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Immigration Overview

The U.S. immigration policy has been molded throughout the years by laws passed by those in control, including both the Biden administration and the Trump administration. Border protection is a vital aspect of immigration enforcement. It's important to note that Congress legislates immigration laws, while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) monitors its law enforcement nationwide.

This article aims to provide individuals with basic information on U.S. immigration laws, along with some migration processes to the United States. Below, you will find articles covering immigrants who intend to live and work in the country permanently, although U.S. immigration laws also cover entry into the country for almost any purpose. This may include temporary visas, tourist visas, or employment-based visas.

Naturalization and Citizenship

For migrants attempting to acquire U.S. Citizenship, it is vital to understand the difference between immigration and naturalization. The federal government oversees naturalization, sanctioned by the Attorney General. It is the legal process by which a noncitizen becomes a U.S. citizen, as stated in the United States Code (U.S.C.). It occurs after fulfilling specific requirements imposed by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Permanent Residency

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are usually referred to as "green card holders." Be aware that the residency card's color has changed frequently over the years. LPRs, as the name suggests, reside permanently in the United States. They are authorized to work for any employer without additional documentation. LPRs can also enter and leave the country within certain restrictions.

Residency is typically acquired when a migrant, family member, or employer files a petition on behalf of the immigrant. In some cases, humanitarian programs may also lead to residency. However, it is crucial to stay updated with the recent changes in the immigration system, particularly for those attempting to acquire LPR status. Failure to follow these terms may result in loss of legal immigration status, abandonment, or other violations.

DACA and Its Role in Immigration

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) temporarily relieved undocumented youth from deportation. The Obama Administration initiated this policy in 2012. The program aims to grant deferred action to individuals who arrived in the U.S. at under 16 years old and were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012. They should have lived in the U.S. without lawful status throughout their stay since at least June 15, 2007.

The Trump administration attempted to end DACA, but the action was challenged in court. In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration's attempt to terminate the program was unlawful.

Residency Through Family

The U.S. government places particular importance on family reunification, providing pathways for U.S. citizens to petition for their family members. This applies in particular to their immediate relatives, through family-based visas. Here, the petitioner is often a U.S. citizen who files a petition with the USCIS.

The process requires specific steps, and the USCIS may ask the petitioner and the beneficiary to produce certain documents to support their application process. They should also prove the absence of factors that could bar residency. Laws like the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and Immigration Reform and Control Act examine individuals' records and history.

The following issues may pose a risk of inadmissibility for acquiring a family-based visa:

  • Previous public charges
  • Public violations
  • Criminal convictions
  • Other factors

However, certain waivers may apply and be granted in some instances. For more information about family-based immigration, it's a good idea to consult with an immigration law expert.

A green card may be immediately available to the family member, but often there are long waits and the immigration process can take months, if not years. The wait may also depend on the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. For instance, unmarried children of  U.S. citizens may have different waiting times than their spouses.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency that handles visa processing, and they provide detailed requirements for eligibility for immigration status. The USCIS also issues visas which come in various forms, such as immigrant, nonimmigrant visas, and more.

Residency Through Employment

An individual seeking residency through employment must also be free of bars. With a family-based visa, a petitioner is required to acquire employment-based residency. Foreign national skilled workers can attempt to gain residency through lawful employment in the United States. The USCIS mandates the employer to do the following:

  • Demonstrate the need for foreign employees. This often requires proof that there were not enough workers in the United States who were able, available, qualified, and willing to do the job. In addition, the employer should also show that hiring the foreign employee will not adversely impact the working conditions and wages of similarly employed employees in the country.
  • File a certification with the Department of Labor. Before an employment-based visa petition can be filed, the employer must undergo labor certification. If the Department of Labor approves this certification, it verifies the need for a foreign employee. It also ensures that the process will not detrimentally affect U.S. labor.
  • Submit Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker). After the labor certification is approved, the U.S. employer will file Form I-140 with the USCIS. This is the formal request to give the foreign national an employment-based visa in the United States.

Diversity Lottery

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program is another means for a foreign national to acquire residency. The federal government provides visas to an immigrant despite the absence of a petitioner. The Department of State issues 50,000 immigrant visas every fiscal year from worldwide lotteries. Not all countries qualify for these lotteries.

Learn more about state-specific laws on our immigration law answers page.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Asylum seekers come to the United States to flee persecution in their country. The persecution is often based on political opinion, religion, race, nationality, or membership in a social group. The number of immigrants with asylum or refugee status allowed in the country may vary yearly. Depending on the immigrant's national origin, specific rules and restrictions may also apply.

Seek Legal Advice from an Immigration Law Attorney

The federal government monitors visa processing in the United States.  Acquiring legal status requires a series of steps overseen by the USCIS, although immigration enforcement may vary case by case. Laws passed by Congress can change with each new administration, and a misstep with the Department of Homeland Security can lead to deportation.

Navigating the intricacies of U.S. immigration laws can be challenging and overwhelming. Consulting an immigration attorney can prove to be tremendously helpful. They can assist you with making informed decisions and taking the proper steps to legal immigration.

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