Frequently Asked Immigration Questions
Q: Who is permitted to enter the U.S. from a foreign country?
A: U.S. law establishes four principal means by which a foreign national can legally enter the country: employment-based immigration, family-based immigration, refugee or asylee status and the diversity lottery. Each category covers a variety of situations, some allowing permanent immigration and some only temporary stays in the country. The government allows temporary or permanent immigration for economic reasons such as filling jobs U.S. workers are not taking, and for humanitarian reasons such as reuniting families, or granting asylum or refugee status. The law establishes yearly quotas for some categories.
Q: Which family members may sponsor relatives for U.S. immigrant visas for permanent entry?
A: With some exception and restriction, a U.S. citizen may sponsor a spouse, parent, sibling, minor child or adult child (regardless of marital status), or fiancé(e) for an immigrant visa, known popularly as a green card. Additionally, an alien in the U.S. with lawful permanent resident status (a green card holder) may sponsor a spouse, minor child or adult unmarried child. Citizens and permanent residents who sponsor relatives for immigration must have a certain level of earnings and agree to legally support their incoming family members.
Q: How can a foreign national gain lawful-permanent-resident (LPR) status?
A: The two main ways a foreign national can become an LPR is to be sponsored by 1) a family member already living in the U.S. as a citizen or lawful permanent resident; or 2) an employer for a U.S. job that falls into a particular category set out by federal law. Foreign nationals also may be eligible to register for the diversity lottery and those with fear of persecution at home may qualify as refugees or asylees.
Q: If a foreign national is ineligible for lawful permanent resident status, are there other ways to enter the U.S. legally?
A: Foreign nationals may be able to enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time with a nonimmigrant visa. However, to receive a nonimmigrant visa, the foreign national must meet the requirements for one of the nonimmigrant categories set out by federal law. These categories include, among others, those wishing to visit family members or friends in the U.S., travel, receive medical treatment, conduct business or diplomacy, enroll in technical schools or universities, participate in cultural or educational exchange programs, or seek qualified temporary employment.
Q: If I have been granted a temporary work visa, may my spouse and child accompany me to the U.S.?
A: The dependent spouse and minor children of an applicant who has received a temporary work visa may be eligible to join the temporary worker in the U.S. However, the spouse and children will need to apply and be approved for the appropriate type of nonimmigrant visa in order to travel to the U.S. U.S. Under most circumstances, the spouse and children will not be allowed to work while in the U.S.
Q: How do I extend my stay in the U.S.?
A: Many nonimmigrant visa categories allow for extensions of time in the U.S., but normally government permission to stay beyond the original time periods granted is discretionary, not automatic. To extend the amount of time a foreign national may remain in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa eligible for extension, he or she must apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application should be filed well in advance of the foreign national’s last authorized day in the U.S. to avoid falling “out of status.” Normally, to be eligible for an extension, the foreign national may not have violated any of the terms of his or her nonimmigrant visa, and may not have committed any crime or otherwise broken the law while in the U.S.
Q: What are deportable offenses?
A: Deportable offenses are those actions for which an alien may be forced to leave the U.S. and return to his or her home country. Some deportable offenses include using fraudulent documents to enter the U.S., providing material misrepresentations (like marriage fraud) to receive a visa, committing certain types of crimes (like most drug crimes, aggravated felonies, domestic violence and child abuse, many gun offenses and more), posing a threat to national security, engaging in terroristic activity, helping others enter the country illegally, overstaying a visa and voting illegally. For a complete list, see 8 U.S.C.A. § 1227.
Q: Is there a limit on the number of people officially designated as refugees and asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds each year?
A: The president sets an annual limit on the number of refugees (coming from outside the U.S.), but not on the number of asylum seekers (already in the U.S.). The president works with Congress to determine the number of refugees that should be admitted to the U.S. for resettlement. To qualify as a refugee or asylee, an individual must have a “well-founded fear of persecution” at home for his or her religion, race or national origin, politics, or social-group membership.
Q: What is the diversity lottery?
A: The diversity lottery is a Department of State program which issues up to 55,000 diversity visas (DVs) each year to foreign nationals from regions and countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. Foreign nationals who meet the criteria for the lottery are placed into a pool and randomly selected by a computer program for the available visas every year. Only people from countries that sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the past five years are eligible for the lottery.
Q: What is nationalization?
A: Nationalization allows an alien to become a U.S. citizen. To be allowed to nationalize, a person must almost always have already been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for a particular length of time. Becoming a citizen, however, is not a requirement of LPR status. Some people stay in the U.S. for years as permanent residents but not citizens. With some exception, to be allowed to nationalize, the individual must be of “good moral character”; take an oath of allegiance to the U.S.; pass English literacy, history and government tests; and interview successfully with a government official to establish the right to citizenship.
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