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Immigration Questions & Answers

by Margaret W. Wong, Esq.

I really love answering questions about US immigration law. You know I was an immigrant once, right?  I had all of these questions. I had to research them myself, understand them backwards and forwards, and teach them to other people.  I still do so, daily, in my conversations with clients.  

US immigration law is complex, but it’s really not all that hard. It’s complex because there are so many different situations, and so many different ways people come to the country.  Each person’s situation is unique, as much as it may sound like someone else’s.  

Two sisters who do everything the same still have different stories – each has her own perspective.  After all, one is the older sister, and one the younger.  The older takes some responsibility for the younger, and the younger looks up to the older. The older may not always make the best decisions, so sometimes the younger must take up the guiding hand.  Either way, their path as foreign born New Americans, however similar, is different.  And each much understand the immigration law as it applies to her.

1.    What is a Visa?

A visa is legal permission to be in the United States.  There are different types of visas: tourist, worker, and student.  There are many types of worker visas, such as temporary worker visas, immigrant and non-immigrant worker visas.

Thousands of foreign workers, including artists, researchers, cultural exchange participants, information technology specialists, religious workers, investors, scientists, athletes, nurses, agricultural workers and others, are required to obtain permission to work legally in the United States. Each employment category for admission has different requirements, conditions and authorized periods of stay. It is important that you adhere to the terms of your application or petition for admission and visa. Any violation can result in removal or denial of re-entry into the United States.

Many visas are easily obtained through your local US embassy or consulate. Others are more complicated, and you may need the assistance of a US immigration attorney to fully understand and accurately process the visa application.

2.    What is a Passport?

The passport is a government document from the country of your citizenship, and must be in your possession in most cases when traveling from one country to another.  Typically, the passport is a booklet small enough to fit in most pockets, and with many pages for customs officials at borders or airports to stamp upon your arrival. However, recently you may a apply for a passport card, that permits you to travel over certain borders.

3.    What is a Green Card?

The Green Card is the US permit allowing you to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.  You can obtain the Green Card by being sponsored by a family member or an employer, as a refugee or asylee, or other humanitarian programs.  You can also file for yourself, if you meet certain criteria.  

The Green Card is not actually green – though the first one years ago was.  The current Green Card, just redesigned this spring, looks like this:

 The Green Card as redesigned for 2017.

The Green Card as redesigned for 2017.

4.    What is Naturalization?

Naturalization is one of my favorite topics. When you are naturalized as a US citizen, you have truly arrived.  Not that you haven’t worked your fingers to the bone for many years before your naturalization, but it’s a marked achievement in one’s journey. 

Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

5.    What does it mean to become a Citizen of the United States of America?

Most people think citizens are the only people in the United States who pay taxes. Not so! Anyone working in the United States pays taxes – and many citizens working outside the United States still pay taxes.

As a citizen, you are loyal to the U.S. government. If you were born in the United States, you are already a citizen. If you were born in a U.S. territory or another country and one of your parents is a citizen, then you are a citizen.

U.S. citizens share equally in the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship: 
•    Vote in Federal elections;
•    Travel with a U.S. Passport;
•    Run for elective office where citizenship is required;
•    Participate on a jury;
•    Become eligible for federal and certain law enforcement jobs;
•    Obtain certain State and Federal benefits not available to non-citizens;
•    Obtain citizenship for minor children born abroad; and
•    Expand and expedite their ability to bring family members to the United States.

The laws of the United States are complex – and the freedoms you enjoy in the United States are not the same as in other countries.  Nor are the precise responsibilities.  Every country has different laws.  It pays to become familiar with as many US laws as you can.

6.    If you are a tourist in the USA, do you need to file a USA tax return?


Is this a trick question?  I think so.  If you are a tourist in the United States, you are here to visit – neither to work or to live.  If you ever wish to work, live, or go to school in the United States while a tourist, you must seek an adjustment of status.  You can’t do any of these things on a tourist visa.  Don’t think you can get away with working – you will be found out.  Plan equally well your visit, and your wish to stay. If you have any questions, ask an immigration attorney.  Don’t just ignore the requirements of your visa. If you do, it makes it very hard to make a legal change later. 

7.    What is a Legal Permanent Resident?

A legal permanent resident (or LPR) is a person who has been given permission to stay in the United States.  See “Green Card” above.  

You can travel internationally while an LPR.  You must have your passport issued by the country where you are a citizen, and to return to the USA, you must have your Green Card.  It’s also helpful to have other documents such as your US driver’s license.
You can also lose your permanent residency by staying outside the US for a long time, moving temporarily or permanently, calling yourself a non-immigrant on your taxes, or failure to file income taxes while living outside the United States.

If you know you will be outside the USA, but don’t want to lose your LPR, apply for a reentry permit, and consider applying at the nearest embassy or US consulate for a returning resident visa. Of course this does not apply to members of the US armed services, or civilian employees of the US government overseas on official business.

You can obtain conditional permanent residency through marriage or an investment. 
USCIS may terminate your conditional residency.

You can also lose your permanent residency if an immigration judge issues a final removal order against you.  

If your permanent residency is revoked, you have the right to review the termination of your status in a removal proceeding by an immigration judge.

8.    What is a H-1B working visa?

The H-1B visa is a “specialty occupation” non-immigrant employment visa.  It helps those with bachelors or advanced degrees, those working for the Department of Defense, or those working as a fashion model, work in the USA for certain periods of time.

The H-1B has several levels and criteria that qualify you in various ways.  Some fall under the quota system, and others do not.  It’s very important that you and your employer work very closely together to determine the requirements, and the timing, as there are deadlines for some H-1Bs, and for others, it may be better to apply at a different time of year when it’s not competing for attention with those satisfying the deadlines.

Your H-1B visa may be for up to three years.  Any renewals generally do not extend beyond six years.  Some family members of the H-1B visa holder may seek H-4 non-immigrant visas. 

9.    What is a H-2B working visa?

The H-2B non-immigrant visa allows employers to hire foreign workers to come on a temporary basis to the United States and perform temporary non-agricultural services or labor on a one-time, seasonal or intermittent basis.

10.    What is a H-2A working visa?

There is much agricultural work in the United States that US citizens are not willing or able to perform.  There are equally many – or far more – outside the US who are eager to enter the US to perform these tasks.  The H-2A is that agricultural visa implied by the H-2B description above who are temporary or seasonal workers permitted in the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs.

A U.S. employer, or “agent,” or an association of U.S. agricultural producers named as a joint employer, must file Form I-129, Petition for Non-immigrant Worker, on a prospective worker’s behalf. 

It is constantly amazing to me that the most read pages on our website are the Common Immigration Questions & Answers pages.  On these pages we have over 100 questions and their reasoned answers.

But my favorite pages are the Success Stories -- more than two dozen pages of short stories of our clients' successes in achieving their goals through us.  I'm so proud of these. And you, the foreign born interested in status, should be, too. These are stories of people like you and like me who have made journeys -- some relatively easy, and others really difficult and life-threatening.  They've made journeys, and they've finally found a place to rest their weary bones.

If only to get up the next day and work harder!

Thank you for reading these questions and my answers.

Gordon Landefeld