If you are not a resident of the US or have recently applied for US citizenship, you are bound by various immigration laws. These laws can be complicated for the common person to understand, coupled with a lot of procedures and paperwork that can overwhelm you. The Orange County Immigration Attorney handles matters related to immigration, therefore, saving you the hustle and mistakes of navigating through these laws.

Overview of Immigration

Immigration is the movement of non-citizens into the US for work, permanent residence, education, or to seek asylum. The US has been home to millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, for many years. For this reason, there are federal and state laws that govern immigration processes such as visa application, application for citizenship, and deportation.

Although the state and federal laws may differ, they provide guidelines for immigrants on how to get into the country, their rights, benefits they can enjoy and instances that can lead to deportation. Federal immigration laws are found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The US has developed various immigration programs to encourage the reuniting of families and the employment of skilled foreign employees. Some of these immigration programs include:

  1. Family-based Immigration

Family-based immigration gives priority to relatives of US citizens wishing to join their families. The relative who is a citizen or a permanent legal resident of the US files a petition with the US government on behalf of their relative (beneficiary) by filling form I-130. The relative is eligible for family-based immigration through the immediate family or family preference system.

Immediate family members include:

  • Spouses

You can apply for an immigrant visa on behalf of your husband or wife. You have to provide proof of the marriage. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes its time to ascertain that the marriage is legal, a marriage ceremony took place, neither party is legally married to another person, or divorce has been finalized. The spouses must also be of legal age.

In some cases, spouses of a deceased US citizen can be granted an immigrant visa if they file a petition within two years of the death of their spouse. The fiance(e) and minor children of a US citizen can also qualify under the family-based immigration visa.

  • Unmarried children who are under 21 years

Children include those who have been adopted from other countries before their 16th birthday, legitimate and illegitimate children, and children who are immigrating with your spouse. If you are a step-parent to the children, you must show proof of having married their parent before their 18th birthday.

  • Parents

Children who are citizens or permanent residents of the US can petition for their parents (who are non-citizens) to immigrate into the US. The children should be of at least 21 years. You will have to fill in different petitions for each parent.

Those eligible for admission through the family preference category include:

  • Married or unmarried children who are over 18 years
  • Siblings

For you to sponsor a relative to immigrate to the US:

  • You must be a citizen or permanent resident of the US
  • You must show proof of your relationship to the beneficiary
  • You must be willing to sponsor the relative to permanent US residency
  • You must show proof of financial ability to care for the beneficiary and must have a least an income that is 125% above the poverty line. You will also have to fill form i-864, which is the affidavit of support.

The family-based immigration program exempts some relatives from being sponsored into the US, including:

  • Adoptive parents who adopted you after you sixteenth birthday
  • An adopted child who has not been in legal custody and living with the adoptive parent(s) for at least two years
  • You could not sponsor a natural parent if you became a US permanent resident through adoption
  • A spouse cannot qualify for a family-based green card if the marriage was not consummated or one of the parties was not present during the marriage ceremony
  • The relative is a grandchild, grandparents, uncle, nephew, niece, aunt, cousin, or in-law.
  1. Employment-Based Immigration

Employers can sponsor employees who are not citizens of the US to become permanent residents. Employment-based green cards are of different categories, including:

  • EB1, which includes foreigners who are exceptionally skilled in the arts, sciences, education, business, athletics or are Ph.D. holders, researchers, or professors. Executives and managers of multinational corporations are also eligible for EB1 green cards.
  • EB2, which includes employees with special abilities in the arts, business, or sciences or are PG. Degree holders.
  • EB3, which includes professionals who have a bachelors or graduate degree. The category also includes other skilled workers.
  • EB4, which includes special immigrants. These are employees affiliated with religious non-profit organizations or worked for the US government abroad.
  • EB5, which consists of investors who are interested in investing a minimum of $500,000 and create at least five full-time positions.

You can qualify for an employment-based visa even if you are in the US on a non-immigrant visa or student visa. Applying for an employment-based green card is a four-step process, which includes:

  1. Certification by the Department of Labor after your employer submits application ETA-750. Labor certification is lengthy and can take two to three months to get. The employer first applies for permanent employment certification. The employer also has to provide proof to show that they have met all the additional requirements.
  2. Filing for a petition by your employer to the INS (form I-140)
  3. Adjustment of your status or consular processing
  4. Receiving the relevant travel documents and the green card.

If you are approved and received the visa, your spouse and children (below 21 years) become eligible.

  1. The Diversity Visa Program

One of the reasons the US encourages immigration is to create diversity. The diversity visa program is a lottery open to select countries with low rates of immigration into the US. The applicants must meet the minimum eligibility standards to qualify for the diversity visa.

