Immigration Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Visa?
A visa is a permit to apply to enter the United States. If needed, it is normally obtained at an American consulate outside the United States. It classifies the visit as business, tourism, etc. and is usually valid for multiple visits to the United States during a specified period of time. An immigrant visa is given to someone who intends to live and work permanently in the United States. In most cases, your relative or employer sends an application to the INS for you (the beneficiary) to become an immigrant. (Certain applicants such as workers with extraordinary ability, investors, and certain special immigrants can petition on their own behalf.) A nonimmigrant visa is given to someone who lives in another country and wishes to come temporarily to the United States for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant visas are given to people such as tourists, business people, students, temporary workers, and diplomats.
How do I apply for a Visa?
For the following nonimmigrant categories, you should apply directly with the Department of State (which oversees all American consulates):
- A - Diplomatic and other government officials, and their families and employees.
- B - Temporary visitors for business or pleasure.
- C - Aliens in Transit
- D - Crewmen
- E - International Traders and Investors
- G - Representatives to international organizations and their families and employees.
- I - Representatives of foreign media and their families
- J - Exchange Visitors and their families
- R - Religious Workers
For all other nonimmigrant visa categories, and for all immigrant visas except those won through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, you must first apply with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. After receiving approval from the INS, you then must go to your local U.S. consulate to complete your processing.
Marriage and Family-Based Permanent Residency Questions
Q: I am a citizen of another country and I have married a US citizen, how long will it take for me to get my green card?
Generally, if your case is filed as a one-step adjustment of status, it can be completed in less than one year.
Q: I am a citizen of another country and I came to the US using a visa but I overstayed the period for which I was admitted. I am now married to a US Citizen and my spouse and I want to begin a case so I can become a permanent resident. Can I still apply without leaving the United States?
Yes. So long as you are the immediate relative (meaning the spouse, child under 21, or parent) of a US citizen, the fact that you have come with a visa and overstayed will not prevent you from being granted permanent resident status without leaving the United States.
Q: Who is eligible to sponsor their spouse?
A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may apply to bring a husband or wife to live and work permanently in the United States. If you are a lawful permanent resident your spouse must have an immigrant visa number available to become a permanent resident.
If you were married to your spouse before you became a permanent resident, your spouse may be eligible to receive following-to-join benefits. This means that you would not have to submit a separate INS Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) for your spouse, and your spouse would not have to wait any extra time for an immigrant visa number to become available.
Q: How do I bring my spouse to live in the United States?
Your spouse must go through a three-step process to become authorized to live and work in the United States. First, the Immigration and Naturalization Service must approve an immigrant petition (application), Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, that you file for your spouse. Second, the State Department must give your spouse an immigrant visa number, even if your spouse is already in the United States. Third, if your spouse is already in the United States, your spouse may apply to adjust to permanent resident status. If your spouse is outside the United States, your spouse will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa.
If you are a U.S. citizen, your spouse is considered an "immediate relative" and will need to apply for an immigrant visa. In order to receive an immigrant visa your relationship with your spouse must be established and your spouse must be admissible to the United States under the immigration law. You must file a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative on your spouse's behalf. Your spouse may file a Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status to Permanent Resident at the same time.
If you have been married less than two years when your spouse is approved for permanent residence, your spouse will receive conditional permanent resident status. You and your spouse must apply together to remove the conditions on residence.
Q: How do I remove the conditions on permanent residence based on marriage?
A lawful permanent resident is given the privilege of living and working in the United States permanently. Your permanent residence status will be conditional if it is based on a marriage that was less than two years old on the day you were given permanent residence. You are given conditional resident status on the day you are lawfully admitted to the United States on an immigrant visa or receive adjustment of status. Your permanent resident status is conditional, because you must prove that you did not get married to evade the immigration laws of the United States.
You and your spouse must apply together to remove the conditions on your residence. You should apply during the 90 days before your second anniversary as a conditional resident. The expiration date on your alien registration card (commonly know as green card) is also the date of your second anniversary as a conditional resident. If you do not apply to remove the conditions in time, you could lose your conditional resident status and be removed from the country. If you are no longer married to your spouse, or if you have been battered or abused by your spouse, you can apply to waive the joint filing requirement.
In such cases, you may apply to remove the conditions on your permanent residence any time after you become a conditional resident, but before you are removed from the country. If your child received conditional resident status within 90 days of when you did, then your child may be included in your application to remove the conditions on permanent residence. Your child must file a separate application if your child received conditional resident status more than 90 days after you did.
How can I get a waiver of the requirement to file a joint petition? If you are unable to apply with your spouse to remove the conditions on your residence, you may request a waiver of the joint filing requirement. You may request consideration of more than one waiver provision at a time.
Q: What if I am late in applying to remove the conditions on residence?
If you fail to properly file the Form I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence) within the 90-day period before your second anniversary as a conditional resident, your conditional resident status will automatically be terminated and the Service will order removal proceedings against you. You will receive a notice from the Service telling you that you have failed to remove the conditions, and you will also receive a Notice to Appear at a hearing. At the hearing you may review and rebut the evidence against you. You are responsible for proving that you complied with the requirements (the Service is not responsible for proving that you did not comply with the requirements).
You may request a waiver of the joint petitioning requirements if:
- Your deportation or removal would result in extreme hardship.
- You entered into your marriage in good faith, and not to evade immigration laws, but the marriage ended by annulment or divorce, and you were not at fault in failing to file a timely petition.
- You entered into your marriage in good faith, and not to evade immigration laws, but during the marriage you were battered by, or subjected to extreme cruelty committed by your U.S. citizen of legal permanent resident spouse, and you were not at fault in failing to file a joint petition.
