The immigration process is one of the most complicated aspects of moving to another country. An illegal move can land you in hot soup. It is, therefore, important to understand what it takes to become a legally authorized immigrant/citizen of the US.
Let’s have a look at what makes an immigrant legal in the US.
Who Is an Immigrant?
An immigrant is an individual who is a citizen of one country, but enters another country to set up a permanent residence.
Merely entering a new country, however, does not qualify you as an immigrant. It is necessary that you have citizenship of one country and then move to a new country with the specific intent of living there permanently. Visiting another country for a temporary stay related to study, work, or other similar reasons gives the visitor a non-immigrant status, and will need him to fulfil a different set of criteria for clearance.
There is an advanced classification for determining whether or not you are a legal immigrant.
A legal immigrant is someone who has entered a new country with the intent of permanent residency with the required visa and clearance to arrive in and settle into that country. On the other hand, an illegal or undocumented immigrant is someone who enters a new country with the intent of permanent residency, but without the appropriate clearance(s).
A legal immigrant does not need to prove that he intends to return back to the country of which he is already a citizen of. But, he will be required to procure an immigrant visa or a similar document that confirms his eligibility to lawfully enter into the country he wishes to migrate to.
Depending on the country he’s looking to migrate to, there are several laws which he will need to abide by in order to receive immigrant status. Many a time, the family members of citizens are permitted to immigrate to the country and get citizenship.
Apart from that, if there is a proven dearth of qualified naturals for employment in certain fields in a particular country, you may be allowed to enter that country as an immigrant if you’re qualified to fill the vacancies.
Further, you can acquire an immigrant status by seeking refuge or asylum, if you can prove that your existence is threatened if you return to the country of your citizenship.
There are certain laws in every country that govern the matter of immigration and provide/deny immigrant status to applicants depending on the fulfilment/non-fulfilment of certain criteria. These laws are referred to as immigration laws, which can get pretty complex for the layman’s understanding.
Simply put, immigration laws are the official rules put forth by the governments of each country to regulate the entry of foreign visitors, as well as to determine for how long they can be/are allowed to stay.
These laws are also applicable to the naturalization process for individuals who want to become citizens of the United States of America. When aliens (citizens of another country) enter the U.S. without permission, prolong their visit, or lose their legal status for any reason, it is the immigration laws that determine how the detention and the deportation/removal processes are to be conducted.
The U.S. Constitution has granted the right to legislate in matters related to immigration exclusively to the Congress. State governments cannot enact immigration laws.
The federal agencies, which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, that handle the running and the implementing of the immigration laws are –
1. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE): Deals with individuals that disobey the law, and subsequently prosecutes the offenders.
2. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): Keeps the border secure.
3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): Handles applications for legal immigration.
Typically, foreigners can procure authorization to visit the U.S. through a systematic visa approval process. Visas are available under two main categories –
o Immigrant visas: These visas are for those who want to reside and work in the US. There are fixed and country-specific quotas in this category.
o Non-immigrant visas: These are meant for tourists, students, businessmen, or others who are visiting or want to be in the US on a temporary basis.
Citizens of certain developed, and politically and economically stable (as deemed by the U.S. government) nations can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. This facility is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which is used mostly by vacationers from 37 countries. It does not, in any way, authorize foreign nationals to conduct work, attend school, or apply for permanent residency.
Immigrating to the U.S. calls for the submission of applications to the federal government. These applications contain detailed information about the applicant, which needs to be mentioned accurately. The entire process can get extremely complicated as immigration rules change often, which may make it difficult for the layman to catch up with them.
Immigration is a specialized field among lawyers, and not one which is suited for general attorneys. Self-representation, in the matters of immigration, is strictly advised against. If you’re looking to immigrate, you will do well to engage an experienced immigration attorney as he can make it easier for you to acquire a green card (for permanent residency), and even citizenship.
The most common ground for granting legal status to individuals is family-based immigration. For this, a permanent resident or a citizen of the U.S. files a petition on behalf of a family member or an ‘immediate relative’ in a foreign country. This can include parents, siblings (given least preference) and spouse of a citizen aged 21 or older, unmarried children under age 21 (given most preference), as well as children adopted before turning 16.
U.S. citizenship is highly sought-after by people of most other countries. After all, it is the land where dreams come true. It is, however, crucial that one enters this wonderful nation through legal means. Immigration is a highly specialized area of law, and it is imperative that you ensure that your immigration attorney specializes in handling these kind of cases before hiring him. The above information should help you understand where you stand in your quest to become a U.S. Citizen.
Solomon Gilliam is a top Chicago-based immigration lawyer at The Acosta Law Group. He has vast experience in handling all kinds of immigration cases, and a proven track record in handling issues related to immigration law. He personalizes legal representation for his clients and fights