Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Immigrating to the U.S.
Immigrating to the United States is the first step towards the American Dream for so many. Yet the immigration process itself can be a complex nightmare. The U.S. immigration process is complicated, offering many different types of visas and a host of policies that vary depending on your unique situation.
And getting approved for a visa in order to earn your citizenship isn’t a simple matter. Before you begin the immigration process, you’ll want to know exactly what legal steps you need to take in order to become an official U.S. resident. Here’s what you need to know before you start the process.
Step 1: Choose Which Immigrant Visa Is Best for You
Beginning the immigration process isn’t as easy at it sounds. Your first step is to choose which visa you’ll apply for in order to enter the U.S. – but there are many different types of visas you can pick from.
There are two main categories of visas: nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. Nonimmigrant visas are typically issued to tourists, or those who are just visiting the U.S. for education or work. Immigrant visas are issued to those who want to live permanently in the country and hope to become citizens in the future.
When considering the different immigrant visas, you can choose from:
- Family or Employer Sponsored Visas – A family member or employer living in the U.S. must sponsor you. You must submit documentation of your relationship, or the employer’s need for you employment, for approval.
- Diversity Lottery – Each year, 55,000 immigrants from “low-admission” countries are granted visas by INS. You’ll need a high school education and two years of work experience, and you must be coming to the U.S. to work in a field that requires two years of training.
- Fiancé(e) Visa – If you’re engaged to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for this visa to marry your partner.
- Visa Waiver Program – This unique program allows nonimmigrants from certain countries to enter the U.S. for a maximum of 90 days. This type of visa waiver is usually granted only for business.
Step 2: Apply for Your Visa
Once you’ve determined which immigrant – or nonimmigrant – visa you best qualify for, you’re ready to take the next step and apply for your visa.
Each specific visa will require a different application and different materials to prove you meet the visa’s standards and are eligible to become an immigrant. If U.S. immigration offices and officials accept your application and grant your visa, you’ll be allowed to visit, live, or work in the United States.
To apply for your visa of any kind, you’ll need to send in the correct application or petition for your visa type (or number) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the USCIS approves your petition, you’ll then move on to the National Visa Center at the State Department. Additional applications and materials may be required at this step, as this is the office that examines visa applicants most closely.
Because the application steps can be tricky to follow and incredibly complicated, it’s a smart idea to hire an immigration lawyer to help you throughout the process. An immigration lawyer will specialize in the detailed ins and outs of immigration law – and they can help you avoid obstacles and ensure your application is perfect in absolutely every way.
Once you’ve been granted your visa, you have a number of options to extend your stay or become a permanent citizen. Visa holders can request renewals of their visas while in the United States, apply for permanent resident status, or apply for a Green Card. A Green Card will grant you the full rights to live and work in the country, and it’s just one step below full citizenship – and with a Green Card, you can begin studying to qualify for citizenship if that’s your goal.
Step 3: Prepare for the Costs of Immigration
Immigrating to the United States does come with a high cost. And that cost varies greatly depending on the country you’re immigrating from, the type of visa you’re applying for, and whether or not you enlist an attorney’s help.
The fees of each visa total thousands of dollars, and a lawyer can walk you through every step of the process for between $5,000 and $7,000, ABC News¹ reports. The legal fees you’ll pay for a lawyer’s help are typically charged by the hour, which can run you anywhere from $100 to $300 an hour according to CostHelper².
In order to get an estimate of what your immigrant visa will cost, ask an immigration lawyer. They can offer you a quote of both the visa’s costs and their own fees, hourly rates, or other charges to help you prepare financially for the process.
Step 4: Apply for Your Green Card
Once you’ve chosen a visa, consulted with an immigration lawyer, and filed your application, there’s one step left in the immigration process. After your visa is granted, you’re ready to take the first step towards getting your Green Card, or your permanent resident status that will allow you to live and work in the U.S. just like any other citizen.
Like the visa process, though, applying for a Green Card comes with a number of obstacles. You’ll need to undergo visa renewals, potential new applications, and a separate application or petition for the Green Card itself.
And you’ll also need to decide which category of Green Card you’ll apply for. Commonly, those with visas will choose from the following:
- Petition for Alien Relative
- Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal
- Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
- Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition
- Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur
You can also choose to change your status by applying for permanent residence in the United States. Depending on your immigration category, you may also be able to knock out both your immigrant visa and Green Card at once – some categories allow immigrants to apply for both a visa and a Green Card simultaneously.
No matter how you choose to become a permanent resident, VisaGuide.com³ reports that the process can take just a few months or as long as 10 years.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Make the Process Easier
Trying to immigrate to the United States is complicated, and the process is made even more confusing and difficult thanks to changing laws, visa limits, and political opposition. However, the United States was built on immigration, and many residents have become citizens through this complex process. You can follow the above steps to become a legal immigrant, visa holder, or permanent resident – or even a future citizen – as long as you know what’s involved and required.
Before you begin the immigration process, however, make sure to do some research so you understand what you’ll need in order to file the appropriate paperwork and meet visa requirements. You’ll also need a lawyer to guide you unless you have superior skill in wading through bureaucratic red tape. A lawyer can be a huge help during the immigration process, as immigration lawyers can simplify the process and ensure you complete every step correctly.
To determine if an immigration lawyer can help you, consider getting a free consultation from an attorney in your area before you decide.