The Department of State opens the application period every year for a specified period. If you are interested, you are encouraged to apply within the deadline.

The Department of State sets various eligibility requirements that every applicant has to meet. They include:

  • You are a citizen of an eligible country that has low immigration rates to the US. The DOS provides a list of eligible countries on its website.
  • You must have at least a high school education (you have completed 12 years of elementary and secondary education) or have gained two years of work experience within the last five years, in a field that requires at least two years of training.

If you meet the minimum requirements for the diversity visa, you have to fill in the electronic entry for the DV visa program. The process is free and is conducted only on the US Department of State website.

You have to submit a completed entry to increase the chances of being approved. The successful candidates are selected randomly by the computer.

If you are selected, you have to fill the form DS 260, which helps you schedule an interview with the US embassy or consulate. Before reporting for the interview, you have to go through medical screening to ensure you take all the recommended vaccines and are cleared of any contagious diseases. Medical screenings should be done at an approved medical provider.

Also, you have to carry all the required documents, including photographs, passports for all applicants, marriage documentation, certification of marriage dissolution, and any documents you had not submitted during the application.

You also have to pay a nonrefundable DV lottery fee. The fee does not guarantee that you will get a visa.

If your visa is approved, your green card will be placed in your passport. You will also get a sealed immigration pack that you should present (while sealed) to the US Customs and Border Protection on your first arrival. Your Visa is valid for six months from the issuance date.

  1. Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Another way people become permanent legal residents of the US is through getting a refugee immigration visa. A refugee is a person who cannot or is unwilling to return to their country for fear of persecution.

Asylum seekers are persons who have fled their country and are seeking legal protection in the US. People seeking asylum have to do so at a port of entry, either an airport or a land entry.

To qualify for asylum, the applicant has to prove that there exists a significant possibility that they are eligible for asylum. You will then go through a credibility assessment, after which you are taken before an immigration judge. If you fail the assessment, you will likely be deported.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the primary body concerned with referring forcibly displaced or stateless people to the US. The commissioner screens refugees to determine whether they qualify as refugees and whether they need resettlement.

The screening process usually takes about two years. Screening begins after the first contact with the UNHCR. They collect your bibliographic information and other relevant details about you.

Afterward, you will have to go through numerous background checks. Your application goes to the Department of State for preliminary approval.

Once preliminarily approved, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services will review your application in addition to conducting interviews with each applicant. You will be vetted by intelligence bodies, including the FBI and CIA.

Once you are approved, you have to go through several health screenings to ensure that you do not have any contagious disease.

The final screening is by the US Customs and Border Protection unit at the airport to verify that you were approved as a refugee.

When you arrive in the US, you are placed into the hands of one of the nine resettlements agencies. The main role of the agency is to ensure that your transition into the US is as smooth as possible. They do this by arranging housing for you, furnishing the houses, providing food and clothing. The agencies also help you with starting a new life in the US by helping in applying for a social security number, enrolling children in school, accessing social facilities and education programs for language and culture.

After staying for one year in the US, you have to apply for permanent residency.

Living in the US

If you have gotten a green card, and have been allowed to enter the US, you have various adjustments to go through. You are also bound by different immigration laws that give you some rights and responsibilities.

Some of your rights include the right to:

  • Live and work in the US
  • Own property
  • Attend public schools
  • Join the US armed forces
  • Get social security or Medicare benefits, and other benefits you are eligible for
  • Apply for US citizenship
  • Request a visa for your spouse and children
  • Travel to and from the US under certain conditions

Your responsibilities as a permanent legal resident include:

  • Obeying the laws of the US (federal, state and local laws)
  • Pay taxes as required
  • Register with the US armed forces if you are a male aged between 18 and 26
  • Always carrying proof of your permanent residence status
  • Update your address with the USCIS each time you move

While in the US, you are expected to learn the basic history of the US, which is one of the requirements for becoming a citizen of the US by Naturalization. Local schools offer adult education classes for immigrants, where they learn English and civic education.

Naturalization of Immigrants

When you have lived in the US for five years as a permanent legal residence, you can apply for citizenship. US citizens enjoy several privileges, such as:

  • You can participate in elections
  • You can serve in a jury
  • You can petition to bring your family members to the US
  • Your right to live in the US cannot be revoked
  • You become eligible to benefits accessible only to citizens
  • You can vie for an elective position
  • You can serve in a jury

To become a US citizen, you must meet requirements such as:

  • You must maintain continuous residence for five years, or three years if your spouse is a US citizen
  • You must prove that you have been physically present in the US for a set period
  • You must be of good conduct; you have obeyed the legal and moral laws
  • You know basic English and history of the US
  • You must understand and accept the principles of the constitution

You have to fill in the naturalization form N-400. After submitting your application, it shall be reviewed to determine whether you meet the above requirements.

