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Aanlegal > FAQ

Immigration FAQ

 

If you can’t find an answer to your question below, please contact us for a consultation at 1-844-B-LEGAL-2.

What happened to the INS? Who handles immigration services now?

As of March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has been split into three separate agencies. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS) handles immigration service functions: immigrants apply to the USCIS for things like permanent residence (“green cards”), asylum, and naturalization. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforces immigration laws within the United States, such as seeking to deport undocumented people within the US. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces immigration laws at the US borders, such as at airports.

Where can I get immigration forms?

Most immigration forms are available free on our website, at http://www.aanlegal.com

I filed an application with USCIS (or INS). How do I find out what is happening with it?

It is now possible to check what is happening with some immigration cases online. If you filed an application at a USCIS (or INS) Service Center, and you received a receipt showing that the application was received, you can go to https://egov.immigration.gov/graphics/cris/jsps/index.jsp to check on the status of your case. You will need your application receipt number, which always has three letters and ten numbers, and which is printed on your application receipt form.

I have no immigration papers. If ICE (formerly INS) finds me, can they deport me right away?

Not if you have never been caught by ICE or INS before. Currently, (although this could change in the future) ICE can start a case in Immigration Court against anyone they catch in the US without valid immigration papers, who has never had a case against her or him before in Immigration Court. This kind of case is called “removal proceedings” because ICE is saying that they have the right to “remove” (deport) this person from the US. The person in removal proceedings will have a hearing in Immigration Court in front of an Immigration Judge. At the hearing, the person will have a chance to try to prove that s/he should not be deported; s/he can also apply for an immigration benefit that would allow her to stay in the US. ICE cannot just put a person it finds on a plane to her/his home country without the person having a hearing in front of an Immigration Judge first.

What is the difference between an immigrant and nonimmigrant visa?

An immigrant visa allows the visa holder to work and live permanently in the United States as a lawful permanent resident (often known as a “green card” holder). A nonimmigrant visa allows the visa holder to stay in the US for a limited period of time, and for a limited purpose. For example: for study, medical treatment, tourism, or business.

What is the difference between an asylee and a refugee?

Asylees and refugees must meet the same legal definition of a refugee: that they have been persecuted in the past and/or have a “well-founded” fear of persecution in the future because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, by their government or by persons the government cannot or does not wish to control. The difference between refugees and asylees is where the determination that a person fits this definition is made. Refugee status is granted to people who are outside the United States, while asylum status is granted to people who enter the United States on their own and then apply for asylum from within the US.

What is asylum?

Like refugees, asylees flee persecution in their home countries and seek the protection of the US because their own countries are persecuting them, or are unwilling or unable to protect them from persecution. Asylum seekers apply for asylum from within the US. Asylum seekers must show that they meet the definition of a refugee. A person granted asylum has the right to live and work indefinitely in the United States, and to apply for lawful permanent residence after one year as an asylee.

How does someone get asylum?

Call us at 1-844-B-LEAGAL-2 for an asylum petition. Except in exceptional circumstances, asylum applicants must file their applications for asylum within their first year of arrival in the United States. Asylum applicants will be granted an asylum interview with an Asylum Officer who will evaluate her or his claim.

What happens if USCIS doesn’t grant me asylum?

After your asylum interview, there are four things USCIS can do. The first is to grant your application for asylum. The second is to reject the application because it was not filed within one year after you arrived in the US and there are no exceptional or changed circumstances to justify not filing within one year. If you are not in a valid immigration status at the time of your interview, USCIS will most likely send your case to Immigration Court. This action is called “referring” the case for a hearing in front of an Immigration Judge. If you are in a valid immigration status at the time of your asylum interview (such as student, or Temporary Protected Status), USCIS will send you a “Notice of Intent to Deny” explaining that they intend to deny your case. You may then try to explain to them why they should not deny your case. If they do deny your case, nothing further will happen until your valid immigration status ends. When that happens, USCIS can send your case to Immigration Court.

