Those wishing to relocate permanently to the U.S. and those desiring to visit the U.S. temporarily must apply and be approved for visas prior to traveling to and entering the country. There are many types of visas, and it is essential that the foreign national applies for the correct class of visa. Contact the Los Angeles immigration lawyers at Hanlon Law Group, P.C. for knowledgeable assistance with your visa and other immigration matters.
Those wishing to obtain permanent legal resident status in the U.S., known as having a green card, must apply for an immigrant visa. Currently, the main ways to receive immigrant status are through family-based immigration or employment-based immigration.
- Family-based immigration. U.S. citizens can sponsor their immediate relatives (spouses, parents of citizens over 21 and unmarried children under 21) for green cards in unlimited numbers; no yearly limits exist for these categories. Next in line and subject to yearly visa caps (and therefore potential waiting periods) are qualified relatives of citizens or permanent residents. According to the USCIS website, these potential immigrants fall into family-preference categories in the following order: unmarried children over 21 of citizens; spouses and unmarried children under 21 of permanent residents; unmarried children over 21 of permanent residents; married children of citizens and the children’s spouses and minor children; siblings of citizens and the siblings’ spouses and minor children. In many cases to obtain a family-based visa, the potential immigrant must secure an eligible citizen or permanent-resident relative’s commitment to financial support for a set time period. In order to sponsor a family member financially for immigration, the citizen or legal permanent resident in most cases must be able to prove that his or her “household income is equal to or higher than 125% of the U.S. poverty level for [his or her] household size.”
- Employment-based immigration. For most employment-based visas, potential immigrants must have job offers and employers willing to petition for the immigrants’ visas. Potential immigrants may file their own petitions without employer sponsors if the immigrants have “extraordinary ability” in certain fields or are eligible for National Interest Waivers.
There is also a special category for immigration through investment that allows up to 10,000 qualified aliens and immediate family members to receive permanent resident status, based on a certain level of investment in commercial enterprises in the U.S., and plans to “create or preserve ten permanent full time jobs for qualified United States workers.”
Nonimmigrant visas are generally available to those who want to travel to the U.S. for specific reasons — usually business or pleasure — for limited amounts of time such as for education, business trips, medical treatment and vacations
Those applying for these visas must demonstrate significant ties to their home countries and a desire to return home once their time in the U.S. comes to an end. Those who overstay nonimmigrant visas or use them as a pretext to enter the U.S. with the intention of remaining permanently will be subject to removal.
Asylum and refugees
In addition to family and employment-based visas, the U.S. also admits on humanitarian grounds those seeking protection from persecution in their home countries either as refugees or asylees.
- Refugee status is for those who cannot return to their home country and are otherwise living outside of their home country because they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution or serious harm based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a specific social group. Each year, the President determines how many refugees will be eligible for resettlement in the U.S. based on the world refugee population.
- Asylee status is for those who are already in the U.S. and qualify for refugee status, or for those who arrive at a U.S. port of entry seeking to enter the country for protection The U.S. does not normally limit the number of asylum seekers who may enter the U.S. each year.
After one year in the U.S., refugees must apply for legal permanent resident status. Asylees, however, are not required to apply, but it may be in their best interests to seek the change in status.
Those who are not otherwise eligible for legal permanent resident status, or for refugee or asylee status still may be eligible to gain legal status through the diversity lottery. The diversity lottery randomly selects 50,000 foreign nationals each year for legal permanent resident status from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. To be eligible, the applicants must meet specific requirements, including attaining a high school education or equivalent, or meeting certain work experience requirements.
Speak to an immigration lawyer
For assistance with choosing the appropriate type of visa, applying for a visa or seeking a change in visa status, contact an experienced immigration attorney at Hanlon Law Group, P.C.