So much of the news surrounding immigration into the United States is generally about the millions of undocumented immigrants present within the country’s borders and the number of people trying to surreptitiously cross the border. Since so few stories discuss pathways to legally enter the U.S., a friend recently asked, “How does one come to the United States legally?”
The question is a loaded one because the answer lies in the goal the foreign national is ultimately seeking to achieve. The question also made me realize that there is a lack of understanding of the U.S. immigration system. Many people beyond U.S. borders may have a good general understanding of the system or at least the steps to take to achieve their particular goal, but many more within the U.S. may not have a clue. And why would they if they were born there? Therefore, this and a series of subsequent articles will explore the ways foreign nationals can immigrate to and remain in America legally.
Generally, foreign nationals fall into one of two main categories when travelling to the United States: 1) Non-immigrants; and 2) Immigrants. Non-immigrants come with the intent to achieve a particular purpose for a little while and then return to their home country. On the other hand, immigrants go with the intention to live, work, and remain in the United States indefinitely. Each category can be broken down into the different ways that one can obtain a visa.
Immigrants. Provided that they qualify, foreign nationals with the intent to immigrate generally obtain an immigrant visa (aka green card) based on: 1) Family; 2) Employment; or 3) the Lottery. Green cards based on family and employment are further broken down into qualifying preference categories as follows:
Family-Based Preference Categories
- Immediate Relatives (IR)
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of United States Citizens (F1)
- Spouses and Children of Lawful Permanent Residents (F2A)
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents (F2B)
- Married Sons and Daughters of United States Citizens (F3)
- Brothers and Sisters of United States Citizens (F4)
- Persons of Extraordinary Ability, Outstanding Professors and Researchers, and Multi-National Executives (EB-1)
- Persons with Exceptional Ability and Professionals with Advanced Degrees (EB-2)
- Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers (EB-3)
- Special Immigrants (EB-4)
- Investors (EB-5)
Non-Immigrants. Those who wish to go to the United States for a limited period of time and then return home generally apply for a non-immigrant visa based on a specific purpose. Each non-immigrant visa category is designated by a letter in the alphabet and can be further classified according to: 1) Business/Employment; 2) Education; 3) Family; 4) Diplomatic & International Organizations; 5) Law Enforcement; and 6) Other.
Stay tuned for subsequent articles that will detail the more commonly used immigrant and non-immigrant visa categories.