Introduction to Immigration Law

The United States has gone through many phases of immigration regulation.  Of course, the United States was founded and initially populated by immigrants from England and Europe looking to start a new life.Many immigrants were brought to the United States through the slave trade and were not willing immigrants.  At different times throughout history, there have been more restrictive immigration laws, sometimes targeting specific populations for economic or political reasons.  After World War I, the economic disaster in the United States forced tighter immigration regulations.This limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter to just 350,000 per year. Since the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, immigration laws have been tightened and security has been higher than at other time in history. Before the attack in 2001, the I.N.S. (Immigration and Naturalization Services) was responsible for immigration rules and procedures, but now the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for immigration in the United States.

Different Levels of Immigrant Status

Non-immigrants are foreign nationals who want to visit the United States on a temporary basis and do not intend to establish permanent residence in the U.S. Immigrants are foreign nationals who intend to become permanent residents of the United States. There are different levels of immigrant status, and each affords a different level of protection against removal and each affords a different number of rights.  Of course some immigrants are “inadmissible”, which means they cannot enter the United States for a period of time, or ever, based on factors such as criminal or health records.  Inadmissibility will be discussed later in this guide. Some immigrants are granted citizenship status quickly based on the citizenship of family members. 

Visas

Anyone wishing to come to the United States must first get permission from the United States government to do so.  The permission to enter the United States is referred to as a visa.  It is usually a stamp in your passport.  Aliens must apply for a visa through a U.S. embassy or consulate outside of the United States.  It does not have to be the U.S. embassy or consulate in his home country.  A temporary visa allows an alien to enter and stay in the United States for a limited period of time, usually to work, study, or travel.  The Visa Waiver program allows some aliens to visit the United States without a visa. 

The word “visa” is also used in reference to part of the process of getting a green card. A green card allows an alien to live and work permanently in the United States. An alien must wait for an Immigrant Visa number before he can receive a green card.  The process of getting an immigrant visa number is discussed in detail later in this guide.

Follow the Law and Protect Your Rights

It is extremely important to follow immigration laws while visiting or staying in the United States.  Breaking immigration laws could result not only in jail time or removal, but can also lead to future consequences.  For example, if you stay in the United States beyond the visa expiration date, or start working without a work permit, you could be barred from re-entering the United States from 3 to 10 years.

Another word of caution is to always be honest on all immigration applications and forms. It is far better to give an honest answer which may hurt your chances of immigrating than to lie.  Fraud is not only a crime, but it can also lead to a finding of inadmissibility which could bar you from ever entering the United States.  If you have reason to believe an honest answer might hurt your chances of immigrating, you should consult an immigration attorney before submitting the applications or forms.  See the last chapter of this guide for information about getting legal help.

New Changes in Immigration Law

Immigration law changes often and it is wise to check the website for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) for current updates if you are planning to visit or live in the United States.  The website can be difficult to navigate and has a huge amounts of information regarding visiting and living in the United States. See http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis. There are many websites which will post legal information regarding immigration which may be outdated or simply wrong.  Do not trust websites from attorneys soliciting business or Wikipedia as such websites may not have reliable, up-to-date information.

This guide will give you a summary of information and give you a better understanding of the immigration process for varying circumstances which will make navigating the information provided on the United States Immigration websites easier. Of course, if your situation is complicated or if you are unsure on how to proceed, it is always a good idea to consult an immigration attorney.


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