Understanding US Immigration Laws
If you are looking into immigration to the United States you may have discovered that US immigration laws can be quite complex. There are many different categories and policies for all different types of individuals.
While there’s no need to be a full-blown US immigration lawyer, it certainly helps to have an understanding of US immigration laws before beginning an application. So, to get you started, here are some of the broadest facts about US immigration law.
Who does US Immigration Laws Apply to?
Unsurprisingly, US immigration laws applies to immigrants. It’s worth noting that the laws apply to immigrants for as long as they remain in the country until they either leave or become naturalized citizens.
For the most part, immigrants have many protections that apply to US citizens. That said, there are some crucial differences. The biggest apply to federal aid and punishment for crime. US citizens can apply for aid, such as unemployment insurance and tax credits, whereas immigrants can’t.
Similarly, immigrants can be deported for crimes, which US citizens obviously can’t. It’s not always the case, though, as it largely depends on the severity of the crime. Hopefully, this won’t apply to you upon entering the US, but it’s a difference worth noting!
Two Ways to Legally Enter the United States
There are two options for legally entering the US under US immigration laws The first is on a nonimmigrant visa. As the name suggests, you’re not counted as a full immigrant, but rather a visitor. However, the length of your visit can still be several years.
The most important point is that, by law, you’re expected to return to your home country once your visa expires. It’s typically reserved for things such as business and education, tourism, visiting family, and so on. You are also ineligible to apply for US citizenship and you cannot obtain employment while you are in the country.
If you choose to remain in the country once your visa expires, USCIS counts you as “out of status”. This is a polite way of saying illegal immigrant and, if found, you’ll be put into deportation proceedings.
The second option for legally entering the US is through an immigrant visa, also known as a Green Card. Obtaining one makes you a lawful permanent resident, which means you can remain in the US indefinitely. After 3-5 years of residency, you can apply for citizenship, too.
Green Card holders can legally work in the US and have various protections not afforded to nonimmigrant visa holders. The most popular Green Card categories relate to family and employment, and you always need a sponsor for your application.
Adjustment of Status under US Immigration Laws
In US immigration laws, there is something called adjustment of status. It allows nonimmigrant visa holders to change their status to permanent resident. Not all visa holders can do it, as it depends on current circumstances and reasons for wanting to remain in the country.
One example is a temporary skilled worker (IT technician, for example) who gets offered a permanent role at their current company. In this situation, their employer would sponsor them for a Green Card based on employment.
Another example is a student visa holder marrying a US citizen. The American spouse would sponsor their adjustment of status application based on family connections. In this situation, the Green Card holder could apply for citizenship after 3 years rather than the standard 5.
Once you are legally residing in the United States permanently, you can apply for US citizenship. You must be living within the US for anywhere from 3 to 5 years, be able to speak the English language, maintain good moral character, understand US history and government, and constantly support the US Constitution.
Being Ineligible for Entry to the US
There are a few conditions that make someone ineligible to enter the US on either a permanent or temporary basis. The official name for this is inadmissibility. During an immigration application, USCIS will check whether there are any reasons why the applicant isn’t admissible to the US.
Some of the criteria that disqualify you for entry into the US include being convicted of a felony, having a contagious illness, having a history of drug abuse, failing to find gainful employment, or at least proof of how you plan to support yourself once you are in the US.
Similarly, visa holders can be rendered inadmissible while in the country. This might happen if they commit a crime or outstay their visa. In these situations, they’ll inevitably be deported but might also not be allowed back in the country.
Goals of US Immigration Laws
There are different categories of immigration that are prioritized according to the goals of the current US immigration laws and policies. These impact numerous factors, such as how many of a certain visa are issued annually and who receives authorization first.
The primary goal of immigration is to bring families together by permitting entry of immigrants who already have families living in the US. Therefore, the first category is immediate family members of US citizens with a second category of family-sponsored immigration for more distant family members.
For example, spouses, parents, siblings, and children count as immediate (priority) family members. There isn’t a cap on how many can enter the US each year. More distant family members fall into the Family Preference category. The visas have a numerical cap each year, meaning applicants might have to wait a long time before one becomes available.
The second goal is to fill employment positions that require in-demand skills for specific occupations. Therefore, the third category is immigration based on employment for individuals with advanced degrees, entrepreneurs who are capable of creating jobs, those with skills that are highly in demand, or ministers of religion.
As part of this, sponsors must show why they’re looking outside of the US for skilled employment. This typically requires showing there’s a lack of potential workers within the country.
The third goal is to offer protection for immigrants who face pressures in their home country related to political or religious views. So, the fourth category relates to refugees and asylees who potentially face persecution in their own country.
The last goal is to foster diversity by allowing a specific number of immigrants to enter the US from underserved countries in terms of immigration opportunities. This category relates to the green card lottery system, which encourages immigration from countries with proportionately low migration numbers.
Understanding US Immigration Laws
Of course, US immigration policies are more involved than what we’ve described here. However, the information we have provided in this article will provide you with a solid starting point. Understanding US immigration laws will help you get started on the path to immigration to the US.
But if you want to skip the difficulty, why not apply to the Green Card Lottery? Winning guarantees you and your family lawful permanent residence without the usual conditions. We can help with your application, so get in touch for more information.