Immigration Questions and Answers

Understanding U.S. Immigration-Related Matters

Foreign citizens who wish to visit or live, work or study in the United States may face specific legal proceedings to be granted entry. You may be interested in applying for a visa, may be seeking permanent residency or asylum, may be considering your legal options in the face of deportation or may have a goal of becoming a U.S. citizen through the process of naturalization. In any of these issues, it is helpful to get basic information and legal guidance. Here, we have included some basic questions about immigration-related matters in the U.S. We have tried to answer these as clearly as possible, but as every case is unique, you may find it beneficial to discuss your particular concerns with an immigration lawyer.

What government agency oversees immigration-related matters?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for managing, overseeing and enforcing immigration laws and proceedings in the United States. Within the DHS, there are three main agencies that handle immigration-related matters: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

What is a visa?

A visa is a legal endorsement on a passport or a document that authorizes a person who is not a citizen of the United States to enter the U.S. for a specific reason and length of time. Applying for an obtaining a visa can be a complex process; you may find it helpful to consult with an attorney depending on the circumstances of your case.

If I want to visit the United States as a tourist, will I need to obtain a visa?

Whether you will need to apply for a visa as a tourist will depend on the length of your intended stay as well as your country of origin. If you will be staying for less than 90 days and your home country is a participant in the Visa Waiver Program, you may not require a visa.

What are the main types of visas?

There are two main types of visas. Immigrant visas allow for permanent residency, enabling the holder to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Nonimmigrant visas allow for temporary residency, enabling the holder to live and work or study in the U.S. for a temporary period of time. Some of the main types of nonimmigrant visas include student visas, work visas, investor visas and tourist visas.

Who is eligible to receive a family-based visa?

A family-based visa is an immigrant visa that allows for permanent residency. There are two primary categories of family members who may be sponsored for family-based visas. The first applies to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, adopted children or parents of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old. The second category applies to family members with more distant relationships with U.S. citizens and immediate family members of legal permanent residents.

What can I do if my visa application was denied?

If you applied for a visa and your application was denied, you are not out of options. You may be able to file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office. When you receive a notice that your visa application was denied, you should also receive specific instructions as to how to appeal the denial.

How can I seek permanent residency?

If you want to permanently live and work in the United States, you will need to apply for a green card. There are different categories of people who may be eligible for permanent residency. Some of the types of people who may qualify may include: immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, other family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, skilled workers, athletes, entertainers, religious workers, investors and Diversity Lottery winners. There are other categories as well, such as those who have been granted asylum and, in some cases, long-time residents of the U.S.

I'm interested in studying in the United States. Do I need a visa?

If you wish to study in the United States, you will need to apply for a student visa (F or M visa) or exchange visitor visa (J visa). These visas are granted to foreign citizens who wish to live temporarily in the U.S. to study or participate in an exchange program.

Am I eligible to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?

If you were not born in the United States or were not born to or adopted by a parent or parents who are U.S. citizens, you may be able to become a citizen through the process of naturalization. To be eligible, you must be a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., must be at least 18 years old, must be of good moral character and must have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years. There are other more detailed requirements that must be met, and these may vary depending on your particular situation.

What are some of the benefits of citizenship?

As a citizen of the United States, you will be granted all the rights and protections the U.S. has to offer. You will be protected by the U.S. Constitution and by state and federal laws. You will be able to vote. You will be able to hold public office (except for the President of the United States). You will be eligible for government benefits and assistance, such as Medicare or Social Security. There are numerous benefits you may experience.

What are some of the reasons that a non-citizen may face deportation?

The primary reasons for deportation involve violations of criminal or immigration laws. For example, unlawfully entering the U.S., committing marriage fraud, assisting another in gaining illegal entry to the U.S. or being convicted of certain crimes may result in your removal if you are a non-U.S. citizen.

How do deportation or removal proceedings begin?

Deportation or removal proceedings begin with a Notice to Appear, which is served to the non-citizen and is issued by USCIS. This notice will state the reason for deportation. If the non-citizen is entitled to a hearing, a hearing date will be set and he or she may have the opportunity to contest his or her removal from the U.S.

If a deportation hearing did not go in my favor, can I appeal the decision?

In the event of an unfavorable outcome after your deportation hearing, you may be able to file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals. This appeal must be filed within 30 days.

How many visas are issued every year under the Diversity Lottery Program?

50,000 visas are issued every year through the Diversity Lottery Program. These visas are granted to eligible applicants from countries that have low immigration rates to the U.S.

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