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Ways to Obtain Immigration Status

1. Family-Based Immigration

2. Employment-Based Immigration

3. Refugees and Asylees

4. The Diversity Visa Program

5. Other Forms of Humanitarian Relief

6. U.S. Citizenship

Understanding Immigration Status in the USA

Immigration law in the United States has been built upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.

1. Family-Based Immigration

Family unification is an important principle governing immigration policy. The family-based immigration category allows U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents(LPRs) to bring certain family members to the United States. Family-based immigrants are admitted either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through the family preference system.

 

Immediate relatives are:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens

  • unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens (under 21 years old); and

  • parents of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a parent)

 

The preference system includes:

  • adult children (married and unmarried) and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a sibling), and

  • spouses and unmarried children (minor and adult) of LPRs

2. Employment-Based Immigration

 

The United States provides various ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the country on either a permanent or a temporary basis.

 

Temporary Visa Classifications

 

Temporary employment-based visa classifications permit employers to hire and petition for, foreign nationals for specific jobs for limited periods. Most temporary workers must work for the employer that petitioned for them and have limited ability to change jobs.  There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers.

 

Permanent Immigration

 

The overall numerical limit for permanent employment-based immigrants is 140,000 per year.  This number includes the immigrants plus their eligible spouses and minor unmarried children, meaning the actual number of employment-based immigrants is less than 140,000 each year.

3. Refugees and Asylees

Protection of Refugees, Asylees, and Other Vulnerable Populations

There are several categories of legal admission available to people who are fleeing persecution or are unable to return to their homeland due to life-threatening or extraordinary conditions.

Refugees are admitted to the United States, based upon an inability to return to their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. Refugees apply for admission from outside of the United States, generally from a “transition country” that is outside their home country. The admission of refugees turns on numerous factors, such as the degree of risk they face, membership in a group that is of special concern to the United States (designated yearly by the President of the United States and Congress), and whether they have family members in the United States.

4. The Diversity Visa Program

The Diversity Visa lottery was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a dedicated channel for immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Each year, 55,000 visas are allocated randomly to nationals from countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous five years. Of the 55,000, up to 5,000 are made available for use under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act program, created in 1997 to provide relief to certain asylum seekers who applied for asylum before a specific date. This results in a reduction of the actual annual limit to 50,000. Beginning in 2020, DOS expects most of the 5,000 visas to be restored to the Diversity Visa program. The Diversity Visa program has become one of the only avenues for individuals from certain regions in the world to secure a green card.

5. Other Forms of Humanitarian Relief

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted to people who are in the United States but cannot return to their home country because of “natural disaster,” “extraordinary temporary conditions,” or “ongoing armed conflict.” TPS is granted to a country for six, 12, or 18 months and can be extended beyond that if unsafe conditions in the country persist. TPS does not necessarily lead to LPR status or confer any other immigration status.

 

Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) provides protection from deportation for individuals whose home countries are unstable, therefore making return dangerous. Unlike TPS, which is authorized by statute, DED is at the discretion of the executive branch. DED does not necessarily lead to LPR status or confer any other immigration status. 

 

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program established in 2012 which permits certain individuals who were brought to the United States under the age of 16 and who had resided continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007, to remain in the United States and work lawfully for at least two years, so long as they have no significant criminal record and have graduated high school or college or received a degree equivalent.  It does not confer any path to permanent legal status and requires renewal every two years.

Certain individuals may be allowed to enter the U.S. through parole, even though they may not meet the definition of a refugee and may not be eligible to immigrate through other channels. Parolees may be admitted temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

6. U.S. Citizenship

To qualify for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, an individual must have had LPR status (a green card) for at least five years (or three years if he or she obtained the green card through a U.S.-citizen spouse or through the Violence Against Women Act, VAWA). There are other exceptions including, but not limited to, members of the U.S. military who serve in a time of war or declared hostilities.

Applicants for U.S. citizenship must be at least 18 years old, demonstrate continuous residency, demonstrate “good moral character,” pass English and U.S. history and civics exams (with certain exceptions), and pay an application fee, among other requirements.

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Request a Consultation

It is strongly recommended that all persons with immigration inquiries seek the counsel of a legal professional.

An immigration attorney can determine the best course of action for any potential case and its unique set of circumstances.