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Millions of people have immigrated to the United States for a number of reasons, including family reunification, employment opportunities, and other economic or political opportunities. For anyone interested in immigrating to the U.S., it is important to know a bit about how the U.S. immigration system works to be better prepared to navigate U.S. immigration policies.

While immigration policies can be complicated, Rocket Lawyer is here to help by providing detailed information regarding current U.S. immigration laws and processes. Our network of qualified immigration lawyers can also provide legal advice to help you with your immigration questions.

Here's what we'll be covering:

chapter 1

What is U.S. Immigration Law?

U.S. immigration law is defined as the regulations regarding who can enter the U.S and how long they can stay. An "immigrant" is legally defined as a person who wishes to live in the U.S. long-term. A “non-immigrant“ is legally defined as a person who is visiting the U.S. for a short period for a specific purpose like a student or a tourist.

Immigration laws in the U.S. are written by Congress and then immigration agencies enforce those laws. The Department of Homeland Security oversees all government immigration agencies, including:

  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is responsible for handling immigration applications for temporary and permanent visas to the U.S. as well as applications for U.S. citizenship.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which enforces U.S. immigration laws inside the United States and arrests people and puts them in deportation proceedings.

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which enforces U.S. immigration laws at U.S. borders and ports of entry (like airports).

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Title 8 of the U.S. Code, is a listing of the U.S. immigration laws. More rules (known as regulations) are at Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

U.S. immigration policy can sometimes be changed by executive orders issued by the President of the United States. 675,000 permanent immigrants are allowed to reside in the U.S. annually, with some special case exceptions for approved close family members.

For more information regarding U.S. immigration laws and immigration advice, ask your legal question to a knowledgeable immigration attorney.

chapter 2

Types of Immigration - Immigration Status Overview

There are many ways for people to immigrate to the U.S., depending on the reason for coming to the U.S. and how long they are planning to stay. Below are some of the most common types of immigration.

Family-Based & Child Immigration

The main way that people immigrate permanently to the U.S. is through a family relationship. An “immediate relative“ is given the highest priority of all the family relationships. An immediate relative is the spouse or minor child of a U.S. citizen or the parents of U.S. citizens who are over the age of 21.

Other types of family relationships are subject to quotas and long waiting lists. These categories include minor children and spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), adult children of U.S. citizens, and siblings of U.S. citizens. The total number of family-based immigrant visas issued each year is limited to 480,000.

Employment-Based Immigration

Immigrants with valuable skills may be able to immigrate to the U.S. under an employment-based category. Employment-based categories require the sponsorship of an employer to apply for permanent resident status. The limit for employment-based permanent resident visas is 140,000.

Temporary Immigration

Individuals who want to come to the U.S. on a temporary basis for a specific purpose may apply for a temporary visa. There are several types of temporary visas available:

Employment-based temporary visas

In all, there are more than 20 different types of temporary employment visas that give immigrants the opportunity to come to the U.S. to work. These visas include:

  • H-1B visa for a specialty occupation (requiring a bachelor's degree or higher)

  • H-2B visa for seasonal, lesser skilled work

  • L-1 visa for the transfer of a high-level executive from a foreign branch to a U.S. branch of the same company

Other types of temporary visas include:

Religious Worker
(R-1)
Student Visa
(F-1, M-1)
Tourist Visa
(B-2)
Business Visa
(B-1)

Temporary visas are issued for a certain period of time and visa renewals are often limited. The holder of the visa will have to leave the U.S. when their visa expires or whenever their employment or studies come to an end.

Permanent Immigration

A person who wants to live permanently in the U.S. should apply to become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). An LPR is allowed to live and work in the U.S. permanently. This LPR status is also known as a “green card,“ even though the cards issued to these permanent resident immigrants are no longer green.

The green card application can be filed either inside or outside of the U.S.

  • Inside of the U.S. the process of applying to become an LPR is known as “adjustment of status.“

  • Outside of the U.S. the process of applying to become an LPR is known as “consular processing.“

U.S. immigration laws place limits on how many people can permanently immigrate to the U.S. from each country each year. To make sure a mix of immigrants from different countries come to the U.S. each year, the total number of green cards issued to each individual country cannot exceed seven percent of the total allowances issued within the year.

Patty N. Xidias
Rocket Lawyer
On Call® Attorney
IMMIGRATION TIP #1
"To help minimize your processing time, it is always best to present as much evidence to support your case as possible with the initial filing. By providing as much evidence as you can with the initial filing, you can cut down on the number of times the government sends a request for evidence. Every request for evidence that is issued by the government can add between 90 to 180 days of processing time to your case."
chapter 3

What is the Current U.S. Immigration Policy?

Immigration affairs has become an important topic in the U.S. based on recent, evolving changes to border security, interior enforcement and refugee policies.

The current presidential administration is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection that granted temporary resident status to young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age. These current immigration policy changes are leaving many confused about the future of their immigration status within the United States.

