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Immigration Methods

Immigration methods are ways in which an individual from another country becomes a citizen or a permanent resident of another country. In the U.S., permanent residents are officially referred to as  Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs). LPRs are issued green cards that allow them to work and live permanently in the United States. Green cards afford certain rights and responsibilities to the bearer and are necessary to apply for naturalized citizenship. Examples of immigration methods in the United States include family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, and adoption immigration.

Each fiscal year, the United States limits the number of immigrants who come into the country through some methods. The Immigration Nationality Act (INA) under Act 8 §1151 stipulates a worldwide numerical limit across different categories such as not more than 480,000 family-based immigrants, at least 140,000 employment-based immigrants, and 55,000 diverse immigrants.

What are the Different Ways to Immigrate to the USA?

There are various ways to immigrate to the United States of America, including family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, humanitarian immigration, immigration through adoption, and diversity immigrant visa.

  • Family-Based Immigration: A U.S. citizen or permanent resident can sponsor their relative to immigrate to the U.S. Its subdivisions are immediate family and family preference immigration types. Immediate family covers relations directly related to the sponsor (i.e., spouse, and unmarried children under 21 years, while family preference covers a more distant family relation like siblings, parents, and married children over 21 years and their spouses. 

  • Employment-Based Immigration: This is for individuals looking to move permanently to the United States to work. Therefore, a person must have a full-time job offer from a U.S. company except for two subcategories. There are five preference categories under employment-based immigration, including:

    • Employment-based first preference (for extraordinary individuals)
    • Employment-based second preference (for outstanding professionals)
    • Employment-based third preference (for skilled and unskilled workers)
    • Employment-based fourth preference (for special immigrants)
    • Employment-based fifth preference (for investor immigrants)

  • Immigration Through Adoption: This is when adoptive parents who are U.S. citizens bring in adopted children from other countries. Eligible children must be under the age of 16 or between the ages of 16 and 17 if they are direct siblings to a child under the age of 16 who was adopted by the same parents. The Immigration visa process differs based on the country of adoption. Adoptions from countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention of 1993 are longer with more paperwork but offer the best protection. Most individuals do not follow the conventional method, which states that adoptive parents should have lived together for two years in the adoptee's nation. Instead, they adhere to the convention visa process for member countries or the non-convention visa process.

  • Humanitarian Immigration: Asylum and refugee seekers become eligible for LPR status a year after their admission to the United States or confirmed asylum status. These are people under a well-founded fear of their safety due to their political opinion, race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Refugees apply from outside the U.S. from a transitory country, while asylum seekers apply within a year of their arrival in the U.S. Each year, the President consults Congress to determine the numerical ceiling for the fiscal year's humanitarian immigration.

  • Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV): The Green Card Lottery is a scheme by the U.S. Government to increase immigration from countries with low immigration rates into the United States. Lottery winners could immigrate with immediate family members as derivatives (dependents in the DV lottery). However, the application is only available at specific times and is closed for Fiscal Year (F.Y.) 2023

  • Education: Education Visa F-1 and M-1 are non-immigration visas that require students to leave the country with their dependents within 60 or 30 days after completing their studies. Notwithstanding, they can apply for a status change, transfer to another Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, or apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Another alternative to change status is through marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder or applying for an immediate family-sponsored immigration visa. Furthermore, the student could switch to an H-1B status with a U.S.-based employer sponsor or other non-immigrant dual intent visas (H status). This grant has a working and living status for three years, extendable for another three years (cumulative six years). The student could apply for an employment-based permanent residency in the penultimate year.

What are the Main Ways People Immigrate to The US?

Family-based and employment-based immigration are the two main ways people immigrate to the U.S.

  • Family-Based Immigration: This process of immigration requires a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to sponsor their immediate family members such as parents, spouse, fiancé(e), siblings, and unmarried children under 21 years of age for an immigration visa (IV). The sponsor must be an adult aged 21 years and above. There are differences between the family members a U.S. citizen and an LPR can sponsor.

    However, there are two types of family-based immigration; immediate relatives and family preference. Close relatives cover family members directly related to the sponsor, and this category has no fiscal year limit. On the other hand, family preference covers specific distant relatives of the sponsor (siblings, parents, and married children of 21 years and above), and the government limits this category in each fiscal year.

  • Employment-Based Immigration: This category requires the intending immigrant to possess a job offer, and the employer must have obtained a labor certification approval from the U.S. Department of Labour (DOL). The employer then proceeds to file a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition For Alien Workers, based on the appropriate employment-based preference category with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

    There are five preference categories under employment-based immigration, including:

    • Employment-based First Preference (EB1): This includes the subcategories for persons with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers or executives. While the other two subcategories require a job offer, the immigrant with extraordinary ability does not need a job offer and can personally file their Form I-140 with the USCIS. Examples of extraordinary abilities include a medal in the field (Oscar, Pulitzer, Olympics, etc.), recognition in a newspaper or magazine publication, or if they've served as a judge of others' work in the industry either in a panel or individually, etc.

    • Employment-based Second Preference (EB2): This category requires the immigrant to have a job offer and an approved job certification, and the employer must have filed Form I-140. The immigrant can file for a National Interest Waiver, which exempts the prospect from possessing a job offer and an approved job certification provided there is evidence of the national interest. This category is for professionals with advanced degrees (or a baccalaureate degree with a minimum of five years of experience in the field) and persons with exceptional ability above what is ordinarily obtainable in the arts, sciences, or business.

    • Employment-based Third Preference (EB3): Subcategorized into skilled workers (jobs requiring two years of training or unseasonal and permanent work experience), professionals (workers with a minimum of a University degree), and unskilled/ other workers (who can fill positions requiring less than two years training or permanent and unseasonal experience).

    • Employment-based Fourth Preference (EB4): There are numerous subgroups in this category, and applicants must have an approved Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, Form I-360, except for certain employees or former employees of the U.S. Government abroad. Similarly, labor certification is exempted for all Certain Special Immigrant subcategories. Examples include Broadcasters in the U.S., Immigrant Religious Workers, and Certain Former Employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government on April 1st, 1979.

    • Employment-based Fifth Preference (EB5) This is also known as Immigration Via Investment or Immigrant Investor Program. It enables investors and their families (spouses and under 21 unmarried children) to immigrate to the U.S., provided they invest in a commercial business and employ ten permanent full-time U.S. workers. The investor must have a minimum capital of $1,000,000 or $500,000 in targeted areas.

How Much Money do You Need to Immigrate to the USA?

The cost of immigration to the USA varies across circumstances. The filing fee to apply for a green card costs at least $1,225. The least immigration cost is the filing fees, which vary across categories. Everyone must pay the green card application fee unless they meet some exceptions (e.g., Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants). However, other supporting forms needed vary across categories with varying costs. For example, there is no filing fee for Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) filed abroad, while there is a fee for filing from within the country.

Given that the petitioner or sponsor must complete at least two applications and provide the government with supporting documentation, the total cost rises. The USCIS has a calculator for computing fees across various categories. This calculator is updated to reflect the current applicable fees and can calculate the precise filing fees for any form processed at a USCIS Lockbox Facility. Check the USCIS fee schedule for other Forms not listed.

Additionally, document processing fees, medical examination fees, vaccination fees (if required), traveling fee, and other miscellaneous cost contributes to the total cost of immigration. 

Can You Move to the USA Without a Job?

Yes, you can move to the U.S. without a job through the following process:

  • With the EB1 subcategory visa for persons with extraordinary abilities
  • Move to the USA with a student visa which gives little to no working opportunities
  • Through the Immigration Investment Program, an investor is not required to have a job offer but rather create new jobs for U.S. citizens
  • Be sponsored by a relative for immigration
  • You don't require a job if you are married to a U.S. citizen or LPR
  • Win the green card lottery. 

What are Visa Types?

A visa is a legal paper or stamp granting certain individual rights to enter, transact or leave a foreign country. Visa types are different categories of access for various purposes, which confers varied rights and benefits to the bearer. Some of these rights and benefits could differ across countries.

There are generally four visa types which cut across immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and they are as follows:

  1. Tourist Visa: This is also known as a visitors visa, and it is a non-immigrant visa for persons who want to enter the U.S. temporarily for business, pleasure, or both. The person must demonstrate that they will not draw an income from the business endeavor with this visa, i.e. B1 or B2. The duration is usually short, for a maximum of 6 months, though it could be eligible for a year's extension.
  2. Immigration and Naturalization Visa: It also includes marriage, immigration, and naturalization, i.e. K1, IR1, and CR1 in the U.S.
  3. Student Visa: Students willing to study in other countries require this visa for their pursuits, i.e. F1 visa in the U.S.
  4. Business or Work Visa: Working in different countries temporarily or permanently necessitates having a business or work visa, i.e. H-1B, H-1B1, or E-3 visas in the U.S.

How Many Visa Types are There for the US?

There are two visa types for the U.S.: the Immigrant Visa (IV) and Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV). Under these two categories are three visa subcategories; work, study, or visitor. Furthermore, these subcategories have different requirements based on purposes.

  • Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV): This is for a temporary stay in the country either for tourism, work, or study, and they are expected to return to their home country after their pursuits or once their visas expire. Requirements for an NIV entail completing the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form D-160, paying the D-160 application fee of $160, and scheduling an interview with the U.S. consulate or embassy. Interviews are compulsory except for children 13 years and under, the elderly 80 years and above, and a few other exceptions during renewal. Examples include F1, F2, and others.

  • F1 Visa: Students who wish to study in the U.S. must possess an F1 visa. The scholarly endeavors could be in a university or college, high school, seminary, private elementary conservatory, or other academic institution, including a language training program. This visa type bars the student from working unless it is on/off-campus with a campus-affiliated establishment. Although international students cannot work off-campus in their first academic year, a special allowance may be provided in cases of severe economic hardship. However, the Designated School Official (DSO) must approve the student for off-campus employment before commencement.

    The prospective student must first apply to a SEVP-approved school which then registers the student for the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) once the enrollment is accepted and issues a Form I-20. The student must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee of $350, which is different from the SEVIS administrative fee charged by the school and the visa fee. The student can apply for the visa afterward. They need to sufficiently prove their financial ability for the duration of their stay (and any dependents) in the country.

  • M1 Visa: This is similar to an F1 visa but for vocational and other non-academic programs asides from language training. It also has some restrictions compared to F1, such as 30 days grace period after the visa expires against 60 days for the latter. Additionally, M1 Visa holders might be restricted from changing their status to H status with the education or training gotten from the vocational program.

  • F2/M2 Visa: This is for spouses and dependents (under the age of 21) of F1/M2 visa holders. F2/M2 Visa holders are not permitted to work in the country unless as a volunteer without compensation. They are, however, allowed to study on a part-time basis. F2/M2 children dependents can study from elementary through high school, but post-secondary education is hindered. Each dependent must apply for a visa, enroll in SEVIS (but will not pay the fee), and obtain I-20 from the SEVP-approved school.

  • F3 Immigrant Visa is a family-based immigration visa (under the family preference category) for married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses, and unmarried dependent children under 21. The parents must live in the U.S. and have a valid residential address and a birth or adoption certificate proving their relationship. While the married children must be 21 years of age or above and possess a valid certificate of marriage or a divorce certificate if divorced

  • What Is Visa Class F22? Class F22 visa is for children, under 21, of a lawful permanent resident alien. It is a family-sponsored second preference immigrant visa that grants the bearer a green card to live, work, and study in the U.S. It is similar to the F2A visa though the F22 covers only children, not spouses.

  • What is H-1B nonimmigrant visa? The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily hire foreign nationals in specialty occupations or fashion models with exceptional talent and distinction. The specialized trade must require theoretical and practical application of a highly specialized body of knowledge and a bachelor's degree or higher in the specific specialty (or its equivalent).

How Can I Stay in the USA Legally?

Non-immigrants can stay in the U.S. legally by extending their stay or changing their non-immigrant status with the USCIS. Provided they initially entered the country with the appropriate visa for their intent, stay within the dictates of the law, and their visa has not expired.

Such persons could apply for a change of status if their purpose of visit has changed. For example, a tourist with a B2 visa who wishes to study in the country can apply for an F1 or M1 non-immigrant study visa. The petitioner is rendered ineligible if they have violated the conditions of their present status or committed crimes that will make them ineligible. The petitioner should submit Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with the USCIS and await confirmation before changing their activities or enrolling in a school. Other examples include F2 Visa holders who wish to study could change their status to F1, F1 students could change to H-1B status, and M1 vocational students could change to academic pursuits with an F1 status.

How Can I Get a Green Card in the USA?

Intending immigrants could apply for a green card if a family member (family-based) or employer (employment-based) petitions the USCIS for a lawful permanent resident status. The intending immigrant could self-petition if they fall within the EB1 or EB5 category. The USCIS has a complete list of eligible persons and instructions on the application process. Most people will have to file two forms, Form I-485, a green card application, while someone else will file an immigrant petition on their behalf.

Nevertheless, non-immigrants in the U.S. can legally adjust their status to acquire a green card. The non-immigrant will file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust status , and any other form applicable to them. 

Generally, the immigration process does not require the services of an attorney unless the persons involved are not sure of their options, are overwhelmed, or USCIS has deemed them inadmissible. In such cases, they can engage the services of an immigration attorney. Investor immigrants are, however, advised to use an immigration attorney because of the peculiarities of the immigrant investor program.

Can I Get a Green Card if I Enter the U.S. Illegally?

Under the U.S. INA 212 (a)(6)(A), illegal entrants are inadmissible for a green card. They shall be considered for deportation, except for certain battered women and children, i.e. VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petitioners. Nonetheless, illegal entrants can apply for a waiver if eligible. 

Another method is to apply for asylum less than a year after the illegal entry into the U.S. if eligible. Once confirmed, the asylee can apply for green card status a year after confirmation. If deemed ineligible for asylum, the person can file Form I-589 for "withholding of removal."

What are the Requirements to Become a U.S. Citizen?

Legal requirements to become a U.S. citizen according to 8 USC 1427, which cuts across naturalization for LPRs, spouses of U.S. citizens, and naturalization through military service, are as follows:

  • Possess a permanent resident card and continually reside in the U.S. for at least five years or at least three years as a spouse of a U.S. citizen before filing Form N-400 
  • Be 18 years and above when you apply
  • Have a good moral conduct
  • Ability to read, write, and speak basic English
  • Submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Show residency for at least three months in the district with jurisdiction over the residence
  • Display commitment to the convention and ethics of the U.S. Constitution
  • Be knowledgeable and understand the U.S. history fundamentals and the principles and form of government
  • Swear an Oath of Allegiance to the United States
  • Take the U.S. Naturalization Test and have a personal interview
  • Serve for a period of one year in the U.S. army
  • Discharged under honorable conditions
  • Match eligibility based on INA 328 and 329 for service members 
  • Served the U.S. army honorably during periods of hostility
  • Be a lawful permanent resident
  • Demonstrate good moral character for at least a year immediately before filing N-400.

Children born to U.S. citizens abroad who now live in the country or abroad can apply for citizenship having met the following requirements:

  • The child is under 18 years of age
  • Is a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States
  • Is under the legal and physical care of the U.S. citizen parent either in or outside the country 
  • Has at least one U.S. citizen parent either by adoption, birth, or naturalization. 

Criminal activities can permanently or temporarily bar an immigrant's petition for naturalization. USCIS termed temporary bars "conditional bars" resulting from five years aggregate sentence, crimes involving moral turpitude, incarceration for more than 30 days, and controlled substance violations.

While permanent bars to good moral character are classified as murder and aggravated felonies, aggravated felonies include the crime of violence, murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor, racketeering, gambling, prostitution, money laundering offenses, smuggling alien and document fraud.

How does an Immigrant Become a U.S. Citizen?

An immigrant can become a U.S. citizen only through naturalization. A lawful permanent resident is eligible for citizenship at least five years after attaining the LPR status or at least for three years as a spouse of a U.S. citizen. The immigrant must be of good conduct, law-abiding, consistently live in the country, file Form N-400, and take an Oath of Allegiance.

What are the Main Reasons for Immigration to America?

Most people immigrate to America for various reasons, and some for a combination of the following reasons:

  • For a better education than what is obtainable in their home country
  • To improve their standard of living
  • Reuniting with family members or spouses living in America
  • To flee for safety from a troubled country or persecution
  • Better work opportunities
  • For marriage
  • To utilize advanced medical care.

What Type of Immigrants Come to the US?

Family-based, employment-based, humanitarian-based,  and diverse immigrants come to the US. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in their most recent yearbook, lists the following for the year 2020:

  • Family-sponsored immigration is the highest, with 442,708 immigrants
  • Employment-based immigration follows with 148,959 immigrants
  • Humanitarian comes next at a total of 86,418 immigrants, cutting across refugees, asylees, parolees, and other humanitarian categories
  • Diversity lottery visa accounts for the fourth highest immigration type with 25,028 immigrants.