The USA is an appealing country that many people from all over the world wish to live in. Democracy, powerful influence, great opportunities, stable economy, high overall standard of living, great universities, cutting-edge technology — these are just a few of many reasons why people choose to live in the US. In fact, since the 1960s, the United States has been the top destination for immigrants.
Today, there are nearly 44 million immigrants living in the US, and each year the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives and processes about 6 million immigration applications. However, the US immigration law is very complex, and legally migrating to the US can be really difficult for many. If you’re one these people who wishes to immigrate into the US, you may already be aware of the laws and restrictions concerning immigration. It could take a lot of time, money and tons of paperwork — there are basically no shortcuts. Nevertheless, if it’s done right, there’s a high possibility you can be a permanent US resident. Read on to learn more.
How to Immigrate to the United States
- Check US immigration eligibility. To be eligible, you must at least meet one of the following criteria considered by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services:
- Applicant has an immediate relative in the US that is a permanent citizen or a lawful resident.
- Applicant has a permanent employment opportunity in the US. Employment must fit under one of the five eligible Permanent Worker Visa Preference Categories.
- Applicant has a significant investment in a business venture in America. This investment must be at least $1 million and must be dedicated to a US-based enterprise that employs at least 10 US citizens for at least 2 years.
- Applicant is a refugee and suffers or fears persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political view, or membership in a certain group in his or her country of origin.
- Applicant has worked with the US Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan.
- Applicant is a member of a bona fide non-profit religious denomination for at least two years
- Applicant is a widow/widower of a US Citizen
Factors that may prevent you from immigrating to the US:
- Incomplete Requirements: You must submit all the required materials needed by the consular officer, otherwise you are most likely to not be approved.
- No basis for green card eligibility under US immigration law: If you don’t meet any of the factors considered by USCIS that were mentioned above.
- Complications or Mistakes in the Application Process. A poorly prepared application may delay your application or prevent you from immigrating to the US.
- Unable to live in the US for the past 5 consecutive years: If you already have a green card, you must reside in the US for at least 5 years, otherwise you won’t be able to qualify to apply for citizenship.
- No good moral character or if applicant has a felony or has broken laws in his/her home country.
- Unable to speak English.
- Lying or falsely representing any facts during the application process.
- The applicant filed under the wrong visa: You must select the appropriate visa that is suitable for your situation. For example, if you’re going to the US for a permanent employment opportunity, you must carry an appropriate working visa.
- If the applicant has a record of overstaying a previous visa
- Submit an immigrant petition
The petition shall be filed by the US citizen or US company that is sponsoring your application. Appropriate forms depend on what kind of petition you are submitting. For example:
- Petition for a Relative: Form I-130
- Petition for a permanent employee: Form I-140
- Petition for a Refugee/Asylee relative: Form I-730
- Petition for an individual that has a refugee status: Form I-589
- Petition for an Amerasian born after 12/31/1950 and before 10/23/1982: Form I-360
- Petition for a Widow or Widower of a US Citizen: Form 1-360
- Petition for a Special Immigrant (religious worker, physician, U.S. armed forces member, Juvenile Declared Dependent on a juvenile court, etc): Form I-589
- Petition for an Entrepreneur who wishes to immigrate into the US: Form I-526
- Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status / Human Trafficking and Crime Victims : Form I-918
- Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigrant: Form I-929
- Petition for a foreign Fiancé: Form I-129
- Petition to Classify an orphan as an immediate relative: Form I-600
- File a Green Card application with USCIS (Form I-485): After the USCIS approves your immigrant petition, you must then file a Green Card application or an Immigrant Visa with the United States Department of State using Form I-485.
Two ways to file a Green Card application:
A. Consular Processing: This is an application done outside the United States. You may apply at a US Department of State consulate abroad to get a green card.
B. Adjustment of Status: This is an application done inside the United States. If you’re already in the US, you may apply for a green card without having to return to your home country.
Easiest Ways to Obtain a Green Card
- Ask a relative to sponsor you: ask a family member or spouse who’s a US citizen to petition for you to get a permanent visa.
- Get married with a US Citizen / US Lawful Permanent Resident.
- Make a significant investment in a business venture in America: invest $1 million in a US business venture.
- Look for an employment offer.
- Join DV Lottery: The United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Lottery program annually allows 50,000 foreign nationals to get an Immigrant Visa through a random draw/lottery. To qualify, you must be a foreign citizen from a country with a low immigration rate to the United States such as Libya, South Africa, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand and many others. Click here to see the complete list of countries whose citizens are eligible for DV-2019.
- Study in the United States and get an advanced degree – this allows you to easily find an employer in the future that can file the petition for you.
- Work for a nonprofit religious organization.
To follow up or inquire about the status of your application, you may always call USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283.
- After filing Form I-485, you should receive a notice via mail for your biometrics services appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) for you to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature.
- You may be invited for an interview by USCIS officials to answer questions under oath or affirmation regarding your Form I-485. You must bring your passport, official travel documents, and Form I-94, regardless if they are expired.
- Wait for a response. Process usually takes about 2–3 weeks. If it takes longer than a month, you may call USCIS at 800-375-5283 or check your status online. USCIS will send you a written decision indicating whether your application has been approved.