Q: Will my spouse be eligible for a work permit?
Your spouse does not need to apply for a work permit after admission as an "immigrant" with an immigrant visa or after adjustment to permanent resident status. As a lawful permanent resident, your spouse should receive an alien registration card that will prove that your spouse has a right to live and work in the United States permanently. If your spouse is now outside the United States, your spouse will receive a passport stamp upon arrival in the United States. This stamp will prove that your spouse is allowed to work until an alien registration card is created.
Q: Who is eligible for a fiancé visa?
U.S. citizens who will be getting married to a foreign national in the United States may petition for a fiancé classification (K-1) for their fiancé. You and your fiancé must be free to marry. This means that both of you are unmarried, or that any previous marriages have ended through divorce, annulment or death. You must also have met with your fiancé in person within the last two years before filing for the fiancé visa. This requirement can be waived only if meeting your fiancé in person would violate long-established customs, or if meeting your fiancé would create extreme hardship for you. You and your fiancé must marry within 90 days of your fiancé entering the United States. You may also apply to bring your fiancé's unmarried children, who are under age 21, to the United States.
Q: How do I bring my fiancé to the United States?
If your fiancé is not a citizen of the United States and you plan to get married in the United States, then you must file a petition with INS on behalf of your fiancé. After the petition is approved, your fiancé must obtain a visa issued at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad.
The marriage must take place within 90 days of your fiancé entering the United States. If the marriage does not take place within 90 days or your fiancé marries someone other than you (the U.S. citizen filing INS Form I-129F - Petition for Alien Fiancé); your fiancé will be required to leave the United States. Until the marriage takes place, your fiancé is considered a nonimmigrant. A nonimmigrant is a foreign national seeking to temporarily enter the United States for a specific purpose. A fiancé may not obtain an extension of the 90-day original nonimmigrant admission.
If your fiancé intends to live and work permanently in the United States, your fiancé should apply to become a permanent resident after your marriage. (If your fiancé does not intend to become a permanent resident after your marriage, your fiancé/new spouse must leave the country within the 90-day original nonimmigrant admission.) Your fiancé will initially receive conditional permanent residence status for two years. Conditional permanent residency is granted when the marriage creating the relationship is less than two years old at the time of adjustment to permanent residence status.
Your fiancé may enter the United States only one time with a fiancé visa. If your fiancé leaves the country before you are married, your fiancé may not be allowed back into the United States without a new visa.
Q: How can I appeal if the application is denied?
If your petition for a fiancée visa is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to appeal.
Q: Who is eligible to sponsor a parent?
If you are a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old, you are eligible to petition to bring your parents to live and work permanently in the United States. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you are not eligible to petition to bring your parents to live and work permanently in the United States.
Q: How do I bring my parents to live in the United States?
Your parents must go through a three-step process to become an immigrant. First, the INS must approve an immigrant petition that you file for your parents. Second, the State Department must give your parents an immigrant visa number, even if they are already in the United States. Third, if your parents are already in the United States, they may apply to adjust to permanent resident status. If they are outside the United States, they will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa.
Q: Who is eligible to sponsor a sibling?
If you are a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old, you are eligible to petition to bring your brother or sister to live and work permanently in the United States. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you are not eligible to apply to bring your brother or sister to live and work permanently in the United States. You do not need to file separate visa petitions for your brother or sister's spouse or unmarried, minor children. Any child under 21 is considered a minor.
Q: How do I bring my brother/sister to live in the United States?
An immigrant is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of living and working permanently in the United States. Your sibling must go through a three-step process to become an immigrant.
First, the INS must approve an immigrant visa petition that you file for your brother or sister. Second, the State Department must give your brother or sister an immigrant visa number, even if your brother or sister are already in the United States. Third, if your brother or sister is already in the United States legally, your brother or sister may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa number becomes available. If your brother or sister is outside the United States when an immigrant visa number becomes available, your brother or sister will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete the processing for an immigrant visa.
Naturalization and Citizenship Questions
Q: I have been a permanent resident for several years and I want to apply for US citizenship, however I have a minor criminal charge in my background from many years ago. Will it affect my chances of becoming a US citizen?
USCIS looks at the five-year period just before you file your application for naturalization. If the charge is minor and occurred outside the five-year window there is a good chance that it will not lead to denial of your application; however it is very important to consult with immigration lawyer so he or she may determine specifically what consequences the criminal conviction may have on your naturalization case after gathering all of the facts. If there is evidence within the five-year period that suggests that an applicant lacks good moral character, USCIS is permitted by statue and regulation to look behind the five-year window in order to make a determination of whether or not the applicant possesses good moral character. Other factors besides criminal history which are considered in determining whether an applicant possesses good moral character include evidence of support of minor children, a history of paying all required taxes, and absence of involvement in such things as drug use, illegal gambling, giving false testimony for immigration benefits, making false claims to US citizenship or illegally voting.
Q: I have a green card that has expired and I want to apply for US citizenship. Do I have to renew my green card before applying?
Yes. It may seem puzzling that you are expected to get a new green card when you will simply turn it in on the day of the that you become a citizen, nevertheless at the present time, USCIS requires applicants to renew their green cards before applying for citizenship if the green card will expire within six months before the date you will file your application for naturalization.
Q: When I become a US citizen will I lose the citizenship of my country of origin?
It depends on the laws of your country of origin. Many countries, including most European countries, permit dual citizenship. There are also a few notable examples of countries such as India where acquisition of US or other foreign citizenship leads to loss of nationality. Check with a passport officer at an embassy or consulate of your country of origin for further information.