FAQs & Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Family Immigration Questions
I am a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Can I sponsor my family for immigration to the United States?
Yes, if you’re a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may be able to apply for family-based immigration. Generally, US citizens can sponsor their spouse and children, as well as their siblings and parents (if the US citizen is at least 21 years old). Lawful permanent residents can generally sponsor their spouse and unmarried children. The process begins by submitting a Petition for Alien Relative (I-130 packet) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll also need documentation proving your own citizenship or resident status and your relationship to the family member you’re sponsoring. Once the visa petition is approved and an immigrant visa is available, the alien relative will have to determine whether they can process locally before DHS or DOJ or whether they must process abroad before the Department of State. Not everyone with an approved and available visa can obtain status from that visa. Some family petitions are available for use immediately and others will take years. It is important to make the determination of eligibility before beginning the process as well as understanding any negative impact from filing a petition. Filing a family-based visa in some cases can create conflicts in the foreign national’s current status or lack of status.
What is the process for sponsoring a spouse?
U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents typically can sponsor a spouse, starting by submitting the I-130 packet (Petition for Alien Relative). Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under immigration law, meaning they have a visa available quickly. Spouses of lawful permanent residents, however, are subject to classification within family-based categories. This means it may take some time after the initial filing until they become eligible to either adjust their status in the United States or outside the United States depending on which process is appropriate given their case facts and history. Also, some spouses can be included in certain temporary or humanitarian visas.
Is there a temporary visa classification for those planning to marry?
Yes, the intended spouse of a U.S. citizen is typically eligible to apply for a K-1 visa, or fiancé visa provided the couple has met at least once in person in the last two years. K-1 visas require that the marriage takes place in the United States within 90 days of arrival on the K-1 visa. Only after the marriage takes place, can the person proceed to apply for adjustment to a lawful permanent residence. Some dependent children of the foreign national fiancé or fiancée may also accompany the visa holder under K-2 status.
If the marriage takes place abroad, the fiancée visa is no longer available and the U.S. citizen spouse must file an I-130 or an I-130 and K-3 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
How many green card categories are there and where can I access them?
There are a vast number of green card categories, ranging from those based on family connections, employment, or educational pursuits to those related to refugee or asylee status. You can find a comprehensive list on the Antonini & Cohen site.
Student Visa Questions
How can I enter the United States as an academic student?
Schools in the United States offer great opportunities for students who wish to further their educations. The intellectual stimulation and social interaction gained by studying in the United States can become vital to a student’s growth and development.
Foreign national students who want to study in the United States usually apply for the F-1 visa. In order to apply for an F-1 visa, you must first be accepted by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services-approved school. You’ll also need to prove to the U.S. Consulate you can financially afford to attend school and take care of your expenses. F-1 students have the opportunity to work in their fields of study both before graduation, through curricular practical training, and after, through optional practical training.
Additionally, F-2 status allows your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age to join you in the United States. When you apply for your F-1 visa, bring your spouse and children with you to the consulate. If your spouse or dependent children are joining you later, they’ll need to submit a copy of your F-1 status to U.S. Embassy staff, along with documents proving their relationships to you. Your spouse and children’s F-2 status is dependent upon your F-1 status.
How can I enter the United States as a vocational student?
U.S. vocational schools offer a great opportunity for students looking to further their training. Foreign national students who want to study at a U.S. vocational school usually apply for the M-1 visa. The M-1 visa offers students the opportunity to train in a positive U.S. environment while strengthening their technical and non-academic skills. In order to apply for an M-1 visa, you must first be accepted by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services-approved vocational school or non-academic school. You’ll also need to prove to the U.S. Consulate you can financially afford to attend school and take care of your expenses. The M-1 visa doesn’t apply to language training.
Additionally, M-2 status allows your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age to join you in the United States. Your spouse and children’s M-2 status is dependent upon your M-1 status.
Although M-1 and M-2 visa holders aren’t allowed to work in the United States, M-1 holders may apply for an extension of up to six months for practical training.
Refugees and Asylum Questions
What are the qualifications for asylum?
For those seeking asylum, the United States offers a possible safe haven from persecution in their home countries. The asylum-seeker must be unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of:
- Membership in a particular group
- Political opinion
In order to seek asylum, an individual must apply in the United States, whether upon reaching a border or within one year of crossing a border.
How do I submit proof of persecution?
Once an asylum-seeker enters the United States, he or she must submit extensive documentation to establish persecution resulted directly from one of these grounds and not from private disputes:
- Membership in a particular group
- Political opinion
While race, religion, and nationality may be understandable to most, membership in a particular group and political opinion likely need a bit more explanation.