- After your visa is granted, you will receive a Visa Packet by mail, and you will need to pay a USCIS Immigrant Fee that is around $220 as of this writing. After doing so, you may now depart for the United States. After arriving in the US, you will have to submit this Visa Packet to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. If the CBP officer admits you, you will then have lawful permanent resident status and be able to live and work in the United States permanently.
- Your green card will be mailed to you after your arrival in the US. This green card can give you almost all the rights that a US citizen has without having to give up your current citizenship. With a green card you can:
- Sponsor your relatives to come and live with you in the US
- Get a job without needing an employer sponsorship
- Be eligible for Social Security Benefits
- Travel in and out of the country more easily
- Start a business or create a corporation
- Get health and life insurance
- Buy a car, a house or any own property
However, as a green card holder, you won’t be able to vote, be employed by the federal government or serve as a federal representative. And you are not eligible to receive federal financial aid to pursue higher education. Moreover, you will have to renew your green card every 10 years, and there’s still a possibility to get deported if ever you get into serious trouble. That’s basically the difference of keeping a green card versus being an American citizen. Nevertheless, if you are not yet happy with a green card and wish to be an American citizen, you can do this through naturalization. To do this, proceed to the following steps.
- Reside in the US with a valid green card for at least 5 years.
- Apply for naturalization. File USCIS Form N-400.
- Go to a citizenship interview and pass the US citizenship test.
- Take an oath to the United States.
Impact of Donald Trump’s new Immigration Policy
After being elected US president, Donald Trump released an immigration plan in January 2018. The proposal would offer a 12-year path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who arrived in the US illegally as children. The plan also allocates $25 billion for a wall along the country’s southern border and additional security protections in the region. It would also curtail what Republicans have called “chain migration,” prohibiting green cards for the siblings and parents of immigrants. Source: Time
Basically, this plan winds down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is an American immigration policy announced by former President Barack Obama in June 2012 that allowed young undocumented immigrants to get a work permit in the US and protect them from deportation.
In addition, after the New York incident where a previous green card lottery winner mowed down bikers in Lower Manhattan killing eight people and injuring more than a dozen, Trump tweeted: “We are fighting hard for Merit-Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”
In November 2017, President Trump asked Congress to end the green card lottery. Nevertheless, the DV Lottery for 2018 and 2019 were not cancelled, but there had been a change in the list of countries whose citizens are eligible to join the lottery. Citizens of the following countries are no longer eligible to join: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Mainland China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, the UK, and Vietnam
Basically, the underlying purpose of this plan seems obvious: to make more immigrants illegal and thus deportable.
US Immigration FAQs
What are the documents I need to prepare for my US immigration process?
Documents needed in the immigration process vary depending on what petition and visa you are applying for, but generally it includes the following:
- Requirements for filing a Petition
- Petition Form (see types of petition mentioned above)
- Petitioner/Sponsor’s proof of US Citizenship
- Form G-325A (Biographic Information)
- Proof of family relationship
- Passport-size or 2×2 Photos of you and your relative
- Requirements for Visa/Green Card Application
- Valid passport
- Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Forms.
- Birth certificate
- Police Certificates
- Marriage Certificate (if applicable)
- Supporting documents of identity
- Affidavit of Support
- Official Job offer or Visa Screen Certificate (for employment-based applicants)
- Certificate of No Marriage Record (if applicable)
- Medical examinations
- Financial Support: Basically, the purpose of this is to prove to the consular that you are capable of living in the US and won’t become a public charge.
What are the fees or payments associated with US immigration?
Fees also depend on your situation. Generally, it includes the following:
Filing of Petition: $535.00
USCIS Filing Fee for the petition form: $190
Immigration Visa: $220
File USCIS Form N-400: $640
Biometrics Fee: $85
Click here to know more about the fees
What kind of visa options do I have to immigrate to the US?
- Family-based Visa: For family members or relatives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
- Employment-based Visa: For individuals with job opportunity in the US.
- Investor Visa: For foreign national with an investment of $1 million in a US based enterprise, or $500,000 in a high-unemployment or rural area.
- Special Immigrant Visa: For immigration based on special categories, including former US government employees.
- Diversity Visa: For foreign nationals who are picked annually to get an immigrant visa to permanently live in the US.
How do I move my business to the USA?
- Make a financial plan or hire a professional financial planner.
- Choose between 2 visa options:
- E2 Visa / Investor Visa: If you have at least $50,000 to $250,000 that you can invest in an already-established American enterprise. This visa is valid and renewable after 2 years.
- EB-5 Visa / Investment Green Card: If you have at least $500,000 to $1,000,000 that you can invest in the creation of a new commercial enterprise.
- Create a business plan that could create at least 10 jobs for US citizens.
- Form your company.
- Open Corporate bank account.
- Register with the IRS for income tax purposes.
How long does it take to get an individual immigration status?
It depends on the situation, but a regular and qualified application can take up to 6-12 months.
Is hiring an immigration lawyer required?
Hiring a lawyer to apply for a US immigration visa is an incredibly resourceful option to seek proper legal advice and to mitigate the risks. However, this is not specifically required by the USCIS, unless you have some troublesome items in your background.
As they say, nothing worth having comes easy. Applying for US immigration and citizenship could open a lot of great opportunities and challenges. Remember to never take shortcuts, and beware of scammers who will try to take advantage of you by promising you a quick US Immigration process. Best of luck!