How Do I Become a U.S. Permanent Resident? How do I Naturalize to Become
a U.S. Citizen?
Even if you've been living in the U.S. illegally, or if USCIS has denied
one of your prior immigration applications, you may still be eligible
to remain in the U.S. And since U.S. law offers many different ways for
immigrants to obtain legal residence beyond what's listed here, we
invite you to contact our office to find out which route is best for you.
Below are just a few of the ways people can immigrate to the United States.
What is the Process to Become a U.S. Permanent Resident? How Do I Apply
for a Green Card?
How Do I Obtain a Permanent Resident Green Card through an Immediate Relative
Petition by My U.S. Citizen Husband/Wife, Mother/Father, or Son/Daughter?
If you are the parent, child under age 21, or spouse of a U.S. citizen,
a visa for permanent residence is immediately available once the Immigration
Service grants the petition. The process normally begins with the filing
of an immigrant visa petition, through a
Form I-130. Processing times for the
I-130 petition can vary, but these times are listed at the
If the immigrant is in the United States lawfully, then an application
may generally be made in the United States through a process called
adjustment of status, through a
Form I-485, filed with USCIS, along with a
Form I-864 affidavit of support establishing that the Petitioner or a Joint Sponsor has the financial
means to support the immigrant. In most cases, an applicant for adjustment
of status may obtain a
work permit and employment authorization while the case is pending.
In some limited instances, applicants who are not lawfully in the U.S.
may be allowed to remain while USCIS considers their cases. It is critical
to work with an immigration attorney under these circumstances. If the
immigrant is outside of the United States, then
consular processing is generally the appropriate route. The State Department National Visa
Center will guide applicants through this process in preparing the
DS-230 immigrant visa application packet and
I-864 affidavit of support packet. The immigrant will then be interviewed at the U.S. Consulate in
his or her country of residence.
How Do I Obtain a Permanent Resident Green Card through a Family Preference
Petition from My Husband/Wife, Mother/Father, or Brother/Sister? How Do
I Obtain a Permanent Resident Green Card for My Children? How Long Do
I Have to Wait to Obtain My Green Card?
Visas based on other family relationships may have extended waits based
on the government's order of preference and the limited number of
visas issued annually. The waiting times are regularly updated by the
U.S. State Department and posted monthly on the
First Preference Immigrant Relative Petition:
Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens (age 21 or older)
- Approximate Waiting time for most countries: 7 years
Mexico: 18 years
Philippines: 15 years
Second Preference Immigrant Relative Petition:
(a) Children under age 21 and Spouses of Permanent Residents
- Approximate waiting time for most countries: approximately 3 years
Mexico: approximately 3 years
(b) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (age 21 or older) of Permanent Residents
- Approximate waiting time for most countries: 8 years
Mexico: 19 years
Philippines: 10 years
Third Preference Immigrant Relative Petition:
Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens
- Approximate waiting time for most countries: 10 years
Mexico: 19 years
Philippines: 19 years
Fourth Preference Immigrant Relative Petition:
Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens
- Approximate waiting time for most countries: 11 years
India: 11 years
Mexico: 15 years
Philippines: 23 years
How Do I Apply for Asylum in the United States?
If you have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion,
nationality, political opinion or social group membership in your home
country, you may be eligible for asylum in the U.S. Among other benefits,
a grant of Asylum allows the applicant to work legally, obtain travel
documents, attend school, and receive certain forms of public assistance.
After one year, an asylee may apply to become a U.S. permanent resident,
and later, U.S. citizenship.
An application for asylum must be made in the United States. The application
must in great detail explain whether the applicant's fear of persecution
is reasonable, and should be carefully documented by country reports,
news articles, affidavits, and witness testimony where possible. If you
are not in removal or deportation proceedings, an
asylum application (I-589) may in general be filed directly with USCIS. Otherwise, the asylum application
must be filed with the
Immigration Court. Asylum seekers must be aware that there is a
one-year asylum filing deadline for submitting the
application, from the date of entry into the United States. This deadline may only
be excused based on
extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant's control or
changed circumstances materially affecting the asylum applicant's eligibility.
Although the law permits an asylum applicant to obtain a
work permit and employment authorization if the asylum application is pending for more than 180 days, the U.S.
Government is required to make a decision on asylum with that same period,
so that in practice, very few asylum applicants ever obtain employment
authorization. Although most asylum cases take longer than 180 days, almost
all delays are attributed to the applicant, so that the 180-day "clock"
stops running whenever an interview or hearing is postponed.
How Do I Apply for Cancellation of Removal for Non-Permanent Residents?
If you have illegally resided in the U.S. for 10 years, have
good moral character, and your deportation would cause "
exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent,
you may qualify for permanent residence under
cancellation of removal. Certain citizens of El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as the former
communist countries of Eastern Europe who came to the United States in
1990 or earlier may also be eligible for
NACARA, a related form of relief. While the application is pending before the
Immigration Court, the immigrant may qualify for work authorization. This
is a very risky application that requires going before the immigration
court for deportation proceedings, and the "
exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" is very difficult to meet. It is therefore critical that you consult
with a knowledgeable
immigration attorney before seeking this relief.
How Can I Avoid Deportation?
If you're not yet a U.S. citizen, you must be extremely careful to
stay on the right side of the law. Below is a list of just a few of the
unlawful activities, known as
crimes involving turpitude and
aggravated felonies, that can lead to deportation:
- Theft offenses and fraud crimes
- Drug offenses, including possession and trafficking
- Immigration fraud and alien smuggling
- Serious violent crimes
- Rape and statutory rape
- Domestic violence
- Arson and malicious destruction of property
- Harboring a fugitive
- RICO violations
- Firearms offenses
How Do I Apply for Naturalization to U.S. Citizenship?
An application for naturalization is made on a
Form N-400. Typically an applicant must:
- Be a lawful permanent resident;
- Reside continuously in the United States for five years (3 if married to
a US citizen);
- Read, write and speak English;
- Have an understanding of U.S. history and government;
- Possess good moral character;
- Support the U.S. and the Constitution.
If you are married to a U.S. citizen or served in the U.S. military, you
may be eligible for citizenship in three years or less. You may also qualify
for acquired or derivative U.S. citizenship without naturalizing if either
of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born or became citizens
while you were still young.
Note: The above information is not intended as legal advice, but only to
list just some of the benefits available under U.S. immigration law, as
well as activities that might jeopardize their right to live in the U.S.
You should speak with an attorney or legal services office for more information
on how these laws might affect you.