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Most Common Immigration Questions & Answers: Simplified

According to the Pew Research Center, over 1 million immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year. As of 2017, there were over 29 million immigrants either working or actively in search of work in the United States. While immigrants make up a significant portion of the U.S. population, immigrating to the U.S. is no easy feat. If you are considering immigrating to the U.S., you likely have a lot of questions.

Every immigrant’s case is different, so it’s important to understand that immigration does not meet a one-size-fits-all approach. That being said, let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding immigration.

What are the Types of Immigration in the U.S.?

There are two main types of immigration processes that people can utilize to legally enter the United States. Immigrants coming to the U.S. typically follow either the family-based immigration process or the employment-based immigration process. There are other avenues, but these are the two mostly widely known paths.

Here is a short glimpse at the two major types of immigration pathways:

Family-Based Immigration

Family-based immigration is for foreign-born individuals who have family members already living in the United States. For this type of immigration, the family member who is already a U.S. citizen will need to submit an immigration petition on behalf of their foreign relative. Family-based immigrant visas fall into one of two categories depending upon the relationship between the family members. They will either be classified as an immediate relative visa or a family preference visa.

To qualify for an immediate relative visa, you must have a close family relationship with the U.S. citizen as defined by the U.S. Immigration laws. This means you need to be the spouse (same-sex couples are eligible), minor child, or parent of a child who is over the age of 21. A minor child must be unmarried and 21 years of age or younger. The benefit of an immediate relative visa is that there is no need to wait for a visa to become available. In other words, visas are always immediately available for these relationships to U.S. citizens and there is no wait in line so you can apply immediately. Now, that being said, of course it does not mean the visa will be adjudicated fast - you will still have to wait for your application to be processed by Immigration, which can take a period of time.

Family preference visas are for family members whom the U.S. Immigration laws define as being more distant from relatives. For these types of visas, the immigrant must wait in line for a visa number to become available. What the U.S. Immigration laws define as 'distant relatives' and what one may presume it means are likely very different. For example, most people would not deem a sibling to be a 'distant relative', but U.S. Immigration laws define a sibling as such. Some other examples are:

  • You’re the adult child of a U.S. citizen

  • You’re the spouse or unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident

Are you looking to get a closer look at the immigration process? Check out some of our notable cases.

Employment-Based Immigration

As the name suggests, an employment-based visa is for an individual who has a job lined up in the United States

Based on the terms of employment, you may either qualify for a temporary work visa or a permanent work visa.

There are quite a few different types of temporary work visas. H2A visas are for temporary farm or agricultural workers, H2B for all other temporary or seasonal non-agricultural workers, and TN visas for those from Canada and Mexico, who qualify, are just a few common types of temporary work visas. The qualifications for all types of temporary work visas differ quite a bit. Some, but not all by any means, will require preparing a labor certification form to file with the U.S. Department of Labor before going on to Immigration to apply next. The employer's obligations vary depending on the type of visa.

A permanent work visa is for immigrants who have been offered full-time permanent employment by a U.S. employer, and who intend to hold the job in the U.S. for an extended period of time. Permanent worker visas are divided into five categories based on the type of employment.

Many employment visas depend upon the employees education, skill, and experience level. When referring to permanent employment visas, there are different categories. You may learn a bit more about the different categories of employment based visas at the State Department website.

Related: Employment Immigration - Immigration Series Part I

What is a Green Card?

A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, allows you to live and work in the U.S.. The steps you take to apply for a green card will depend on your individual situation.

While we talked about the 2 most common immigration paths above, those who qualify for the following may eventually be able to obtain a green card as well:

  • Victims of abuse or extreme cruelty

  • Victims of human trafficking and violent crimes

  • Refugees or those with asylee status

  • Special immigrants

Related: Marriage Green Card - Immigration Series Part II

How Does the Immigration Process Work?

As mentioned earlier, the immigration process you will have to undergo will depend largely upon your individual circumstances and what type of visa you qualify for. The eligibility requirements for each type of visa and each different immigration path can vary drastically.

To begin the process, you first need to figure out what type of immigration visa you need. Immigrating to the U.S. often means that you are hoping to permanently relocate to the U.S. by obtaining a green card. Green cards are often referred to as immigrant visas or lawful permanent residence.

A green card gives you access to unrestricted employment, and it also serves as an eventual pathway to U.S. citizenship, in due time, for those who qualify. While applying for a green card can be costly and time-consuming, the end result is life-changing for those who receive the green card eventually.

The first step in almost any kind of immigration case requires identifying which applications you will need to prepare and file. Not only will you need to fill out the corresponding applications, but you'll also need to be sure you have gathered all the necessary supporting documents and evidence to submit to support your case so that you have the best chance for a successful outcome. The application process will vary depending on if you live inside or outside the United States. After your case has been filed, meaning your applications and all necessary supporting documents have been submitted, eventually you will likely be called for an in-person interview either at your local USCIS office, if you are in the U.S., or at a nearby U.S. Embassy if you are outside the United States.

Related: How Can I Get a VAWA Green Card?

How Long Does Immigration Take?

If you are outside the U.S. seeking to immigrate to the U.S., how long it will take may depend on many factors, including, whether you are seeking a temporary non-immigrant visa, or a permanent immigrant visa, and how available Interview dates are at the Embassy you will need to Interview at.

If you are inside the U.S. already and seeking to fix your immigration status, then, again, it will depend on what type of case you are applying for. USCIS publishes estimated processing times on their website, but they may vary at any point in time.

How Can I Become a U.S. Citizen?

Naturalization is the process where a legal permanent resident is granted U.S. citizenship. To become a U.S. citizen, a resident must meet the eligibility requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

To become a U.S. citizen, you need to be a green card holder for at least five years, or, if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, then you may be eligible to apply after having had your green card for just three years instead of five.

Before you apply for U.S. citizenship, you may need to renew your permanent resident card (green card) if it has already expired or it will be expiring soon.

How Can an Immigration Attorney Help Me?

Whether you’re applying for U.S. citizenship, a family-based green card, or an employment visa, an immigration lawyer can help you every step of the way. The journey towards gaining U.S. citizenship can be a tricky one, so it’s best to rely on the services of an expert immigration attorney. Your attorney will help ensure that all of the process requirements are being sufficiently met, giving your case the best possible chance at success within the system.

If you’re looking to live in the U.S. in some capacity, one of your first moves should be to hire an immigration lawyer.

If you’re looking to hire an immigration lawyer in the Chicago area, contact us today!

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