Can I get a green card by working for a U.S. embassy?

A "special immigrant" visa is available to some former employees of the U.S. government, but only in limited circumstances.

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Question

I have been an administrative assistant at the U.S. embassy in my country for almost 15 years. I have received an award for the length of my service. Also I did a lot of work for the office to prepare for the transition to the new ambassador. So, the old ambassador told me I will get an award for my performance.

Now I think I want to retire in two or three years and I really want to go live in the United States after that. I heard that maybe it will be possible to do with the help of the ambassador. But the problem is, I don’t really know the new ambassador like I know the old one. Can I apply for the green card? And can I ask the old ambassador to help me, just to make sure I get the best chance?

Answer

Whether you can obtain a green card (or lawful permanent residence based on a special immigrant visa) as a foreign employee of the U.S. government will depend on a number of factors. However, it appears that you will need to wait and request an official recommendation from the new ambassador when your expected retirement date draws near.

As an administrative assistant, your position has no doubt been important to the day-to-day management of the embassy. But, unless there is evidence that you were put in charge of unusually important tasks, and that you were successful, you might have a hard time obtaining special immigrant status on the basis of your responsibilities alone — even with an ambassador’s recommendation.

Your performance award will certainly help — if you get it. (The promise of an award would be a much weaker factor in your favor.) Still, a single award might not be enough to demonstrate the kind of sustained pattern of excellence typically needed to obtain a strong recommendation (or for a recommendation to be approved).

Have you performed valuable services outside the course of your official duties throughout the years? (For example, have you often personally helped U.S. diplomats develop important local contacts, even if you did so informally?) If so, this might strengthen your case.

Also, if relations between your country and the United States are bad, this could well turn out in your favor to some degree, because then the ambassador and the U.S. State Department might be more inclined to protect or otherwise assist you.

In any event, your length of service alone will probably not be enough to make you eligible for the green card, even assuming you work for another three years.

The fact that you do not intend to retire (and immigrate to the U.S.) for at least another two years means that you will probably need to wait a little longer before requesting a formal recommendation for the green card. When that time comes, you will need the ambassador in function to issue that recommendation based on your record, although a letter of support from the old ambassador would be a good addition to the latter.

For the most part, your record will need to contain objective evidence of your eligibility for special immigrant status. This means that you should count very little on the ambassador’s personal friendship or anecdotes to strengthen your case.

If you work at a large embassy, there might even exist a panel that prescreens former employees for special immigrant status eligibility. In such a case, you should expect the panel’s opinion to weigh significantly in the new ambassador’s recommendation and in the State Department’s decision on whether you merit U.S. lawful permanent residence.

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