Understanding the Basics of Immigration Law

With immigration law changing rapidly, it’s important to stay informed on the latest developments. This primer is an essential guide for understanding the ABCs of immigration law, providing a breakdown of the fundamentals and a look at some of the nuances that can make all the difference. If you’re looking for an introduction to this intimidating topic, this primer is your go-to source!

An Overview of the U.S. Immigration System:

The United States has a complex web of immigration laws and regulations that are constantly changing. U.S. Immigration law is administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its various sub-agencies, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ICE, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The primary purpose of these agencies is to enforce immigration laws as well as to provide avenues for immigrants to obtain legal status in the United States such as green cards or work permits.

In order to enter the country legally, foreign nationals must have a valid visa or other documentation approved by DHS before they may apply for admission at their port of entry into the U.S. Alternatively, some people may be eligible to apply for visas directly at a US consulate abroad through the Visa Waiver Program or other programs like those available to certain students and business travelers. 

There are also special immigration statuses such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that can provide temporary relief from deportation to certain foreign nationals who meet specific eligibility requirements based on their current country of residence and/or past persecution in their home countries.

It is important to note that each situation is unique and there are many factors that will determine an individual’s immigration status and eligibility for various forms of relief. It is important to seek the advice of a qualified attorney or other accredited representative when considering any type of application for an immigration benefit or visa.

What is an Immigration Status?

An immigration status is the legal status of a person in regards to their presence within a particular country. It may be determined by their nationality, permanent residence, or other factors such as an asylum application. 

A person’s immigration status will affect their rights and privileges under the law as well as the length of time they may remain in that country legally. Immigration statuses include lawful permanent residents (LPRs), nonimmigrant visa holders, refugees, and those who have been granted asylum or other forms of relief from deportation.

4 Types of Immigration Status in The US?

There are four types of immigration status in the US.

  1. Citizens;
  2. Conditional and Permanent Residents;
  3. Non-Immigrant Status; and
  4. Undocumented.


Citizens are individuals who have been granted full rights and privileges of citizenship, including the right to live and work in the US without any restrictions. These can be people who were born in the US, or they may have obtained citizenship through naturalization.

Permanent Residents:

Individuals with permanent resident status are allowed to live and work in the US for an indefinite period of time. This includes people who have obtained a green card by family sponsorship, employment sponsorship, or other forms of legal immigration. Permanent residents are also eligible for certain benefits such as health insurance and social security.

Conditional Residents:

Conditional residents are those who have an immigration status that is valid for a limited period of time. This includes individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, such as students and temporary workers. These individuals may be able to extend their stay beyond the initial duration with applications for extensions or changes in status.

Non-Immigrant Status:

Non-immigrants are individuals who come to the US temporarily, usually for business or pleasure purposes. They usually do not intend to remain permanently and must comply with strict regulations while in the country. Examples of non-immigrant statuses include tourist visas, student visas, work visas, and diplomatic visas.

Undocumented Individuals:

Undocumented immigrants are individuals who have entered the US without legal permission or stayed beyond their authorized period of stay. They are not eligible for any benefits and face deportation if caught by law enforcement. It is illegal to knowingly hire an undocumented individual, and those convicted of doing so may face criminal charges.

Types of Visas and Their Requirements:

Visas are documents issued by the U.S. government that allow foreign nationals to enter and remain in the United States for a specified period of time, depending on the type of visa they obtain. 

The most commonly used visas include nonimmigrant visas such as tourist (B-visa) and student (F-visa) visas, as well as immigrant or permanent residence visas such as the family-based (IR) and employment-based (EB) visas.

In order to receive a visa, applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements including showing that they have strong ties to their home country, proving sufficient financial means for living in the U.S., having good moral character, and not being considered a security risk or public charge. Depending on the type of visa applied for, additional documentation may be required such as an affidavit of support from a sponsor or proof of prior education or work experience in order to demonstrate qualification for the visa category.

Once all necessary documents are submitted with a completed application form along with applicable fees, processing times can range anywhere from several weeks up to several months depending on the type of visa being requested. Once approved, visas can be used to enter and remain in the United States for a specific period of time depending on the limits set by DHS for each particular visa category.

Adjustment of Status and Immigrant Visas

Adjustment of status is the process by which an individual applies to become a permanent resident of the US. This is typically done by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

In order to be eligible for adjustment of status, applicants must have a valid visa and meet certain criteria. Those who do not qualify for adjustment of status may be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, which is a permanent visa that allows the applicant to become a lawful permanent resident.

