There are three basic areas of U.S. immigration benefits:
I) Non-immigrant visas;
II) Permanent Residence (“green card”); and
III) U.S. Citizenship.
I. Non-immigrants: (NIV’s)
Non-immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals on a temporary basis, for a specific purpose.
There are a large number of visas available for various purposes. Some common visas you may encounter are:
B-1/B-2 Visitors for business or pleasure (usually limited to six months)
E-1/E-2 Treaty traders or investors (time limits and availability depend on country of origin)
F-1/J-1/M-1 Students & Trainees (valid for duration of studies)
H-1B Temporary workers filling Specialty Occupations (3 years, up to six years)
L-1 Temporary workers transferred between multinational companies (up to seven years)
O/P Extraordinary aliens, artists, performers, athletes, scientists
Most visas require a temporary stay and intent to return to one’s home country after the visa expires.
Many visas can be applied for at the U.S. embassy/consulate in the home country. Some first require petition approval by the USCIS before a visa can be issued at the consulate.
II. Lawful Permanent Residence: (Green Card)
There are four basic avenues for obtaining lawful permanent residence: a) through a qualifying family relationship; b) through qualifying employment sponsorship; c) through the diversity program (“the green card lottery”) or d) through asylum.
Lawful permanent residents are non-U.S. citizens who have authorization to work and stay in the U.S. indefinitely. They may serve in the U.S. military, but may not vote. They must follow certain guidelines to maintain their status when traveling and staying outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time. They may lose their status as well if they commit crimes.
Obtaining permanent residence is usually a lengthy and complex process and requires a careful analysis of an individual’s circumstances.
III. U.S. Citizenship (Naturalization)
In general, a person who has been a lawful permanent resident for five years (in some cases, 3 years) and has been physically present in the U.S. for half of that time can qualify for U.S. citizenship. A person who is married to and residing with a U.S. citizen can typically apply for U.S. citizenship after three years, in addition to other requirements.