My asylum application was sent to Immigration Court. What happens now?

If USCIS does not grant your asylum application, they will most likely send your case to Immigration Court for a judge to make a decision in your case. In this situation, ICE (the branch of the former INS that is responsible for enforcing the immigration laws) will start what is called “removal proceedings” against you. This means that ICE is saying that you do not have the right to be in the US, and that they want to deport you. You will have the right to apply for asylum again in front of the Immigration Judge. You will have a hearing in front of the Immigration Judge, at which you will have the right to explain your whole case again for the judge. It is strongly advisable that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney or fully accredited BIA representative at a reputable agency if you are put into removal proceedings in this way.

What benefits are available to asylees and refugees?

Through matching grants, affiliates help asylees with employment services and four months of maintenance assistance and cash allowance. Enrolled asylees can also get language training, health and medical services, counseling, and daycare. To qualify for these services through matching grants, asylees must enroll in the matching grant program within 31 days of being granted asylum.

Can a refugee or asylee bring family members to the US?

Yes. Refugees and asylees may bring their spouses and unmarried children into the US to join them. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 will also get refugee or asylee status (depending on the status of the family member who brought them here). Applications for spouses and unmarried children under 21 must be made within two years of the grant of asylum status (for asylees) or of entry into the US (for refugees). Refugees and asylees are also eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence after a year in the US; those who become lawful permanent residents will be eligible to bring in family members as explained below.

Who can petition for a family member to come to the US?

US citizens and lawful permanent residents may petition for certain family members to become lawful permanent residents. Asylees and refugees may petition for their spouses and unmarried children under 21 to join them in the US as asylees or refugees (such petitions must be filed within 2 years of being granted asylum (for asylees) or entering the US (for refugees)).

For which family members may a US citizen petition?

US citizens may petition for their “immediate relatives”: spouses, unmarried minor (under 21 years old) children, and parents. For these family members there is no wait to get lawful permanent residence. As soon as the application for the family member is approved by USCIS, the immigrant family member can apply for lawful permanent residence.

US citizens may also petition for unmarried adult (21 and older) children, married sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters. These family members must wait to be able to apply for lawful permanent residence. Only a certain number of these family members every year will be given lawful permanent residence. Everyone else joins a waiting list.

For which family members may a lawful permanent resident petition?

Lawful permanent residents may petition for their spouses and unmarried children. These family members must wait to be able to apply for lawful permanent residence. Only a certain number of these family members every year will be given lawful permanent residence. Everyone else joins a waiting list.

What are the two different kinds of family petitions?

Immediate relative petitions (for spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 of US citizens) and preference petitions (for everyone else).

What is an immediate relative petition?

“Immediate relatives” are the spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age of US citizens. An immigrant for whom a family member files an immediate relative petition will be given a visa number (if she is outside the US) or allowed to apply to adjust her status to permanent resident (if she is already inside the US) as soon as the petition is approved – immediately. This means that the person who benefits from this petition does not have to wait for a visa number. Married children, unmarried adult children, and brothers and sisters will be in the “preference” categories and will have to wait in line for a visa number.

What is a preference petition?

A preference petition is filed by a US citizen on behalf of an adult son or daughter (21 or older), or by a lawful permanent resident on behalf of a spouse, son or daughter, child, or by an employer on behalf of an employee. Unlike immediate relative petitions, where the person who benefits from the petition is eligible right away to apply for permanent residence, people who benefit from preference petitions must wait until there is a visa number ready (“current”) for them. This is because there is a limited number of people who are allowed to enter the US each year through the preference petition system. The length of time that a person must wait depends on which preference category s/he fits into. .

What is an affidavit of support?

US citizens and permanent residents (sponsors) who apply for family members to get permanent residence in the US must provide an affidavit of support along with the application for permanent residence. The affidavit of support is an enforceable contract in which the person who signs the affidavit promises to be financially responsible for the immigrant until s/he becomes a US citizen her or himself, or until s/he can be credited with 40 quarter years of work (usually this is ten years). The sponsor who signs this contract must show that s/he has income and/or assets that place her or him at or above 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for her/his household size. The form used for the affidavit of support is I-864.

