petitioning relative’s application provides NO legal status to the foreigner.

An employer can petition for a foreigner immediately. However, the employer must demonstrate in most cases that it has existed for at least a year and can pay the prevailing wage given to U.S. employees. Therefore, the foreigner may need to wait to apply for residency. In the meantime, if the foreigner wishes to remain and work in the United States, she must do so legally. If not, the residency may be denied for unauthorized presence. To avoid such a denial and “stay legal,” the foreigner must either extend the stay of her current status or change status. This is why some managers must hold transferee status (L1A) before their multinational employer applies directly for residency. L1A status is held by a foreign executive or manager of a U.S. company who was previously an executive or manager of a related foreign company.

Finally, some processes require a fixed period of time in another status before applying for residency. For example, a foreigner who is granted asylum must be an asylee for a year and a day before applying for LPR status.

Applying for changes and extensions of status seems interminable to foreigners whose only real wish is to stay legally in the U.S. as LPRs. However, in many cases, there are valid reasons for the delays in applying. Better right, than right away.