Inmigration Law

A Nation of Immigrants

Immigration is the act of entering a country with the intent to permanently live and/or work there. United States immigration laws encompass a wide range of situations that involve a person from a foreign country coming to this country, whether for a temporary visit, or to live here permanently.

The American immigration system is set up primarily to grant immigration status based on factors such as family reunification, in-demand work skills, and capital investment. The immigration system also covers refugees and asylum seekers, and provides a “lottery” for immigration status to people who have less pressing immigration needs. The procedure for gaining legal immigrant status will depend upon, among various factors, which path you are eligible to pursue based on your employment, education, and family situation.

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Inmigration Law

Millions of men and women from around the world have immigrated to the United States. Indeed, immigration has made the United States of America into a world power, particularly in terms of its economic growth. But attitudes toward new immigrants have cycled between favorable and hostile for more two centuries, and the immigration laws have often tracked these attitudes.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first attempt to naturalize foreigners. The first significant federal legislation restricting immigration was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Quotas and immigration acts of all types have followed. But while Americans routinely acknowledge that the United States is a nation of immigrants, the system of laws that govern who can immigrate, who can visit, who can stay, and under what conditions can be downright confounding.

Take the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952. This is a collection of laws that does everything from setting forth qualifications for naturalization, to regulating foreign students, to managing temporary workers, to authorizing humanitarian protections such as asylum and refugee admissions. New laws in 1965 ended the quota system that favored European immigrants, and today, the majority of the country’s immigrants hail from Asia and Latin America.

The enforcement of immigration laws changed dramatically after the passage of Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), carries out the administrative functions involved in immigration. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), enforce the laws and protect the U.S. borders.

Deportation, referred to as “removal” in legal terms, occurs when the federal government orders that a non-citizen be removed from the United States. This can happen for many reasons, but typically occurs after the immigrant violates immigration laws or the more serious criminal laws.

FindLaw’s Immigration Center has a wealth of information and resources on applying for U.S. citizenship, green cards, temporary visas, as well as information on dealing with immigration violations. You may also learn about the citizenship and naturalization process, permanent residency, temporary work visas, student visas, protection from deportation, and more.
But immigration laws are some of the most complex on the books. Maneuvering through the maze of immigration regulation can be a significant challenge. A qualified immigration lawyer is often a crucial requirement for anything beyond the most simple and straight-forward immigration law issues. An immigration lawyer should know the immigration laws inside and out, have experience in immigration courts and can assist in navigating the federal immigration system.

Immigration Overview

Immigration laws are some of the most complex in the books, and navigating through the maze of immigration regulation can be a significant challenge. This section is designed to provide individuals with basic information on immigration laws and some of the processes required for immigrating to the U.S. Below you will find articles covering immigrants who have the intention of permanently living and/or working there, although U.S. immigration laws also cover entry into the country for almost any purpose — including temporary stays. Choose a link from the list below for introductory information on immigration and citizenship.

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are also referred to as “green card holders,” despite the fact that the residency document hasn’t been green for a very long time. LPRs, as the name suggests, reside permanently in the United States. They are authorized to work for any employer without additional documentation and, within certain restrictions, can enter and leave the country at-will.

Residency is typically acquired when a family member or employer applies for the beneficiary to obtain status. There are a limited number of applications that permit an immigrant to file for themselves and certain humanitarian programs that also lead to residency.

LPR status must be renewed periodically and can be lost through rescission/revocation proceedings due to criminal offenses, abandonment, or other violations of status.

In order to receive residency through a family member the individual must demonstrate that they do not have any bars to receiving residency. Prior immigration violations, criminal convictions, and other factors may disqualify an intending immigrant from eligibility for residency or may require a waiver before they can be granted.

Depending on the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary a green card may be immediately available, or there may be a long wait to receive residency. Applications are processed as part of a “category” determined by the status of the petitioner, the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary, and the beneficiary’s age and marital status.

An individual seeking residency through employment must also be free of bars. As with family-based residency applications a petitioner is required, in this case it is typically an employer. Also, similar to family-based immigration, there are categories of applicants that process more or less quickly. In this case, the categories depend on the type of work and experience involved rather than the relationships of the parties.

Less commonly, residency may be acquired through significant investment that benefits the U.S. economy and creates or saves a specific number of jobs. There are a number of approved investment programs that help ensure that investments qualify for residency. One benefit of this method is that no third-party petitioner is necessary.

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, also called the “green card lottery,” is another program through which applicants may receive residency without a petitioning family member or employer. The State Department issues 50,000 immigrant visas from all the lottery applications submitted worldwide. Only countries where few people immigrate to the United States qualify to participate in the lottery.


Visas are most often the starting point for foreign nationals looking to visit, work, study, or move to the United States. While “non-immigrant” visas are for visitors who plan on eventually returning to their home country, so-called “green cards” are for those who intend on staying in the U.S. permanently. This section includes subsections on family visas, green cards, border entry rules, non-immigrant visas, and an overview of U.S. visas in general.

When people refer to a visa they generally mean a non-immigrant visa. Non-immigrant visas are also the most common sort of visa in the immigration system. The kind of non-immigrant visa held by someone determines how long they are allowed to stay in the country and what sort of activities they can undertake.
Employment-based visas permit employment, though often for a specific employer. As with non-immigrant visas these can generally be altered or extended by applying with the immigration service while the visa is still valid, though there are significant exceptions to this rule. Consulting with an immigration attorney can help you understand whether a visa will permit employment and understand whether you will be able to change or extend your status without leaving the country.
Immigrant visas are a necessary part of any application for permanent residence (the “green card”). In most circumstances the immigrant visa is requested by a petitioner, either an employer or a family member. Immigrant visas are particularly important for applicants in categories that limit the number of green cards issued annually. High demand for green cards can result in a long waiting period, during which time the date the immigrant visa was filed is used to track the applicant’s place in line.