What is a religious worker visa?

The R, or religious worker, visa is for temporary religious workers. R visas for religious workers and their families allow certain religious workers to do religious work in the US for a specified number of years. These visas are available to religious workers in religious denominations with a bona fide, nonprofit religious organization in the United States.

What is registry?

A person who has continuously lived in the US since January 1, 1972, and is of good moral character may apply to become a permanent resident, even if s/he has lived here without valid immigration documents. There is an additional registry provision for persons who entered the US before July 1, 1924.

Who can apply for the diversity visa lottery?

There is one lottery per year. Applicants must have either a high school education or its equivalent or have, within the last five years, gained two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience. Lottery winners may bring their spouses and unmarried children who are under 21 into the US as well.

Which countries are included in the lottery?

Currently includes all countries except Canada, China (not including Hong Kong), Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) (and its dependent territories), and Vietnam.

What is the green card or diversity visa lottery?

This is also known as the “green card lottery”; each year the US holds a lottery for about 50,000 immigrant visas for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US Lottery winners may apply for permanent residence in the US.

I lost my green card. How do I get a replacement?

Please contact us at 1-844-B-LEGAL-2 so we can assist you in filing for a replacement card

What is the difference between “change of status” and “ adjustment of status”?

Change of status refers to the process of changing from one nonimmigrant status to another, such as from a student to a temporary worker. Adjustment of status refers to the process of becoming a lawful permanent resident of the US

What is “adjustment of status”?

Adjustment of status is the process by which a person inside the United States becomes a lawful permanent resident. The person’s immigration status is “adjusted” to that of a lawful permanent resident.

How do I get a green card?

There are five major ways to get lawful permanent residence in the U.S: 1) through a family member; 2) through an employer; 3) through the diversity visa lottery; 4) by being granted asylum; 5) by entering the US as a refugee.

What is a green card?

“Green card” is a term often used to refer to lawful permanent residence in the United States. Lawful permanent residents have the right to live and work indefinitely in the United States, as well as to petition for certain family members to get green cards. Lawful permanent residence is also the first step towards becoming a citizen of the US (“naturalizing”). There are a number of different ways to become a lawful permanent resident of the US, including through a family member, through an employer, by being granted asylum or refugee status, or through the diversity visa lottery.

What do I need to do to apply for naturalization?

To apply for naturalization, you must:

  • be over 18 years old;
  • have had permanent resident status (“green card”) for at least five years (three years if you got permanent residence through marriage to a US citizen, and you are still married to and living with that US citizen; military service may also shorten your wait);
  • have been physically present in the United States for at least 2 ½ years of the five years immediately before you file your application for naturalization. You must also have lived in the state where you file the application for at least three months before you file the application;
  • be functionally fluent in spoken and written English, and be able to pass a test showing you understand the basics of US history and the US system of government. (There are limited exceptions to this for some people, because of disability, or age and length of residency);
  • have “good moral character;”
  • be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath includes being willing to bear arms on behalf of the US if the law were to require it.

Some people can get their citizenship without meeting all of the above requirements, such as certain children, or persons who served with the US military in active duty status during certain periods of war. Also, some noncitizen children may become US citizens automatically if one or both of their parents naturalize before the children turn 18 years old.

How does one become a citizen of the United States?

Any person born in one of the fifty United States, or in Guam, Puerto Rico, or the US Virgin Islands is a citizen at birth, no matter what her or his parents’ immigration status is. A person born in another country to two US citizen parents is also a citizen at birth. A person born in another country to one US citizen and one non-citizen parent may or may not be a US citizen. This is a complicated area of immigration law, and anyone who meets this description should speak with an experienced immigration advocate to find out whether or not s/he is a US citizen.

