Immigration law is comprised of a series of complex laws and regulations, primarily on the federal level. It is relied upon when family members move to the United States, when individuals marry and wish to reside in the United States, and when immigrants would like to obtain employment. There are many different facets of immigration law, but they generally fall under three major categories:
- family-based immigration,
- employment-based immigration, and
- humanitarian immigration.
Family-based immigration allows United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition the government to allow specific family members to migrate to the United States where they are located. There is not a specific number of spouses, minor children or parents of United States citizens for whom the citizen can petition. Otherwise, there is a total of 480,000 family-based visas that are issued each year for other family members, including adult children and siblings of United States citizens and spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents. In order to qualify for a visa, the United States citizen or lawful permanent resident must:
- petition for the relative,
- prove the nature of the relationship between them, and
- agree to support the relative upon his or her arrival.
Once a family member is brought into the country, he or she may petition for lawful permanent resident status. This can also be done through consular processing. The process involves having a background check completed, having fingerprints taken and having the applicable United States citizen or lawful permanent resident complete an application for the individual. If the individual receives lawful permanent resident status, he or she can later petition to become a citizen after he or she meets all conditions. This usually requires the relative to have lived in the country for a certain amount of time, usually at least three years, pass a background check and pass a civics test.
The world is becoming increasingly global, and employers are able to recognize the importance of diversity and skill sets offered by individuals of different cultures. U.S. immigration law allows for both permanent and temporary placements for workers. There are different visas available depending on the type of work that the individual performs and other factors. For example, there is a visa specific for athletes and skilled performers and a different one for religious workers. Immigrants who receive a work visa are often sponsored by a specific employer.
Under current immigration law, there are 140,000 visas per year for permanent employment-based immigration. Additionally, U.S. immigration law imposes specific ceilings on the number of immigrants that can be admitted based on their nationality. Given the complexity of immigration law, many companies retain the services of an immigration attorney to assist with employment-based immigration.
U.S. immigration law provides for a number of immigration statuses and protections for individuals who are immigrating for humanitarian reasons. For example, refugees are permitted at times in the United States if their homeland is too unstable to return to based on a reasonable fear of persecution due to specific enumerated factors. This type of immigration petition is usually filed in another country.
Asylum is similar to refugee status, but asylum is sought from individuals who are already in the United States. Immigration law requires such individuals to petition for asylum within 12 months of arriving in the United States; otherwise, their petition can be automatically dismissed. A lawyer may assist with drafting a petition for asylum or refugee status.
The Violence Against Women Act and U Visa are two tools available to victims of domestic violence and other crimes. In order to receive such protection, an individual must usually have been a victim of a crime and cooperated with law enforcement. There are additional forms of humanitarian immigration that are provided under U.S. immigration law. An immigration lawyer can explain whether any of these protections are available in a specific case.
Defensive Immigration Petitions
In the above examples, lawyers represent clients affirmatively. However, there are also times when a lawyer may petition for lawful status or protection defensively. For example, if a person is placed in removal proceedings, his or her lawyer may ask for withholding so that the individual is not removed from the country.
Additional Immigration Law Articles
- How do I become a U.S. citizen?
- What to do if Detained by Immigration (Infographic)
- The Widow's Penalty
- How Can I Obtain An Immigrant Visa So That I May Live Here Permanently?
- Do I Need a Visa to Travel Abroad?
- How to Get Immigration Assistance for Little or No Cost
- Overstaying Your Visa
- Do I need a licensed attorney to help me fill out my immigration forms?
- Can an immigration lawyer speed up my case?
- What Happens When You Divorce a U.S. Citizen Prior to Becoming a U.S. Citizen?
- Can I work in the U.S. if I am not a U.S. citizen?
- How can I help my fiancé become a U.S. resident?
- How can I help my relative become a U.S. resident?
- How can I help my employee become a U.S. resident?
- What is an Immigrant Visa?
- I was issued a temporary visa to enter the United States legally, can I stay in the United States as a permanent resident?
- Do I Really Need To Divulge All Details About My Criminal History, Even If A Charge Has Been Expunged? What Are The Consequences If I Do Not?
- Fiancé Visas
- What Requirements Must A Foreign National Who Wants To Visit The U.S. Satisfy?
- U.S. Immigration Process: FAQ
- U.S. Immigration: Basic Concepts
- Immigration Law FAQ