Immigration Law

What is Immigration Law?

Immigration law refers to the rules established by the federal government for determining who is allowed to enter the country, and for how long. It also governs the naturalization process for those who desire to become U.S. citizens. Finally, when foreign nationals enter without permission, overstay their visit, or otherwise lose their legal status, immigration law controls how the detention and removal proceedings are carried out.

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the exclusive right to legislate in the area of immigration. Most of the relevant laws, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), are found in Title 8 of the United States Code. State governments are prohibited from enacting immigration laws. Despite this, a handful of states recently passed laws requiring local police to investigate the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens, creating some controversy.

Three federal agencies are charged with administering and enforcing immigration laws. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigates those who break the law, and prosecutes offenders. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles applications for legal immigration. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for keeping the borders secure. All three agencies are part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Generally speaking, people from foreign countries obtain permission to come to the United States through a visa approval process. Visas are available for two purposes. Immigrant visas are for those who want to stay in this country and become employed here. These visas are limited by country-specific quotas. Non-immigrant visas are for tourists, students, and business people who are here temporarily.

Citizens of certain developed countries deemed politically and economically stable by the U.S. government are allowed to visit for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Known as the visa waiver program, this expedited system is primarily used by people coming here on vacation. It does not allow foreign citizens to work, go to school, or apply for permanent status. The visa waiver program is currently available to citizens of 37 countries.

Permanent Residency and Citizenship

Immigrating to the United States requires individuals to submit a number of detailed applications to the federal government. Further complicating matters, immigration regulations change often, making it difficult for anyone without formal training to stay current on the law. Even among attorneys, immigration is considered a specialized practice area not suited for general practitioners. Self-representation is not recommended.

With the help of an experienced attorney, those who qualify can successfully obtain permanent residency (a green card), and eventual citizenship. While the law provides a path to citizenship for workers and investors, the most common grounds for granting legal status is family-based immigration. This process begins when a permanent resident or U.S. citizen files a petition on behalf of a family member in a foreign country.

U.S. citizens can sponsor family members who qualify as "immediate relatives." These include spouses, parents of a citizen 21 years or older, unmarried children under age 21, and children adopted before turning 16. The government does not limit the number of immediate relative visas approved each year. This means there is no waiting period, other than the time required to process the visa petition.

By contrast, petitions filed by citizens or permanent residents on behalf of more distant relatives are subject to annual quotas. The amount of time these family members must wait to come to the United States will depend on their preference category. Unmarried children age 21 or older are given the most preference. Brothers and sisters of adult citizens are given the least. For those in the lower preference categories, it can take years to obtain a visa.

Immigration is a diverse area of the law, and attorneys tend to specialize in particular types of cases. For example, an immigration attorney may limit his or her practice to employment-based petitions, foreign adoptions, or deportation defense. Immigrants and their families should take it upon themselves to gain a preliminary understanding of the nature of their case, before going about the important task of finding an attorney.

Naturalization or Citizenship Law deals with the legal process of a person taking on citizenship in a country other than the one of his or her birth. The process of becoming a citizen of another county is called naturalization, while citizenship is technically the body of rights, privileges and duties a naturalized citizen obtains.

The Immigration and Nationality Act is the primary source of American naturalization and citizenship law. Generally speaking, a person can become a United States citizen in one of four ways:

1. By being born in the United States (or one of its territories);

2. By being born to parents who are US citizens;

3. By being naturalized (which usually involves certain residency requirements and passing a citizenship test); or

4. By being a minor and having one or more of your parents become naturalized citizens.

For more information about becoming a citizen, you may refer to the resources found below. Additionally, you can find an attorney in your area who can assist you with your naturalization and citizenship issues or answer any other questions you may have by clicking on the "Law Firms" tab found above on the menu bar.

A Green Card is the common term for the document granting formal permission to a resident alien to remain in the United States permanently. A Green Card holder (i.e., the permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States permanently. One can become a permanent resident (Green Card holder) several different ways.

Most who are granted Green Card holder status are sponsored by a family member or employer in the United States. Others acquire Green Cards as a result of refugee or asylee status or other humanitarian programs, or are able to apply on their own.

To retain permanent resident status, one should not move to another country with the intention of remaining there permanently, remain outside the US for more than a year, fail to file tax returns, or declare themselves a "nonresident" on their tax returns.

For more information on obtaining and keeping a Green Card, you may review the materials below. Additionally, you can find a lawyer in your area that specializes in immigration law under the "Law Firms" tab found on the menu bar, above.

Immigration Amnesty is term for a government's pardon of an illegal immigrant for violating policies related to immigration laws and policies. This area is currently in transition as proposed immigration amnesty laws are currently in debate among US policy makers.

Currently, the US has an approximate 12 to 20 million undocumented / illegal aliens living within its borders. Critics of plans to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants note that the result of an amnesty plan would be to reward large number of persons who have flaunted US laws, in some cases for many years, by granting them with legal status (i.e., a Green Card). Proponents see amnesty as a way to identify these individuals, create a system for integrating them into social systems (e.g., taxation, social security, etc.), and reducing crimes associated with these individuals desperately trying to remain in the country and make livings.

To follow these changes as they occur and stay current with all emerging trends in immigration law, you may use the resources found below. Additionally, if you are in need of legal assistance with an immigration issue, you can find attorneys in your area by referring to the "Law Firms" tab found on the menu bar, above.


Immigration - Know Your Rights

  • A Guide to Immigration Law

    Immigration law refers to the rules set by the United States federal government for deciding who is allowed to enter the country, and for how long they're allowed to stay. In this comprehensive guide, learn more about the United States approach to immigration law, including immigration fraud law, how to obtain visas or green cards, family immigration law, and how a criminal conviction may affect your standing.

Immigration Law Articles

  • U.S. Export Controls and Nonimmigrant Visas: A Practical Guide for HR and C-Level Executives
    The nexus between U.S. export controls and nonimmigrant visas lies at the intersection of international commerce, national security, and immigration law. Employers hiring foreign nationals under specific visa categories must navigate complex regulatory landscapes to maintain compliance with both immigration laws and export controls. This article explores the importance of these considerations.
  • