United States immigration law is known for being confusing. Many complex processes must be followed and requirements must be met. Even immigration status is complex. There are actually four general types of immigration status, not just one. Here’s what you should know.
Citizenship gives you legal status as a member of the United States of America. There are different ways to obtain citizenship. Depending on your situation you may be eligible to become a citizen if:
- You are a Lawful Permanent Resident of at least five years: This is the most common path to citizenship. You may be eligible to become a citizen if you have been an LPR for at least five years and meet other requirements, including being at least 18 years old and being able to read, write and speak basic English.
- You’re married to a US citizen: If you’ve been living in the US with your spouse for at least three years, you may be eligible to become a US citizen.
- You’re serving in the US military or are closely related to someone who is: Military service is a path to US citizenship for many people.
- You are the child of a US citizen: If one or both of your parents have citizenship, then you may be eligible to become a citizen too.
The second immigration status category includes permanent or conditional residents. In this group, you are eligible to legally live in the United States for long periods of time without being fully a citizen.
There are two types of residents:
- Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs): LPRs are sometimes called “green card holders.” They’ve been granted authorization to live and work in the United States permanently.
- Conditional Residents: Conditional Residents are usually spouses of US citizens who immigrated to the US with their spouses, but have been married less than two years. An investor visa may also grant conditional residency. At the right time, you may file a Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence form to request that your conditional residency be converted to LPR status.
Just because you have LPR status and a “green card” does not necessarily mean that you will become a citizen after five years (or after three if you’re married to a US citizen).
Sometimes, there are things that get in the way of citizenship. Getting arrested, owing taxes, or failing to pay child support can all prevent you from becoming a citizen. If you are concerned, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
The third type of immigration status exists for people who want to spend time in the United States, but do not yet intend to stay here permanently. You may be considered a non-immigrant if you are here on a student visa or a fiance visa, if you’re here on business, if you’re a tourist or if you have been granted temporary protected status.
There are many options for non-immigrants and many ways to legally spend time in the United States temporarily. If you have questions about your options, an attorney can help you understand the best options for you.
Undocumented immigrants make up the fourth immigration status type. You may be considered to be an undocumented immigrant if you entered the United States without following standard immigration procedures or if you entered on a visa that has since expired.
If you are undocumented, you don’t have official permission to live and work here, and you’ll run into challenges with things like getting healthcare or a driver’s license. But there are a few paths to legal status for undocumented immigrants, including DACA and marrying a US citizen.
No matter what your status or where you are in the immigration process, our experienced immigration attorneys can help. We’ll discuss all possible options with you and help you make sure you complete all the necessary steps to gain legal status, if that option is available to you.
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