Eligibility for a Visa or Greencard:

In order to be eligible for either a visa or green card, applicants must first meet certain criteria such as showing that they have strong ties to their home country, proving sufficient financial means for living in the U.S., having good moral character, and not being considered a security risk or public charge. 

In addition, applicants must also demonstrate that they qualify for the specific type of visa or green card they are applying for. For example, some visas are only available to those with certain educational qualifications or professional experience while others may require proof of family relationships in the United States.

It is important to note that there are other ways an individual can become a permanent resident without applying through traditional methods such as through programs like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), asylum, or the Diversity Visa Program. Additionally, certain individuals may also be eligible for a waiver of the immigrant visa application process based on factors such as family ties to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and humanitarian considerations.

How to Apply for a Visa or Green Card: A Step-by-Step Guide

The process for applying for a visa or green card is often lengthy and complicated, so it’s important to understand the requirements before beginning.

  1. The first step in the application process is to determine which type of visa or green card you qualify for based on your individual circumstances. 
  2. Once you have identified the appropriate category, you can begin filling out all required forms as well as gathering any additional documentation that may be necessary such as proof of financial support, education transcripts, etc..
  3. Next, submit your completed application along with supporting documents and applicable fees directly to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Depending on the type of application being filed, processing times can range from several weeks up to several months. 
  4. After submitting all necessary documents, you may be called in for an interview with a USCIS immigration officer to further review your application before making a final decision.
  5. Finally, once approved you will receive either an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa which will allow you to enter the United States and remain here for the period of time specified by DHS. 
  6. Alternatively, if applying for permanent residence (green card) status, you will need to attend an oath ceremony where you must swear allegiance to the United States before receiving your green card.

Applying For Permanent Residence/Citizenship

The process for applying for permanent residence or citizenship in the United States can be lengthy and complex, requiring applicants to provide detailed information and documents regarding their background, finances, and identity. Individuals interested in pursuing either of these statuses should first thoroughly research the requirements of each option.

For those seeking to become a permanent resident, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers several pathways that can lead to a green card. Eligibility for these pathways may depend on factors such as employment sponsorship, family ties, investment activities, or humanitarian need. 

Employer Sponsored Petition

The most common route is through an employer-sponsored petition, which requires obtaining a labor certification from the Department of Labor before submitting an application to USCIS. Other routes to permanent residence may include refugee or asylum status; marriage or other close family relationships; investments; or special statuses for individuals with extraordinary abilities.


The naturalization process is a different route for those seeking U.S. citizenship through legal immigration channels. This involves submitting an application form (Form N-400) with evidence of eligibility such as proof of continuous residency in the US for five years (or three years if married to a US citizen). 

After filing Form N-400, applicants must pass both an English language test and civics test before being interviewed by USCIS officers who will determine whether they meet all criteria for naturalization. If approved, applicants will attend a ceremony where they will take the Oath of Allegiance and be officially sworn in as US citizens.

Naturalization: Requirements and Benefits:

Naturalization is the process by which a foreign national becomes a US citizen. Applicants must meet certain requirements to be eligible, including having held permanent resident status for at least five years and being a person of good moral character.

Naturalized citizens are granted all of the rights and privileges that come with US citizenship, including the right to vote, obtain government benefits, sponsor relatives for immigration purposes, travel freely within and outside of the country without restrictions.

The Role of USCIS in Immigration Processes

USCIS plays an essential role in all immigration processes, as it is responsible for administering the nation’s laws relating to immigration and naturalization. It:

  • reviews all applications for visas, green cards, and citizenship;
  • conducts interviews with applicants;
  • verifies the accuracy of documentation submitted;
  • approves or denies petitions based on eligibility requirements; and
  • issues travel documents such as passports and visa stamps.

USCIS also enforces compliance with US immigration law by apprehending individuals who are in the country without authorization, as well as those who have overstayed their visas or committed other violations. The agency also plays a key role in reuniting families by making sure that family-based petitions are adjudicated quickly and efficiently.

Understanding Your Rights as an Immigrant in the U.S

Immigrants in the US have a number of rights and protections under US law, including the right to due process and equal protection under the law. It is important for immigrants to understand their rights so that they can be informed and make sure their rights are respected.

Some of these include the right to remain silent when questioned by immigration or other government officials, as well as the right to receive an interpreter if necessary. Immigrants also have certain employment rights, such as being free from discrimination based on national origin or race. Additionally, it is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who exercise their legal rights related to immigration status or citizenship status.


Immigration law is complex and ever-evolving. It is important to stay informed of the latest developments and understand your rights as an immigrant in the US. Consulting with a knowledgeable immigration attorney can help ensure that you are compliant with all applicable laws, and that your rights are respected throughout the process.

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