In the United States, issues surrounding immigration affect millions of people every year. These issues range from illegal entry and deportation to the grant of a visa for temporary or permanent residence. But regardless of the problem, one thing is true: an immigration lawyer is invaluable in almost any immigration-related issue.
In this article, we’re going to teach you some general information about immigration law. This information will help when you meet with an immigration lawyer at an initial consultation. We’re also going to explain different ways that an immigration lawyer might be able to help your situation. Finally, at the end of the article, we link to our guide which lays out the specific steps to take on how to get a lawyer.
General Information on Immigration Law
Before we go further, you need to know that the information in this section is only general information about immigration law. It is not legal advice, and it is not even specific advice. Instead, it is general information to prepare for your meeting with an immigration lawyer. At the meeting, the lawyer can accurately advise you on how immigration law applies to the facts of your specific situation.
Agencies Involved in Immigration
Immigration is unique compared to other types of law. Instead of a single government agency, immigration involves numerous government agencies which all have a hand in the immigration process. Successfully navigating the complex maze of immigration laws requires a little background on each of the agencies involved:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the starting point for most immigration-related issues. It provides, through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigration benefits such as citizenship and permanent residence to individuals, and also work eligibility benefits to resident aliens.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees lawful immigration to the United States. It is the primary government agency dealing with legal immigration into the United States.
The USCIS employes thousands of workers all over the world. At last count, the USIC has over 18,000 employees in 250 offices around the world who help with the immigration process.
These employees accomplish a LOT in a SINGLE day. Here are some of the things the USCIS does each day:
- Grant citizenship to over 2,500 people
- Grant permanent residence to over 3,500 people
- Formalizes over 25,000 immigration benefit requests
- Performs background checks on over 125,000 people
- Assists with the adoption of over 100 orphans born overseas
- Handles over 39,000 phone calls
- Assists over 12,500 people visiting the 250 offices around the world
- Employment assistance checks on over 75,000 people
- Take over 10,000 photographs and fingerprints
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
The government uses USCIS to handle legal immigration and uses the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to manage illegal immigration. The mission of ICE is to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety.
Here are some of the different things that ICE handles:
- Immigration enforcement
- Investigating the illegal movement of people and goods
- Following up on reported immigration and customs violations
- Serve the needs of crime victims with a nexus to immigration
- Ensure DACA criteria are met
U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employs over 16,000 workers at over 328 entry points across the United States. These workers are responsible for border security, including counterterrorism, customs, immigration, trade, and agriculture.
On a typical day, the CBP does the following:
- Arrests over 1,000 people suspected of illegal activity
- Screens over 1,000,000 travelers crossing the border
- Seizes over 4 tons of drugs
- Prevents over 400 dangerous pests from entering the U.S.
How to Enter the United States Legally
If you don’t already know, obtaining a visa is the central way to enter the United States legally. In a given year, the United States grants about 10 million temporary visas and about 500,000 permanent visas.
A temporary visa, which is also called a non-immigrant visa (NIV), is for individuals that want to visit the United States for a brief period. Some of the reasons why someone might want to visit temporarily could include temporary work, school, medical treatment, tourism, etc.
A permanent visa, which is also called an immigrant visa (IV) or a green card, is for individuals that want to reside in the United States permanently. The number of permanent visas granted each year is generally capped, and therefore much lower than temporary visas.
Here are a few of the different ways to obtain a permanent visa:
The United States government grants a certain number of permanent visas each year based on an individual’s work. The employment-based category is for people with world-renown abilities in specific fields or sports. It includes individuals with PhDs and workers who are experts in their field. You should speak to your immigration lawyer to find out if you fall within this category.
Certain Family Relationships
Many permanent visas are granted each year based on specific family relationships. If an individual is married to a citizen of the U.S., engaged to a citizen, or within the immediate family of a citizen, then they might be able to meet the requirements under this category. Individuals need to be aware that this category has many exceptions such as limitations on children over the age of 18.
The yearly visa lottery is yet another way to obtain a permanent visa. Each year, the United States Government randomly selects about 50,000 people via a lottery and awards them a permanent visa. It’s hard to prepare for this because it’s a lottery and the chances are slim. Besides, there are certain restrictions such as an individual must have worked for a certain amount of time in the past five years, and they must also have obtained the equivalent of a high-school education.
Many immigrants that come from wealthy backgrounds can get a permanent visa through the investment route. To meet the requirements under this section, an individual must have invested at least $1 million or $500,000 and created at least ten jobs for U.S. citizens.
