Walking the right path: Requirements to obtaining a US visa or green card

The US is a great place to visit, just ask the millions of Canadians who travel there every year. Canadians are legally allowed to stay in the US for up to 6 months, but 6 months just isn’t enough for everyone. Canadians who want to stay in the US for an extended period of time or work will have to do their due diligence, and meet the necessary requirements in order to be eligible for a US visa or green card. The appropriate immigration path for an individual is dependent on their goals and objectives.

Both green cards and visas are government issued documents for immigrants, but the rights and privileges derived from these documents are very different. The biggest difference is that a green card is considered permanent residency, allowing the holder to remain in the US indefinitely. A visa, temporary in nature, grants the holder entry to the US, based on the specific conditions of that visa. Citizens of most foreign countries must obtain a visa before entering the US. There are three main immigration categories which would allow one to immigrate or work in the US, namely; family-based, employment-based, and investor-based.

In order to be eligible for a family-based green card, you would need a parent, spouse, sibling, or child to currently be a US citizen or permanent resident and to sponsor you. They say children are our biggest investment, which means for Canadian parents with US children, you can finally cash in. Should you not have a familial relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident, it is recommended you contemplate one of the other green card paths.

A second route to take in the green card process is employment based, where you would be sponsored by your employer. One of the most sought after employment visas is the H1-B Specialty Occupations visa. Holders of H-1B visas may be able to transition to an EB-2 or EB-3 Green Card, if they meet the qualifications and are sponsored by their employer. The potential to transition to a green card makes the H1-B visa very popular.

The TN NAFTA status is another popular employment-based visa. There are only a limited number of professions that qualify for TN status. This is a quick and efficient process should you qualify for this visa. If you show up at the border with the right qualifications and documentation, you can receive your visa immediately. Holders of TN Status are granted entry to the US for one to three years. It may be renewed indefinitely, but experience has shown that each renewal may be faced with increased scrutiny. Unfortunately the TN does not provide a path to a Green Card.

An L-1 visa is available to employees of an international company with offices in both the United States and abroad. The visa allows such foreign workers to relocate to the corporation’s US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one continuous year within the previous three prior to admission in the US. For our clients nearing retirement, they usually opt for the investor-based visa over the employment-based visa, should they not have any familial ties.

The investor visa category is very unique in that it is considered self sponsored. Two of the most popular visas in this category are the E-2 Treaty Investor visa and the EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa. The E-2 Treaty Investor visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals starting or purchasing a business in the US. While there is no clear Green Card path from an E-2 Treaty Investor visa, the E2 is renewable indefinitely as long as the individual continues to operate the business. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa is a Green Card that may be obtained with a $500,000 USD qualifying investment. Unfortunately, the process for obtaining an EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa can be long and complex. The level of investment required is the highest among all the investor visas, and therefore not realistic for most immigrants. On a positive note, as a Green Card holder, you would be allowed to remain in the US indefinitely. In addition, as a green card holder for 5 years you would be eligible for US Medicare at age 65.

The immigration process extends beyond simply choosing between a visa and green card, and needs to be integrated with many Cross Border Financial Planning issues such as your tax exit date and healthcare eligibility. Feel free to contact us at MCA Cross Border Advisors should you have any questions or uncertainties in the immigration process or any other cross border financial planning matters.