Q: How Does U.S. Immigration Law Work?
A: U.S. immigration law provides two main gateways for a foreign born individual to enter and be physically present in the United States:
The first gateway allows for a temporary stay and requires the grant of temporary visa (also known as nonimmigrant visa) status. Each category of temporary visa is designated by a letter of the alphabet, and is granted for a specific purpose with distinct eligibility criteria. At the moment, there are different temporary visa categories ranging all the way through the alphabet from the letter “A” to the letter “V”. You can get some help determining which visa category is right for you by looking at the next question/answer!
The second gateway leads to permanent residence in the U.S., or the green card, by way of the grant of an immigrant visa. Permanent residence is for those individuals who wish to make the United States their permanent and principal place of residence.
Please note that generally there is an impenetrable wall separating the two pathways into the U.S. This concept becomes important to keep in mind when you apply for a temporary visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consular Office overseas. However, in certain circumstances, and with careful planning, it is possible to switch from temporary to permanent status at the end of a temporary stay, or to find gateways into the permanent path along the way.
Q: Which Visa Category is Right for Me?
A: It all depends on what your goals are. If you want to work, you might consider the H-1B if you are a professional; the J-1 if you want additional training; the E-3 if you are from Australia; the TN if you are from Canada or Mexico; or the L-1 if you have been working with a related company overseas.
If you have sufficient funds and want to start a business – either to trade or as an investment – you should consider the E-1 or E-2 visa (provided the US has a treaty with your home country).
Finally, if you have extraordinary achievements in your career, you might want to consider the O-1 visa.
Q: Who is Allowed to Study in the United States?
A: People who are coming to the United States to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies are usually admitted in one of two nonimmigrant categories: The F-1 category includes academic students in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, and in language training. The M-1 category includes vocational students. The USCIS website has further information on vocational studies in the United States.
Please note: If you wish to attend public high school (grades 9-12) in the United States in student (F-1) status, you must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education. Also, attendance at U.S. public high schools cannot exceed a total of 12 months. F-1 students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs in the United States.
Q: How do I change my address?
A: Whether you are in the process of applying for a non-immigrant visa or a green card, or you are already a permanent resident of the U.S., you must notify USCIS within 10 days of moving. You can read more details here.
Q: Should I become a U.S. citizen?
A: Once you have achieved permanent resident (green card) status either by adjusting status in the U.S. or qualifying for an immigrant visa abroad, and once you have lived in permanent resident status for a number of years, you might be considering applying for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. Scroll down through the following additional questions to find some of the answers that might help you decide whether U.S. citizenship is right for you:
Q: How long must I have been a permanent resident before I can apply for naturalization as a U.S. citizen?
A: If you attained permanent resident status by way of marriage to a U.S. citizen spouse, you can apply for naturalization three years from the date of the grant of your conditional permanent resident status or full permanent resident status. In other cases, you can apply five years after the date of the grant of your permanent resident status.
Q: Do I have to give up the citizenship of my country if I become an American citizen?
A: This question asks whether or not it is possible to hold dual citizenship with two passports. Since U.S. law does not prohibit dual citizenship, the answer to this question depends upon the law of your home country. For example, the U.K. and France have no objections to their citizens retaining citizenship to their countries while also holding American citizenship. In December, 2003, the Indian government similarly decided that their citizens could also retain Indian citizenship while simultaneously holding citizenship of another country, including the U.S. Other countries do not allow their citizens to retain citizenship if they are granted U.S. citizenship. As you start considering U.S. citizenship and have questions about dual citizenship, we suggest that you contact the Consulate of your country, or your country’s Embassy in Washington, to find out how your country treats the issue of dual citizenship. Also, you can obtain more information from the U.S. Dept. of State here.
Q: Are there any limits on how much time I can spend abroad during the qualifying five or three years in permanent residence?
A: In order to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. you must reside continuously in the U.S. for a period of five years following the grant of your permanent resident status, (three years if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen), and you must be actually physically present in the U.S. for at least half of that period (two and a half years for most people; one and half years for spouses of U.S. citizens).