Lawful permanent residents may also apply to become citizens after a certain number of years; the process of moving from lawful permanent resident to citizen is called “naturalization.” Lawful permanent residents who gained their status through marriage to a US citizen may apply to naturalize three years after being granted lawful permanent residence. All other permanent residents (except some exceptions for those in military service) may apply for naturalization five years after being granted lawful permanent residence.

What is a VAWA self-petition?

Immigrants married to US citizens or permanent residents who subject them to domestic violence may petition for permanent residence on their own, without the involvement of the abusive US citizen or permanent resident spouse. These petitions are known as VAWA petitions, after the Violence Against Women Act, which introduced these applications. Instead of submitting an I-130 relative petition along with the abuser, the battered immigrant spouse submits an I-360 self-petition along with supporting evidence. If the I-360 is approved, the battered spouse will become eligible to file an I-485 application for adjustment of status to permanent resident. Self-petitioners married to lawful permanent residents will have to wait until there is a visa number for them (just like in family preference cases). Self-petitioners married to US citizens will be immediately eligible to file an I-485 application for adjustment of status to permanent resident.

Are affidavits of support required for all adjustment of status applications?

No. The I-864 enforceable affidavit of support is required only in family petition and some employment-based cases. Affidavits of support are not required for refugees or asylees, nor for VAWA self petitioners.

Who is eligible for a religious worker visa?

Workers eligible for R visas are: ministers, professional religious workers in occupations for which at least a Bachelor of Arts degree (or its foreign equivalent) is required, people in religious occupations whose work is in a traditional religious function, and people with religious vocations.

How does one apply for a religious worker visa?

Applicants must be sponsored by a religious denomination with a nonprofit religious organization in the United States. An applicant must show, among other things, that s/he has been members of this denomination for the preceding two years, that s/he is a minister, religious professional, or work in a religious occupation or vocation, and that s/he is qualified for the job. Applicants who are outside the US file an application OF-156 with the US consulate or embassy with jurisdiction over their place of residence. Applicants within the US must be in a valid immigration status (such as student or visitor) and file an application to Change Status on form I-129.

Can a religious worker get permanent residence (a green card)?

Some religious workers can become lawful permanent residents. Special Immigrant Religious Workers may apply to become permanent residents. Form I-360 is used to apply for Special Immigrant Religious Worker status. Applicants must show, among other things, that they have been a member of the religious denomination that is sponsoring them for the past two years, that they have been doing religious work continuously for the two years preceding the application.

What is TPS?

Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, allows people from certain designated countries that have experienced natural or other disasters to remain in the US until conditions at home allow for a safe return. Each year the Attorney General designates which countries are eligible for TPS. Currently, those countries are Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan. TPS is usually designated for only one year from the date of its enactment and then is reviewed to determine if it is now safe for persons to return home or if it should be renewed for another year. Persons with TPS are eligible to work and remain lawfully in the US until the designated period ends.

How does one get TPS?

To be eligible for TPS, an applicant must show that s/he has been physically present in the US since a certain specified date, and that s/he is a national of one of the designated countries. Form I-821 is the application for TPS, and it is available at http://www.uscis.gov/graphics/formsfee/forms/index.htm .

What documents does a refugee or asylee need to travel outside the US?

A refugee or asylee needs a Refugee Travel Document for travel outside the United States. Use form I-131 to apply for a Refugee Travel Document. A refugee or asylee who travels outside the US without a Refugee Travel Document might not be allowed to re-enter the US.

How do I help someone get a visitor’s visa?

A person in the US can help a friend or family member who wants to visit the US by writing him or her a letter of invitation. The letter should include the invitee’s name, reason for visit, period of stay in the US, and explain who will be paying the visitor’s expenses, and how. If the guest has enough funds to pay her/his own expenses, s/he must be prepared to show the consular officer that s/he has sufficient funds for the trip. If the American host is paying the expenses, the host may include an affidavit of support or other evidence of ability to support the guest.