You should talk to your lawyer if you feel like this might apply to your situation. The immigration lawyer you hire can walk you through the various steps and ensure that you don’t waste your money.
Refugee or Asylum
The United States also grants visas to certain individuals who are fleeing their country due to persecution. The type of persecution must be on account of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
The government places a cap on the number of visas granted under this category. Also, the government has come down hard in the past few years on fraudulent claims from people seeking refugee status and asylum that didn’t deserve it.
Not everyone can obtain a visa. The United States government places many restrictions on who can get one. The chances of getting a visa are very slim when individuals can’t meet these requirements.
Here are some of the ways that someone might be ineligible for a visa. But remember, these are just general categories, and you should speak to your immigration lawyer for advice on your specific situation.
- Previously committed a serious crime
- Currently residing in the U.S. illegally
- Remaining in the U.S. past an allowed visit on an existing visa
- Failure to have the appropriate vaccinations
How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The information above is an extremely high-level overview of the immigration process. It leaves out the hundreds of papers, interviews, and other requirements necessary to complete the process. Also, immigration laws are much more complicated than they appear and is it important to hire an experienced immigration attorney. Here are some of the different ways an immigration lawyer can help:
Explain the Options
Immigration law is one of the most complex (and convoluted) areas of law in the United States. Also, the field of immigration law is politically charged, and so the requirements are always in flux. All of this added together makings immigration a nightmare for most people going it alone. For this reason, you need an immigration lawyer with experience to help you navigate through the process.
Hiring an immigration lawyer who has been practicing immigration law for many years can increase your chances of achieving your desired result. You might not know all the different paths available to your specific situation. But an attorney with experience in immigration matters can easily lay out all the options available and help you chose the best one.
Defend Against Deportation
An immigration lawyer can also fight for your rights and defend against deportation by ICE. It may be that you or a loved one is here illegally. Maybe you were here legally, but the law has recently changed, or your situation has changed. In recent years, many individuals here under DACA have found themselves in this situation. It is important to hire an immigration lawyer to help defend against deportation.
Help Get Citizenship by Naturalization
Becoming a U.S. citizen is the ultimate goal of every permanent resident. U.S. citizens have many rights that permanent residents don’t have, including the right to vote. An immigration lawyer can help you through the process of naturalization.
Generally, naturalization requires:
- At least 18 years old
- Having a green card a certain predefined number of years
- Possessing a good moral character (no convictions)
- Holding a basic knowledge of the U.S. government
- Meeting a continuous residency requirement
- Able to read, write, and speak basic English (subject to several exceptions)
Your immigration lawyer will be able to help you through this process and apply these requirements to your specific situation. Also, your lawyer will know if you meet any exceptions to the general rules above.
Help Renewing a Green Card
You might not know this, but you can renew a green card instead of letting it expire. An immigration lawyer can help with this process and help you meet all the required deadlines. It is essential to renew the green card quickly; otherwise, you might have to through the entire process of getting another one.
Assist Obtaining a Work Visa for the U.S.
In many instances, an employer can help a worker get a work visa to enter the U.S. and work for the company legally. Unfortunately, in some situations, a company is unwilling or unable to help the potential employee with the visa process.
In these instances, where an employee can’t get any help from their employer, the employee should get help from an immigration lawyer. The immigration lawyer should be experienced in these matters and will know the fastest way to get a work visa.
Help in Seeking Political Asylum
The path to obtaining refugee status or asylum has many requirements. The process is not as simple as saying “my government was persecuting me so give me a visa!” It has many conditions and lots of paperwork to complete. Also, in many instances, asylum requires an interview. These are all areas where an experienced lawyer can help with the process of seeking refugee status or asylum under immigration law.
How To Get An Immigration Lawyer
If you’ve come this far, then you should have enough general information about immigration law to assist a lawyer in advising you about your specific situation. Also, you should have a general idea about how an immigration lawyer can help your situation.
But before you start searching for a local immigration lawyer, there is one more step you should take. We highly recommend reading our guide about how to get a lawyer. In the guide, you will learn many things about how to get a lawyer. Here is an example of what you will learn:
- How to find a lawyer experienced with immigration law.
- How to research the lawyer’s background.
- Questions to ask before an initial consultation.
- Questions to ask during an initial consultation.
- Observations to record about the lawyer
- How to decide whether to hire the immigration lawyer.
Once you read this guide, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer to help with your immigration needs.