In immigration law, a permanent resident is someone with authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As proof of permanent legal resident status, the person receives what is commonly known as a green card.
Many immigrants obtain legal residency status through a family member or an employer, while others obtain it through refugee or asylum status, explains the USCIS. Immigrants fall into different categories that affect their eligibility to obtain legal residency in the United States. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens do not have to wait in order to immigrate to the United States, and the government does not limit the number of people who immigrate in this way. This category includes the parents or spouse of a U.S. citizen and the citizen's unmarried children under the age of 21.
Family members who are not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens must wait for an available spot to open before they can apply for a green card, the USCIS reports. The closer the degree of relation is, the higher preference the person has. Immigrants seeking residency on the basis of employment must wait for an available spot under different employment categories, with some having a higher preference than others based on the potential benefit they provide to the country.