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How to Obtain Legal Status in the U.S.

The United States has one of the most complex immigration systems in the world. Several different agencies process applications for both temporary and permanent visas, and the exact procedure you use will differ depending on the type of status you seek, and may also be affected by the location from which you are applying.

To navigate these systems, it helps to understand some basics of immigration, which will allow you to ask the right questions, and retain the right legal professional for your case. The following is a general overview of how you can acquire the status you need. Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Timothy D. Widman to schedule an initial consultation. During the initial consultation we can provide a careful evaluation of your case and determine appropriate nonimmigrant or immigrant visa options.

Finding the Right Path for Your Long-Term Goals

Do you desire to remain in the U.S. temporarily or permanently? This is the first question you will need to ask yourself.

If you intend to return to your home country at the conclusion of your stay in the United States, then you will consider applying for a nonimmigrant visa. There are multiple types of nonimmigrant visas, each with its own intended purpose, such as tourism, business, medical care, or temporary work.

Here are a few key facts about nonimmigrant visas:

  • Your length of stay can range from a few months to several years.
  • You may not need a visa if you are visiting for business or tourism AND your country is participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
  • If you are abroad and require a visa to apply for admission to the United States, you will go through consular processing at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
  • Depending on the type of visa, you may be able to extend, change, or adjust your status. You would do this if you want to stay longer, if the purpose of your stay changes (e.g. from work to school), or if you decide to become a lawful permanent resident. This is why considering your long-term goals before you choose a visa is critical, since some nonimmigrant visa categories require you to leave at the end of your authorized stay.

If you would like to live and work permanently in the U.S., you will need a green card. You can use one of several methods to become a lawful permanent resident.

Some of these methods include:

  • Sponsorship by a family member. The relative who can sponsor you depends on their status. For example, a U.S. citizen can sponsor their spouse, parent, son/daughter, or sibling, while a lawful permanent resident can only sponsor their spouse or unmarried son or daughter. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens have priority for immigration because they do not have to “wait in line” for an immigrant visa, while family preference immigrants are subject to per country quotas and must often wait for a visa to become available before they can immigrate.
  • Business immigration. Business- or employment-based visas are organized by preference categories, which dictate how many of them are distributed each year. In order from highest to lowest preference, the categories are 1) priority workers/persons of extraordinary ability, 2) professionals with advanced degrees/exceptional ability, 3) skilled/unskilled workers and professionals, 4) certain special immigrants, and 5) immigrant investors.
  • Asylum-based permanent residency. Asylum is legal protection which generally requires you to show that you would face persecution by government actors -- or by non-government actors whom the government of your home country is unwilling or unable to control -- if you returned to your home country, and that it would not be reasonable for you to safely relocate within your home country. You can request asylum at a U.S. port of entry or apply inside the U.S. The process is either affirmative (i.e. before the court initiates removal proceedings) or defensive (i.e. as a defense against an open removal proceeding). Once you are granted asylum, you can eventually apply to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
  • U visa-based permanent residency. Certain victims of crime can apply for legal status if they aid law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of qualifying criminal activity. U visa beneficiaries can apply to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident after maintaining three years of U visa status in the U.S. This program was created to encourage undocumented immigrants to report criminal activity and cooperate with law enforcement without fear of being deported.

Once you are a permanent resident for a certain number of years, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship through the naturalization process.

Let Us Help You Find the Best Possible Strategy

Whether you are applying for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, legal and government hurdles can seem daunting if not impossible. To properly navigate these hurdles, you will need support from a highly experienced attorney. At the Law Offices of Timothy D. Widman, our lawyer has helped thousands of people from all around the world navigate the immigration system with integrity. You deserve to have this level of experience and dedication in your corner.

To get started, call (408) 780-1684 or contact us online today.

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