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Immigration FAQ's

Immigration FAQ

How Can I Become a Permanent Legal Resident?

There are limited ways for a foreign national to become a permanent legal resident in the United States. US legal residents are not US citizens, but they enjoy many of the same rights and freedoms, including the right to live and work in the US.

One of the most common ways to attain permanent legal residence is through a family relationship. US citizens and legal permanent residents may sponsor certain family members for immigration. US citizens may sponsor their spouses, children (whether married or unmarried), parents and siblings. Legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouses and unmarried children. In order to sponsor one of these persons, the US citizen or legal permanent resident must be able to show they have the resources to financially support the family member. Also, the family member must be eligible for immigration in accordance with US laws. There is a preference system which determines which family members will be eligible first to immigrate. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of US citizens are exempt from the preference system, and receive visa numbers as soon as their petitions are approved by the USCIS. Other family members may have to wait a significant period of time before they can enter the US.

US employers also may sponsor foreign nationals for permanent residence in the US. The employers must offer the foreign national a full-time, permanent position. Employers will have to receive labor certification from the US Department of Labor prior to petitioning the USCIS for the foreign employee. The labor certification is meant to ensure that the position is bona fide, that the employer used sufficient methods to market the position to US workers and that the working environment and wages of US workers similarly employed will not be harmed by hiring foreign workers, among other things. Once the labor certification is received, the employer must submit a petition to the USCIS requesting the foreign worker be issued a visa. If the petition is approved, the worker may apply for the appropriate visa with the local US embassy or consulate in his or her home country. If the worker is already in the US on a valid visa, he or she may apply for a change in status with the USCIS.

Each year, the US government holds a diversity visa lottery where 55,000 visas are allocated randomly among entrants in the lottery. Only foreign nationals from countries with historically low immigration rates (defined as sending 50,000 or less immigrants to the US in the last five years) are eligible. Entrants also must meet minimum education or work experience requirements to be eligible for the lottery. Those who are eligible may apply for the lottery on-line through the US State Department Web site.

Lastly, foreign nationals who have been granted refugee or asylum status may apply for permanent residence. Refugees are required by US law to apply for legal permanent residence after living in the US for one year after receiving status. Asylees, on the other hand, are not required to apply, but may do so after living in the US for one year after being admitted for asylum protection.

There are limited opportunities to gain legal permanent resident status in the US. For more information on the application procedure, helping a family member immigrate to the US or sponsoring foreign employees for legal residence, contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney in your area.

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