Immigration is a touchy subject, politically and emotionally charged. Immigration law is in constant flux. It is critical that you speak with an experienced immigration attorney about any immigration questions or concerns because the tiniest mistake or misinterpretation of the immigration law can have life-changing consequences.
There are several ways in which individuals born outside of the U.S. may gain citizenship. The process of becoming a U.S. citizen, if you were born elsewhere, is called naturalization. The majority of immigrants must hold a green card for three to five years to become eligible for naturalization. Children of citizens and individuals who have served in the U.S. military are also eligible.
The naturalization process is rigorous. You must pass a background check and interviews. You must also learn the English language, as well as the basics of U.S. history, our legal system, and how the government works. Applicants for naturalization must pass tests in these areas, and if you are approved you must take an oath of allegiance.
Once granted citizenship you enjoy most of the rights of natural born citizens, including the right to vote.
Green Cards/Immigration Visas
A green card, also referred to as an immigration visa and formally called a U.S. Permanent Resident Card, grants you the right to live in the U.S. permanently, but does not give you citizenship, and does not grant you all of the rights enjoyed by citizens.
A green card may be granted based on various circumstances including having a family member that is a citizen or permanent resident, seeking employment with a U.S. company, and holding investments or business interests in the U.S.
Temporary visas may be issued to temporary workers, tourists, students, diplomatic personnel, and those who are visiting on business. Temporary visas are for people who are just visiting the U.S. and intend to return to their home country.
Asylum and Refugee Status
Asylum and refugee status are available to individuals who face or fear persecution in their native countries based on:
- Political opinion
- Membership in a social group
People who are already on U.S. soil apply for asylum. Refugee status is applied for by those who are outside of the U.S., typically through application to the United Nations.
Anyone who is not a citizen is considered an alien and can be deported. Deportation is typically based on violation of immigration or criminal laws. There are several ways to fight deportation. An immigration attorney can help.