In recent months, the current presidential administration also signed an Executive Immigration Order, placing travel restrictions on people from certain countries from entering the United States. The travel ban has been the subject of lawsuits since March 2017. The most recent version of the travel ban executive order was issued on September 24, 2017. The countries affected by the newest version of the travel ban are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.

To learn more about travel restrictions, talk to an attorney on our On Call network.

chapter 4

How Does Immigration Law Work?

Immigration law in the U.S. can be complex and difficult to understand. Immigration lawyers deal with a variety of cases, not just individuals who have come to the U.S. illegally. Nationals of other countries who want to live in the U.S. can apply for permanent residence, either through family-based or employment-based categories if they qualify.

The first hurdle is to obtain LPR status in the United States. LPR status allows the immigrant to reside lawfully in the U.S. and to travel outside the U.S. for periods of up to six months at a time.

A person with a green card can file for U.S. citizenship after 5 years. There is an exception for spouses of U.S. citizens who can apply for citizenship after only 3 years. To apply to become a legal citizen of the U.S., an LPR must demonstrate good moral character, pass a background check, and be able to pass a U.S. government test.

Patty N. Xidias
Rocket Lawyer
On Call® Attorney
IMMIGRATION TIP #2
"Before you file any application with the government, carefully read the instructions to the form. Each set of instructions not only gives you guidance as to who should be filing the form, but also when you shouldn't be filing the form. The instruction sheet can help guide you as to the type of evidence you need to present and what will happen if you fail to provide something.

For example, when filing a Form I-485, did you know it is mandatory that provide proof of your valid inspection and entry into the U.S.? If you fail to file your proof of valid inspection and entry, such as your I-94 card, you will receive a request for evidence asking for this proof. If you can't provide it within the time allotted for response, you will likely be denied for failure to respond."
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chapter 5

Federal vs. State Immigration Laws

In the United States, immigration law is federal, and therefore the laws are the same for every state. There are no state immigration laws.

The federal immigration laws are enforced by immigration agencies both inside the U.S. and at the borders. These agencies will sometimes work with local or state police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. For example, in some cities, local or state police will arrest immigrants for an offense and then turn them over to federal immigration officials.

chapter 6

How Can Undocumented Immigrants Become Legal U.S. Citizens?

Many illegal immigrants wonder how to become legal U.S. citizens. It is difficult for an undocumented immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. This is why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney regarding possible options. Usually most people apply for a green card through a family member or through employment.

If the undocumented immigrant entered the U.S. illegally, there is no way to apply for a green card from inside the U.S. In that case, the individual will need to return to his or her home country and may face penalties, or even deportation.

If the undocumented individual entered the U.S. legally, he or she may be able to apply for a green card inside the U.S. This process is known as “adjustment of status.“ In this case, the person will receive a temporary work permit to allow employment while the application is pending.

chapter 7

What are Immigrant Rights?

Immigrant rights in the U.S. are mostly the same as those rights granted to U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution. These include rights such as freedom from search and seizure under the 4th Amendment and freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment.

Immigrants do not have the same rights to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment, and there are some restrictions on immigrants involving the possession of weapons. Also, the right to appointed counsel does not apply to immigrants. This means that immigrants are not given a lawyer by the government in deportation proceedings. If you or a family member are in deportation proceedings, Rocket Lawyer can help. Contact us to find out how a knowledgeable immigration lawyer in your area can represent you in deportation proceedings.

chapter 8

What is an Immigration Lawyer? How Do Immigration Consultation Services Work?

In the U.S., there are attorneys that specialize in immigration law. This is a highly complex area of U.S. law that changes quickly. This is why a highly experienced immigration lawyer is necessary to help lead potential immigrants through the confusing and sometimes difficult process.

Many people think that immigration law is simply filling out immigration forms, but the information that is placed on the forms that are filed with the U.S. immigration agencies is important. If the information is not completed correctly or is outright wrong, the application could be denied.

Immigration lawyers do much more than just complete forms. They review their client's eligibility and determine which visas or benefits their clients qualify for. They help clients put together evidence to support their applications. Finally, immigration lawyers can help if something goes wrong.

As U.S. immigration law is complicated, it is important to have an experienced immigration attorney handling the case. The most important time to consult with an immigration attorney is when you are thinking about immigrating to the U.S. even at the planning stage, an immigration lawyer can let you know your possible options and help you to determine the best route to take with the immigration process.

As immigration law in the U.S. is federal, it does not vary by state. This means that, unlike other areas of U.S. law, you can get help from an immigration lawyer in any state in the U.S. For example, even if you are considering living and working in California, an immigration lawyer in New York can help you with the visa process.

We know that it can be difficult to find excellent immigration legal advice. For this reason, Rocket Lawyer partners with only the best immigration lawyers to provide outstanding service to our members.

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Ask your legal question today.
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