Bustos Law Firm

The Immigration Maze

In Federal Law, Immigration, Legal on June 13, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Very few things are more complicated and personal than immigration. In order to understand some of your immigration options, it is  important to know some of the most basic immigration terms. First, you need to know if you are allowed to legally be in the United States.

There are four immigration statuses that you can have under the U.S. Immigration System:

  • You can be an undocumented immigrant, with no legal right to be in the U.S.
  • You can seek to obtain a non-immigrant visa that allows you to spend a limited amount of time in the U.S., usually for a specific purpose.
  • You can seek to become a Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card holder), which allows you to live in the U.S. indefinitely, with most of the rights of a U.S. Citizen.
  • You can be a U.S. Citizen.

If you are an undocumented immigrant, you will need to get a visa or other legal status as soon as possible, otherwise you are subject to removal (deportation) from the U.S. If you qualify, however, the U.S. does offer several ways to become a Legal Permanent Resident. A Legal Permanent Resident is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, a person is granted a Legal Permanent Resident card, commonly known as a “Green Card.” A Green Card enables a person to live and work in the U.S. for the rest of their lives, so long as they do not abandon their residence by staying outside the U.S. for too long, or by engaging in conduct which renders them subject to removal (deportation).  Legal Permanent Residents can qualify for U.S. citizenship five years after obtaining status, or they can choose to renew their Green Card every ten years.

There are several different ways to become a Legal Permanent Resident. Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or U.S. employer. U.S. citizens can petition for their spouses, children, parents, and siblings, while Legal Permanent Residents can only sponsor their spouses and children. The fastest method (usually under one year) is when a U.S. citizen files for immediate relatives such as a spouse, parent, or minor child. The longest method is when a U.S. citizen petitions for a sibling. In some instances this can take up to fifteen years.

Can I Become a Legal Permanent Resident Even if I Have Overstayed My Visa?

One of the most frequent immigrations questions we hear is: “Can I still become a Legal Permanent Resident even if I have overstayed my visa?” The answer is yes, if your last entry into the United States was lawful, and you are married to a U.S. Citizen. Lawful Admission  means an entry into the U.S. after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer. This is the case regardless of how long you have overstayed your visit to the U.S. However, if you are not married to a U.S. Citizen, and you have overstayed your visa, the best thing for you to do is to leave the U.S., sooner rather than later. This is because if you leave before you have overstayed your visa for six months, there are no penalties. However, if you overstay your visa by 180 to 365 continuous days, you can be barred from returning to the U.S. for three years. And, if you overstay for more than one year, you can be barred from the U.S. for up to ten years.

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