Hello there, remember me? I’m the guy that moved from Sweden to USA almost six years ago and used this blog to tell the world about my journey.
So what has happened since then? Well, I’m still in sunny California and I still work for Google. I have moved houses once and changed cars twice. I have met a lot of awesome people and I have not been pulled over by the police a single time. And, oh yeah, I just received this little thing!
This is a Permanent Resident Card, normally known as a “Green Card”. This means that I’m not any longer here on a visa but rather a lawful permanent resident of the United States of America. And since I was writing a lot in this blog about getting that visa and all the things you need to go through when immigrating to the US I thought I should write a chapter on the process of getting a green card. Even though I haven’t touched this blog in a long long time..
Being a permanent resident in USA is not the same as being a citizen. I still only have one citizenship, that of the Kingdom of Sweden and I only have a Swedish passport. And although there is no expiry date on my permanent resident status I could still lose it if I behave badly. (And one way of behaving badly, according to the information brochures, is to be a “habitual drunkard or someone who is drunk or uses illegal drugs most of the time”.)
So how do you get a green card? Well, there are several ways. You could have family members that are US citizens or permanent residents that can sponsor you. Or you can marry such a person. If you’re a refugee or seek political asylum you can also get a green card. There is also the “green card lottery” where they give out a set number of green cards every year to people from countries that don’t already have a lot of immigration to USA. (Sweden is not such a country.) Since I’m not in any of the first categories and I don’t like the odds of winning the lottery (less than 1% every year, from what I understand..) the only viable option for me was an employment based green card.
There are several different quotas (or “buckets”) for employment based green cards named EB-1 through EB-5. EB-1 is for world class athletes and scientists and people like that. Unfortunately I’m not one of them. EB-2 is for people with a Master’s or PhD degree, or for people with a Bachelor’s and at least five years of work experience. Since my Swedish Masters’s degree in Computer Science from KTH only counts as a Bachelor’s when translated to American English (which annoys me to no end!) I’m lucky to have enough work experience to be put in the EB-2 bucket. Otherwise I would still be waiting.
For an employment based green card you obviously need the sponsorship from your employer. Since this is not the first (or the last) time that Google applies for a green card for an employee they have contracted an immigration law firm that is helping out with all the paper work. They were very helpful and nice to work with through the entire process. I can’t imagine trying to do it by myself and figure out how till fill out all those forms!
The entire circus kicked off in March 2014 and the first step was to do a labor certification, or PERM (Program Electronic Review Management). This is a process to prove that there are no qualified US workers for the position at Google that I have. This is obviously sort of a bullshit process since Google every week hires people to the same position as I have, both US and non US persons. But anyway, that is the game that you need to play. So the first thing we did was that my manager and me wrote up a job description and made a list of the skills that are needed to do the job I’m doing. (Things like “Java programming”, “distributed data storage” etc) Then I needed to reach out to managers at former jobs and get them to sign an “Employment Verification Letter” confirming that I had acquired those skills before moving to USA. Thankfully I managed to get in touch with the people I needed and they were helpful enough to sign and send me letters. (Thanks Mikael, André and Xavier!)
With the letters taken care of and some forms filled out it was just a matter of leaning back, twiddle my thumbs, and wait for something to happen. And the first thing that happened was that my case was randomly selected for auditing. Apparently this is something the Department of Labor do on a select number of cases to do quality assurance of their own processes. This didn’t mean that my life would be scrutinized in every detail or anything like that. It just meant that it would take something like 9 months extra.
In October 2015 (about a year and a half after I got started) they had done all the certification and auditing they felt like they needed to do and my PERM Labor Certification was approved!
I-140 and AOS
Now it was time to file two different things at the same time. “I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker” and “I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status (AOS)”. I’m a bit fuzzy on why there are two different things and exactly what each of them cover. (Go read on Wikipedia if you really want to know. 🙂 ) However, both are needed and they both require a heap of documents to be provided. Among other things I needed to provide
- Six identical passport photos. (I will never understand why they need six..)
- Birth certificate (which we don’t really have in Sweden, but “Extract of Population Register” from Skatteverket seemed to work fine).
- Medical exam. This meant that I had to go to a special doctor that performed immigration exams and tell them what vaccinations I have had. (Thanks Mom for writing everything down in that green little booklet and then handing it over to me!) They also performed some tests and gave me an extra vaccination that I apparently needed.
March 1st 2016 all of this was done and the attorneys filed the I-410 and AOS.
Employment Authorization Card
Then on April 22nd I received this little card in the mail.
I had never heard of this before so I was a little confused all of a sudden getting one. The employment authorization sort of works like a visa and it also comes with “AP (Advance Parole)” which enables you to travel outside the US and re-enter the country again. My H1B visa was still valid though so when I travelled to Sweden in May I never showed this card. Apparently the immigration officers in the passport control are less likely to know what to do with this card than a visa so they might send me to secondary inspection which just takes a lot of time.
Also, even though I could be working and traveling with this card after my visa expired in October it is apparently a good idea to extend the visa anyway until the green card is approved. As long as you have an ongoing green card process you can extend an H1B visa one year at a time. And if something happens with the green card process so you need to start over the visa will enable you to stay while you run the process again. The employment authorization would expire and could in that case not be extended. (What a fantastic system!)
Soon after I got the card I was called to an appointment at the local USCIS office (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) to collect biometrics information. The letter that I got had a time and a date and said that if I didn’t show up at that time they would consider my green card process as cancelled. Better not argue with that…
At the USCIS office the process was surprisingly fast and smooth. Almost no waiting time at all. They took my photo and some very thorough finger prints. Not only from all fingers but the guy that handled took a firm grip of my hand and sort of “rolled” my fingers on the scanner one by one to get all sides and angles.
On June 14th I got an email from the attorneys that the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition had been approved. All that was left now was the I-485 Adjustment of Status. They expected a decision on that by November. So I assumed it was soon time to start the process of extending the H1B visa since that would expire in October.
But then on July 11th I found this letter in my mailbox!
Sometimes even US authorities can give you nice surprises! And not only did I get this letter sooner than I thought. It says in the letter that I would receive the Permanent Residence Card within three weeks. But the very next day there was a courier envelope at my door with the card in it!
So what does it mean practically to be a permanent resident instead of having a visa? For my everyday life nothing really changes. I have already managed to buy both houses and cars without being a permanent resident. One difference will be at the airport though when returning to USA from abroad. Usually there are two lines at passport control, one for citizens and permanent residents and one for non residents. Now I will get to take the other line! I hope it’s faster…
Also, there is now no time limit on my stay here. No expiration dates at the horizon and applications that need to be filed and approved. And yeah, I can now be unemployed without being kicked out of the country!
When you have been a permanent resident for at least five years you can apply for “naturalization”, to become a US citizen. From my point if view there are both pros and cons with becoming a citizen.
- You get to vote.
- You don’t have to renew the green card every ten years (which I believe comes with a fee).
- You may have to do jury duty. (In the information brochures this is listed as a good thing but all Americans I have talked to hate it..)
- You will need to pay taxes in USA for the rest of your life.
Will I do it? I don’t know. I have a lot of time to think about it. 🙂