What is a Special Immigrant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2020
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A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for a green card under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. Annually, 10,000 visas are available for special immigrants. In order to apply for immigration documents under this status, an immigrant must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to USCIS. Hiring an immigration attorney is not required for this process, but using the services of an attorney can make it run more quickly and smoothly.

Also known as the fourth employment-based preference, the special immigrant program provides people with the ability to live and work anywhere in the United States with a green card if they are members of certain groups. People who apply for the program will be scrutinized by USCIS to confirm that they qualify. Spouses and minor children of the primary applicant can also be admitted under the program. People who are not sure about the forms to use when applying for visas and residency documents can ask USCIS officials for help.

Among the categories of people considered special immigrants are doctors, workers for religious organizations, long-term government employees, Canal Zone workers, members of the armed services, workers for certain organizations, and people who have provided translation or other support to the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these individuals will need to submit documentation of their qualifications to demonstrate that they are indeed eligible.


A special immigrant with a green card can live and work in the United States and has a legal immigration status. These individuals can opt to pursue citizenship in order to have voting rights and other benefits available to US citizens. It is important to be aware that, while in the country on a green card, immigrants can be closely scrutinized, and they can be at risk of deportation for violating the law. This permanent residency status, in other words, can be revoked.

People who are in the United States illegally can have difficulty applying for legal immigration status, including special immigrant status. Individuals in this position should consult an immigration attorney to get advice on how to proceed. The limited number of visas available to people each year are carefully rationed, and people should be aware that it can take months to process applications. People who are in urgent need, such as individuals at risk if they remain in their home nations, can discuss the situation with an immigration attorney and a US Embassy in their home nations.



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