Foreign officials and employees of embassies or consulates in the U.S. (“A visa” holders), and foreign officials and employees of international organizations in the U.S. (“G visa” holders), sometimes find themselves assigned to the U.S. with their families for many years. As a result, they may develop ties to the country and may wonder whether they could qualify for a green card in spite of their “diplomatic” status. (The U.S. government does not normally accept its own nationals or permanent residents as diplomatic agents for other governments.)
Certain A and G visa holders may, in fact, qualify for a green card (under both ordinary and special immigrant categories) if they waive (give up) their diplomatic rights, privileges, and immunities.
Waiver of Rights Always Required Before Diplomats Receive U.S. Green Card
A and G visa holders may be eligible for a green card in any of the immigrant visa categories available to other foreign citizens, but only if they waive their diplomatic rights, privileges, and immunities.
For example, if you are an employee on the administrative staff of a foreign embassy in the U.S., you may enjoy some immunity from criminal prosecution. However, if you would like to apply for a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you may do so only if you agree to give up your immunity and to accept liability for U.S. taxes. You are not required to abandon your position with the foreign mission.
To waive your diplomatic rights, privileges, and immunities, you would file a Form I-508, Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS at the same time as you apply for your green card.
The rest of your green card application package should include (in addition to your immigrant petition, visa, or adjustment of status application, and supporting documents) a Form I-566, Interagency Record of Request(available on the USCIS website).
Special Green Card for Foreign Diplomats (Section 13)
Foreign government representatives whose duties could be described as diplomatic or semi-diplomatic in nature (whether they were granted an A-1 or A-2 visa and assigned to an embassy or consulate, or were granted a G-1 or G-2 visa and assigned to an international organization) may also qualify for a special type of green card (“Section 13”) if they failed to maintain their diplomatic status, are unable to return to their home country due to compelling reasons, are otherwise admissible to the U.S., and can demonstrate good moral character.
Family members of such persons may also qualify for this benefit as dependents.
For example, a foreign ambassador could choose to defect from his or her government due to a civil war in the home country. The Section 13 option would allow the diplomat to do that without having to go through the laborious process of requesting asylum. He or she would not even need to file an immigrant petition (the usual first step in applying for most types of green cards).
By contrast, a foreign embassy employee with no formal decision-making role (or a foreign official with less compelling reasons not to return home) would be unlikely to be permitted this benefit.
Even for qualifying officials, Section 13 green cards remain extremely rare (a maximum of 50 per year) and may be granted only based on the national interests of the United States.
Special Green Card for International Organization Employees
Former officers and employees of international organizations (such as the United Nations and the World Bank) are eligible for a special type of green card if they lived in the U.S. on a G visa for at least 15 years (combined) before their retirement, including for at least half of the last seven years before applying for a green card. (This application must be filed on Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant no later than six months after the officer or employee’s retirement.)
The spouses of such international organization retirees, as well as the spouses of deceased former international organization officers or employees, may also independently qualify for a green card. In the latter case, the application must be filed no later than six months after the death of the former officer or employee.
Lastly, the unmarried sons and daughters of current or former international organization officers or employees are also independently eligible for a green card if they have lived in the U.S. on a G visa for at least seven years (combined) between ages 5 and 21, and for at least half of the seven years before their application for the green card. (The application must be filed before they turn 25.)