United States Immigration System: immigration attorney explains how it Works?
Every immigrant who desires to come to the United States has the American Dream in mind: a better future for themselves and their families. However, the American Dream is not simple to achieve since the U.S. immigration system alone has its challenges.
The U.S. immigration system accepts foreign nationals with a certain aptitude or valuable talent to the country, reuniting families of U.S. immigrants, assisting refugees fleeing persecution, and encouraging diversity.
Specifically, the system follows a preference scheme in which some groups are prioritized over others (e.g., spouses or children of a U.S. citizen or LPR will be more likely on the top of the priority list).
However, the visa categories within the immigration system have varying eligibility conditions, annual numerical caps or limits, and corresponding rights and benefits.
Before we dig deeper, let’s first discuss…
What are the two main categories of visas under the U.S. immigration system?
These refer to permanent (immigrant visa) and temporary immigration (nonimmigrant visa).
As the name suggests, taking this route would earn you a privilege and a right to stay and work in the United States permanently and legally. To achieve it, one must first get a “green card.”
What exactly is a green card?
A green card is a green-colored document that allows you to legally and permanently work or stay in the United States. People with green cards are also called Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs).
Most of the time, people think a green card is nothing more than a work permit. While a green card does provide the eligibility to work in the United States, it is something that should not be taken for granted.
Remember, a green card holder must reside in the United States permanently and abide by the rules under immigration laws. Otherwise, the authorities may revoke your lawful permanent resident status.
What are the benefits of a green card holder?
Aside from the benefit of legally working and staying in the United States, green card holders also enjoy the following:
- There exists a path to becoming a U.S. citizen;
- You can sponsor family members for their green cards;
- Some government benefits are available to you (e.g., social security or educational assistance);
- You can travel to international and domestic areas anytime. TAKE NOTE that LPRs who travel overseas must return within 180 days;
- You are protected by U.S. laws, just like a U.S. citizen.
What are the Green card classifications under permanent immigration?
Now that we’ve defined what a green card is and some of its benefits, we should discuss the classifications under it. The following are the paths that you can take to get a green card:
Family reunification is among the aspects valued by the immigration system, where U.S. citizens or LPRs can live with their loved ones permanently.
It is essential to understand that there is a preference system when petitioning your family. There is no annual limit on grants for immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen. However, for other relatives, a yearly cap applies.
Immediate relatives refer to a US Citizen’s spouse, unmarried minor children, or parents.
Immigration laws categorize other relatives under Family Preference Immigrants, divided further as follows:
- 1st preference: unmarried child (21 years of age and older) of a U.S. Citizen;
- 2nd preference (A): spouse and children (under 21 years old) of an LPR;
- 2nd preference (B): unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of or older) of a LPR;
- 3rd preference: married children of a U.S. citizen;
- 4th preference: siblings of a U.S. citizen.
Other family members or relatives that US citizens can file for are:
- Fiance (under the K-1 visa) and the child of the fiance;
- Widow or widower; and
- Abused spouse, child, or parent (under the VAWA self-petition).
The U.S. immigration system also acknowledges the value of an individual’s skills and abilities in advancing U.S. society. Employers may petition for a green card for such qualified employees.
However, there is a yearly cap on the number of green cards granted for this category. The following are the types of jobs or individuals that can get a green card through employment:
1st preference (known as priority workers)
- Individuals of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics;
- Outstanding professors and researchers;
- Managers and executives of multinational companies.
- Professionals with advanced degrees;
- Individuals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business.
- Skilled workers;
- Unskilled workers.
4th preference (known as Special Immigrants)
- Religious workers
- International Broadcasters
- Special Immigrant Juvenile
- Afghan or Iraqi translators or interpreters
- And other types of jobs that fall under the Special Immigrant category.
5th preference is immigrant or foreign national investors.
Refugees and asylees
The immigration system in the United States acknowledges the necessity for foreign individuals to find a permanent safe haven to avoid persecution.
Those who fled their home country out of fear of persecution or well-founded threats may qualify as refugees (for those outside the US) or asylees (for those already within the US), to get legal status.
Those granted such status may then later apply for permanent residence.
Now here’s some additional information for you!
What is the Diversity Lottery Program and how does it affect immigration?
This program provides green cards to those countries that have a lesser number of immigrants in the United States.
It follows a lottery scheme where a foreign national enrolls him or herself into the program, and the program runs a lottery. The lucky individual who won the lottery will be able to apply for a green card.
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Now onto our second visa category:
It is essential to understand that the U.S. immigration system does not process only permanent immigration but also accommodates temporary ones. That means the USCIS grants a visa to those wishing to work or enter the United States for a specific period.
What exactly is a visa?
A visa is essentially an entrance document that permits you to travel to the U.S. border and seek entry into the country. Temporary visas are typically granted for employment, study, tourism, investment, or other reasons.
It’s also worth noting that holding a temporary (nonimmigrant) visa does not guarantee you a green card. However, in some situations, they may lead to one if you are eligible for a green card.
What are the different examples of nonimmigrant visas?
There are various nonimmigrant visas available depending on one’s circumstances. They are often signified by a letter (from A to V) followed by a number.
For example: A-1 visa for ambassadors, public ministers, etc. and their families.
Nonimmigrant visas differ in terms of the privileges they offer and the length of time you are allowed to stay and work in the United States.
The following are some examples:
- B-1 Business Visa;
- B-2 Tourist Visa;
- J-1 Exchange visitor visa for a study, work or training program by the US Department of State;
- L-1 Intracompany transferees who work in positions as managers, executives, or persons with specialized knowledge;
- P-1 Internationally recognized athletes and entertainers and their essential support staff; and
- U-1 Victims of Criminal Activity.
It is best to consult with an experienced immigration attorney if you are considering applying for a visa or a green card to take into account the special aspects affecting your case.