You will then receive an appointment letter from the USCIS requesting you have your biometrics taken. Afterward, you will receive the date you should attend an interview.

During the interview, the USCIS will ask you several questions to determine whether you can speak English and are aware of the basic history of the US.

If you qualify, you will be given a date for attending the naturalization ceremony, during which you will take an oath of allegiance. You will also need to return your permanent resident card and receive a certificate of naturalization.

You can be denied citizenship under some circumstances, such as:

  • Failure to enroll in the selective forces if you are a male between 18 and 26 years
  • Failure to pay taxes
  • A criminal record for aggravated felonies
  • You obtained a green card fraudulently
  • You cannot read, write or speak English
  • Failure to pay child support

If you are denied citizenship for less serious reasons, you can reapply or appeal for reconsideration. However, you do not have the risk of deportation unless you committed a serious crime or got a green card illegally. If you are denied citizenship, it is wise to contact an immigration lawyer, who will help you reapply or appeal your case. Having legal representation increases the chances of a successful application.

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The US may deport foreign nationals who are a threat to public safety or those that break the immigration laws of the state. Violating the terms of your visa or entering the country with forged or without travel documents will also lead to deportation. In other cases, you will have to go before a judge before you are deported.

An immigration court determines whether immigrants can stay in the US or not. Some of the circumstances that can lead you into an immigration court include:

  • When you are arrested or are released from incarceration for a deportable crime. Deportable crimes include money laundering, fraud, domestic violence, failure to register as a sex offender, sex crimes, aggravated felony, crimes involving violence, firearms, human trafficking, and crimes relating to terrorist activities.
  • You are stopped illegally crossing the US border.
  • Deportation for failing to adhere to immigration conditions such as working without a permit, failure to update your address with the USCIS after you move, or you were inadmissible when you entered the US.
  • You entered the US fraudulently, for example, by marrying a US citizen so that you can secure a visa or providing false documentation.

The government usually initiates a deportation motion against you. Deportation is a lengthy process that can be traumatizing for an immigrant. The first step involves receiving a notification from the Department of Homeland Security. The Notice to Appear will be presented to you. It contains your name and country of origin, the reason for the notice, the violation for which you are charged, your right to legal representation, and the consequences of failing to appear on the said date and time.

In some cases, you may get mandatory detention, where you have to stay in a detention facility until the immigration court decides on your case. Mandatory detention is common for immigrants who have committed deportable crimes, are seeking asylum, or those who entered the US illegally.

The immigration judge will conduct a hearing to determine whether you are supposed to stay in the US, or you should be deported. Immigration lawyers handle cases of deportation and can help you argue your case and remain in the US.

You may request the court for voluntary departure if you exhaust all your arguments for relief. Voluntary departure gives you the time to prepare yourself to leave the country.

California Immigration Laws You Should Know

California is classified as a sanctuary state, meaning that it offers protection of immigrants from federal laws. Some of these laws prohibit law enforcement officials from:

  • Detaining an immigrant on order from the federal government, unless the person has committed a felony, or there is a warrant for his or her arrest.
  • Transferring undocumented immigrants into federal custody. The only exception is if the person has been convicted within 15 years of committing a crime or they are a registered sex offender
  • Sharing a person’s immigration information that is not accessible to the public, with federal immigration officials

California is also friendly to undocumented immigrants by offering them benefits which other states deny such persons. Some of these benefits include:

  • Access to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students
  • Access to healthcare for adult illegal immigrants

California Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act

Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act is designed to protect immigrant victims of serious crimes from deportation if they have helped or are willing to help in the prosecution of the crimes. The law is designed to encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes that affect them without the fear of deportation.

Such victims can apply for a U-Visa (victim of crime), which allows them to gain legal status. To get such a visa, the immigrant will have to obtain a certification from the local and state law enforcement, indicating that they have been helpful in the prosecution of a crime.

Find An Immigration Attorney Near Me

Immigration laws in the US are complex and ever-changing. The process of gaining permanent residency in the US, becoming a citizen, and handling deportation matters can be overwhelming. You may also be confused about what your rights and responsibilities are and how to handle arising legal issues. The Orange County Immigration Attorney makes it easy for you by providing information and legal representation where necessary. Contact us today at 714-909-0426 regarding any immigration issue!