The filing of an immigrant visa is evidence that the applicant intends to immigrate. Because many of the non-immigrant visas require a statement that the applicant does not intend to remain permanently in the U.S., this can lead to difficulties maintaining status. Before filing an immigrant visa petition it can be wise to consult with an immigration attorney to determine how long your wait is likely to be and to consider the consequences filing a petition can have on your status.
Dual-intent visas manage to avoid the problem that having an immigrant visa petition pending can pose to someone present in the U.S. This limited kind of visa allows for a temporary stay and is not terminated when the individual takes action to secure permanent status. Dual-intent visas are frequently employment-based. However, not all employment-based visas are dual-intent.

Which sort of visa(s) you apply for can be very important. Someone who has the intent to immigrate and uses a non-immigrant visa to enter the country may be accused of fraud. On the other hand, some who enter with a non-immigrant visa may change their intent after entry. A close consideration of the details of your case may be necessary to ensure that you are not subjected to an accusation of this kind.

Family Visas

If you have a family member living abroad who wishes to live in the United States or if you would like to bring a non-resident spouse or child into the country, you can petition for a family visa on their behalf. For those already in the U.S. but wishing to stay indefinitely, this process is often referred to as “adjustment of status.” FindLaw’s Family Visas section provides general and in-depth information about bringing a spouse or child to live in the U.S., obtaining visas for abused family members, eligibility and preference categories, and related matters.

Whether someone can petition for a family member to come to the United States, and how long it takes before that person can come, depends on the relationship that exists between the parties. U.S. citizens over the age of 21 can file a petition for their spouse, children, siblings, or parents. The age and marital status of children impacts which category they belong to. Lawful permanent residents can file a petition for their spouse or unmarried children only.

There are unlimited green cards available for the spouse and unmarried minor children of a citizen. All the other relationships fall into one of the “preference categories” for which only a limited number of green cards are issued every year. This system has resulted in a backlog that can result in a delay of months or years between the filing of a petition and its approval.

If, during the pendency of the application, the lawful permanent resident petitioner acquires citizenship; the beneficiaries of visa petitions filed by that person will be moved to their new category when the petitioner indicates their change of status to the immigration service.

Another change in preference categories can occur when a child marries or turns 21. Either of these events may invalidate or change the beneficiary’s preference category. If the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident, the marriage of their beneficiary child renders them ineligible for the “unmarried child” category. Since no category exists for the married children of permanent residents, their petition is entirely void. The child-beneficiary of a petition by a U.S. citizen, on the other hand, has their visa petition transferred from the unmarried child category (First Preference) to the married child category (Third Preference).

Similarly, reaching 21 years of age can impact the eligibility for a particular category. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) may permit some applicants to maintain their preference category. A close examination and the assistance of an immigration attorney can help to effectively navigate the CSPA regulations.

A prenuptial agreement may be considered invalid under a number of different conditions and scenarios. First of all, a prenup must be written and signed by both parties and properly executed. Beyond that, a prenup that was signed under duress or not even read prior to signing (as part of a package of documents requesting signatures, for instance), then it may not be considered valid. Other reasons a state may not recognize a prenuptial agreement include lack of independent counsel (for each spouse), false information, and unconscionability.
The K visa permits a foreign national to enter the country to marry a U.S. citizen. The couple must have met at least once in the two years prior to the filing of the application. There are many other restrictions. The beneficiary of a K visa who then enters the country must marry the petitioner and apply for permanent residence under a separate application within 90 days of their arrival. Those who enter the country with the K visa may not change or extend their status to another non-immigrant visa. They are also barred from applying for permanent residency on any grounds other than their marriage to the specific U.S. citizen that sponsored them. Exceptions to these limitations are rare.

Green Card

An immigrant visa for permanent legal residency (typically called a “green card”) allows a foreign national to live and work in the United States, usually indefinitely. People seeking immigrant visas usually are sponsored by an employer or a family member, but there are other avenues toward obtaining an immigrant visa. Below you fill find a wide range of information on immigrant visas, including overviews of employment- and family-based visas, investment/business visas, tips on how to maintain your green card, and much more.

Virtually every application for permanent residence requires an associated immigrant visa petition. The petitioner is different depending on the basis for the request. In the case of family petitions, the family member holding status in the U.S. (the “petitioner”) requests the petition on behalf of the beneficiary. In most employment based applications the employer petitions on behalf of the beneficiary. There are other application types that permit the beneficiary to petition on their own behalf. Who “owns” the petition can be important since they hold the right to appeal a denial, not the foreign national.

Although there are some types of applicants for whom an unlimited number of visas are issued in a year; many categories of applicant must wait for a visa to become available. Large numbers of applicants for certain immigrant visa kinds have resulted in a backlog of applicants waiting their turn to receive residency. It is wise to learn whether your category is backlogged or not before applying.

In cases where backlogs exist, the date on which the visa petition was received by the immigration service becomes the “priority date” for the application. The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin indicates which date the immigration service is currently issuing visas for and can give some indication of projected wait times.

Once granted residency there are still events that can result in the loss of the green card. Two common causes of the loss of residency are abandonment and criminal convictions. A resident who spends more than 180 days out of any given year risks being accused of having abandoned their residency. This can be prevented by requesting a reentry permit prior to departure.
Criminal convictions may also result in the revocation of a green card. Even some civil offenses or admissions that don’t lead to a conviction can endanger an alien’s resident status. There should be particular concern about felonies and crimes involving a moral element such as fraud, theft, sex offenses, etc. Criminal defense attorneys may not be aware of the immigration consequences of certain pleas and admissions. Retaining an immigration attorney to assess the risk to your residency when you are accused of a crime is highly advisable.