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The Basics of Immigration

Immigration is the process whereby a person lawfully moves from one country to another intending to live or work there permanently. The U.S. also uses the term to refer to long-term temporary stays. Before entering the U.S., you will need to apply for a visa, either temporary nonimmigrant or permanent. You can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship with a permanent visa, or "green card," which isn't actually green anymore.

Basic Eligibility for Immigration

The United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) offers several different paths to enter the U.S. as an immigrant. These are the basic categories you may use to apply for immigrant status:

  • Family in the U.S.: The family member must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and preferably an immediate family member, such as a spouse or child. Distant relatives are given lower priority. Your relative must submit Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to the USCIS on your behalf.
  • Employment opportunity in the U.S.: A U.S. employer may sponsor people with certain in-demand job skills. The employer must submit several different forms with USCIS and the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration on the employee's behalf.
  • Capital investment: Foreigners who make significant capital investments in the United States that benefit the economy and create or save jobs may file an Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur with USCIS.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers: People who have suffered or are fearful of suffering persecution in their home country may be eligible for citizenship.

People who don't qualify under these rules may enter a lottery if they are citizens of a country with low rates of immigration to the U.S. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program randomly offers a certain number of visas each year and closes for the year once the maximum number of visas has been issued.

If approved for permanent immigrant status, you will receive a green card, or permanent visa, that allows you to live and work in the country. You may also travel outside of the U.S. relatively freely, although spending too much time out of the country could put your permanent residency in jeopardy.

Denial of Immigration Petition

Approval of your petition is not guaranteed. The USCIS will deny entry to aliens who may not make positive contributions to the country, including:

  • Anyone with a criminal history
  • People involved with terrorism
  • Aliens without enough income to support themselves
  • People who are dishonest about their reasons for moving to the U.S.

Although the basics sound simple, the process of immigration can be complex, so it is helpful to have an immigration lawyer help you figure out your best options.