Membership in a particular social group is based on an immutable characteristic, such as sex, race, or sexual orientation. To establish persecution on these grounds, you must submit documentation that:
- The group has a discernible identity
- You’re a member of the group
- The group is persecuted as a result of its distinguishing characteristics
Persecution on the basis of political opinion can be established when the applicant demonstrates an actively and openly held opinion in opposition to those in a position of authority, or when the person has been persecuted by virtue of an imputed, or falsely perceived, opinion.
An asylum seeker can also apply for protection in the United States due to past persecution. A simple assertion of past persecution isn’t enough, and the applicant will be required to provide extensive documentation of injuries, threats of violence, and restrictions.
Additionally, a claim can be based on a “well-founded fear of future persecution.” This requires proof there’s a reasonable likelihood you’ll be persecuted by your government or a group the government is unwilling or unable to stop. You must submit evidence showing it’s likely you’ll be persecuted and even if you leave your home, you’ll be found and persecuted in any part of your country.
It’s important to remember persecution isn’t limited to physical abuse or torture. Denial of education and employment opportunities, arbitrary interferences with the individual’s family members, and restrictions on an individual’s rights amounting to a “threat to life or liberty” define persecution. However, general conditions of hardship and criminal prosecution for violating a state’s laws don’t constitute persecution under immigration laws.
Certain individuals are automatically precluded from seeking asylum even if they meet the requirements above. These include individuals who have:
- Participated in the persecution of others
- Been convicted of a serious crime or a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States
- Been terrorists or endanger security in the United States
- Been offered permanent resident status or citizenship in another country
- Failed to file the application within one year of entering the United States (certain exceptions may apply)
Work Visa Questions
How can I enter the United States to work in a “specialty occupation”?
If you work in a “specialty occupation,” like architecture, engineering, or health and medicine, an H-1B temporary visa allows you to work in the United States. It’s not a self-petitioning visa category, so a sponsoring employer must petition for you. In order to qualify, you’ll need a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent, plus practical skills in your specialized area. In addition, if this is your first time applying for an H-1B visa, you’ll need to participate in the lottery that takes place every year during the first week of April, as only a limited number of visas are issued annually.H-1B visas are issued in three-year increments or less, for a maximum of six years. After that, you may have to live outside of the United States for one year before becoming eligible to reapply.
How can I transfer employees to a United States operation?
For companies that do business in both the United States and abroad, it’s sometimes helpful to shift executives, managers, or employees with specialized knowledge from one country to another. The L-1 temporary work visa, or “intra-company transferee” visa, allows international businesses with U.S. offices to temporarily transfer employees. The L-1 visa also allows executives and managers to come to the U.S with the purpose of opening a new office, affiliated to the foreign business.
To qualify, foreign nationals must have worked for the company for at least a full year within the last three years. Executives and managers receive L-1A visas, while employees with specialized knowledge receive L-1B visas.
Are there visas connected to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, (NAFTA), certain Canadian and Mexican citizens may enter the United States to work temporarily. The TN (Trade NAFTA) visa allows trained or licensed professional workers in NAFTA-approved positions to work for a U.S. employer. The TN visa is broken into two subcategories: the TN-1 visa for Canadian citizens and the TN-2 visa for Mexican citizens.
How can an individual with extraordinary
The O-1 temporary work visa allows people with extraordinary ability in arts, education, business, athletics, the sciences, or the motion picture or TV industries to apply to work in the United States. The O-1 visa is not a self-petitioning visa. Instead, a U.S. employer or agency must petition for the visa holder, or a foreign employer can petition through a U.S. agent.
The visa requires “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small
How can support personnel of people with extraordinary abilities enter the United States?
The United States allows individuals with extraordinary abilities to work in the country under the O-1 visa. The O-2 visa allows the support personnel of these individuals to join them. A U.S. employer or agency, or a foreign employer going through a U.S. agent, may petition for an O-2 visa.
How can artists or entertainers involved in an exchange program enter the United States?
Entertainers, bands, and groups entering the United States as part of an exchange program may qualify for P-2 temporary work visas. The U.S. sponsor of the exchange must file the petition. P-2 applicants will be asked to provide documentation of the reciprocal exchange agreement and proof that his or her skills are comparable to the U.S. artists or entertainers involved in the exchange.
How can art educators enter the United States?
If an art educator is considered “culturally unique,” he or she may travel to the United States for temporary
What is the visa classification for “treaty traders”?
