There are several ways that a person might try to enter the United States. The four types of immigration include:
- Becoming a citizen
- Becoming a resident
- Entering under a temporary visa as a non-immigrant
- Entering the country without the proper papers
Immigrating to Become a Citizen
There are certain benefits that only a U.S. citizen can enjoy. Per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), such benefits include:
- Being able to vote in all elections
- Obtaining a U.S. passport
- Sponsoring relatives to become permanent residents
- Being able to run for office at the local, state, or federal level
A person can apply to USCIS if they want to become a citizen. You must meet certain requirements before doing so. For example, to apply for citizenship, one of the following circumstances must apply to you:
- You must have a relative (e.g., a spouse) who is a citizen.
- You must be a legal U.S. resident for at least five years.
- You must be serving in the U.S. military.
In addition to filing the proper paperwork, people applying for citizenship are usually required to pass a test that proves they speak some English and know the basics of American history.
If you are interested in becoming a citizen, a family-based immigration attorney could work with you to file paperwork and make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities as an applicant.
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Immigrating to Become a Resident
You do not need to attain citizenship right away to be in the U.S. legally. Instead, an individual may apply for a Permanent Resident Card, more commonly called a Green Card.
As USCIS explains, a person may apply for a Green Card if they meet certain requirements, such as if they:
- Have a relative in the U.S. who is willing to sponsor them
- Have a skillset or job that the U.S. considers especially useful
- Need to seek asylum
Permanent residents share some, but not all, of the same rights as citizens. For example, residents can:
- Stay in the U.S. as long as they maintain an up-to-date Green Card
- Sponsor certain relatives for citizenship, but not as many as a citizen can
- Have their Green Card revoked, whereas citizenship cannot be revoked
Residents do not have the right to vote, serve on juries, or hold most government jobs.
If a permanent resident wishes to become a citizen, they may do so once they meet the requirements outlined in the previous section.
Coming to the U.S. as a Non-Immigrant
Not everyone who comes to the U.S. wants to stay forever. Some people simply want to:
- Visit relatives
- Go to school
- Work at a temporary, U.S.-based job
- Enjoy a vacation
Special, temporary visas are available for each of these circumstances. USCIS examines each case to determine whether or not the applicant is likely to respect the terms of the visa (e.g., that they will go home when the visa expires) before making a decision.
A non-immigrant can change their status to a permanent resident if, after arriving in the U.S., they decide they want to stay permanently. However, doing so requires following very strict rules. Even a minor violation of these rules could cause USCIS to deny your request and revoke your non-immigrant visa.
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Immigrating Without Documentation
Unfortunately, the U.S. immigration system can be very confusing and complicated. It could take years or even decades for a person to be admitted through legal channels—or they may be rejected for admission altogether.
For these reasons, an individual may choose to enter the U.S. through extralegal channels. Such people are referred to as undocumented immigrants. A person may enter the U.S. illegally for many reasons, such as if:
- They tried to enter legally, but their application was denied or took too long.
- They faced severe poverty, discrimination, or danger in their home country.
- They wanted to quickly rejoin a U.S.-based relative who they felt needed them.
- They knew that something in their background, such as a prior deportation or visa violation, would cause USCIS to reject their application.
Undocumented immigrants have fewer rights under U.S. law than citizens or residents. If caught, they could face deportation, and it would be much more difficult for them to ever reenter the U.S. legally.
Not having documentation does not have to stop you from attaining permanent, legal residency, although the process can be very difficult. You can consult an immigration lawyer to help you find ways of staying in the U.S.
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Which Type of Immigrant Are You? Our Law Firm Can Help
New Frontier Immigration Law helps clients with family-based immigration matters. Of the four types of immigration, we are equipped to assist you with citizenship and residency matters, as well as adjusting the status of immigrants looking to stay in the U.S. with family. To start a strategy session with our team, call today.