In order to better support international investors and foreign commerce, U.S. immigration policy allows individuals known as “treaty traders” to enter the country under the E-1 visa. E-1 applicants must come from countries linked to the United States through trade partnerships or treaties, and they must plan to invest in, develop, or direct substantial trade operations.
What is the visa classification for “treaty investors”?
Much like the E-1 visa for treaty traders, the E-2 visa allows individuals known as “treaty investors” to enter the country to oversee and direct ventures in which they’ve invested a significant amount of money. An E-2 applicant must own more than 50 percent of a proposed investment, or enter the United States as the employee of another E-2 investor.
Where can I find out more information about employment-based immigration?
While temporary, nonimmigrant visas might be the right fit for many people coming to the United States for short periods of time, lawful permanent resident status provides a wider range of rights and privileges. Employment-based immigration, or business immigration, is a widely used method for obtaining permanent U.S. residency.
In most cases, your employer will have to obtain a Labor Certification before filing an immigrant visa petition (Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker) on your behalf. Once the petition is approved, you’ll have to wait until a visa in your particular employment-based preference category becomes available and then apply for a change to lawful permanent resident status.
Non-Immigrant Visa Questions
What is the ideal tourist visa?
If you’re a tourist hoping to briefly visit the United States, the B-2 visa allows you to stay for up to 6 months at a time. To qualify, the visit must be a “pleasure trip,” defined by recreational activities like tourism, amusement, visits to friends or relatives, rest, or service. Visitors seeking medical treatment can also qualify for B-2 visas.
I am an exchange visitor. What visa should I apply for?
If you’re participating in an educational or cultural exchange program, the J-1 visa allows you to stay in the United States for up to 18 months. Students, trainees involved in on-the-job training, visiting scholars and researchers, and consultants are all eligible for J-1 visas.
I am an exchange visitor interested in receiving training in the United States. What visa should I apply for?
Visitors planning to participate in the international cultural exchange, including training and sharing cultural traditions from their native countries, can enter the United States with a Q-1 visa. Visa holders must be at least 18 years old and able to teach a U.S. audience about their home country’s history and culture. A U.S. sponsor must agree to pay them a rate equivalent to a U.S. employee.
Can I enter the United States for a brief period of time without obtaining a visa?
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. To qualify, you’ll need a passport issued by a participating country valid at least six months beyond the date of return and a round-trip ticket issued by an approved carrier. If you plan to work or study while in the United States, the Visa Waiver Program is not for you.
I am traveling through the United States. Can I visit family or friends while waiting for my departing flight?
For visitors simply passing through the United States, the C-1 visa allows entry for 29 days or less. Intended for travelers who have a ticket or other means of reaching their final destination, the C-1 visa is often held by crewmen. To apply, you’ll need to complete visa application Form DS-156, present two recent photographs, and hold a valid passport.
What visa can I use to travel to the United Nations?
If you’re a United Nations (UN) official or you are working on official UN business, the C-2 visa allows entry to the United States in order to visit the UN’s New York headquarters. C-2 visas are valid for up to 29 days and come with certain restrictions on travel beyond headquarters.
I am a foreign government official. How can I visit family or friends while waiting for my departing flight?
If you’re a foreign government official passing through the United States, you may apply for a C-3 visa in order to visit friends or family. C-3 visas are valid for up to 29 days and may also be held by the family members or personal employees of foreign government officials.
What is the visa process for crewmen?
Crew persons temporarily docked in the United States may apply for a D-1 visa in order to enter the country for a maximum of 29 days. For crew persons planning to leave the United States on a different vessel, a D-2 visa is appropriate.
What is the visa process for crewmen en route to Guam?
Crew persons aboard United States-based fishing vessels temporarily visiting Guam may apply for the D-2 visa. A D-2 visa is valid for up to 29 days after admission.
How can foreign media representatives enter the United States?
Reporters, film crews, and freelance journalists who plan to work solely in the United States for a foreign media outlet or U.S. subsidiary of a foreign outlet can qualify for an I visa. While I visas are good for however long it takes to complete the work, the member of the media must intent to return to his or her home country after the work is complete.
IMMIGRATION RELATED ORGANIZATIONS
- American Immigration Law Council
- Catholic Legal Immigration Network
- Detention Watch
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Kids In Need Of Defense
- National Immigration Project
- Southern Poverty Law Center
HUMAN RIGHTS AND ASYLUM RELATED WEBSITES
- Amnesty International
- Freedom House
- General information about asylum and asylum case support
- Human Rights Watch
- US Department of State Country Reports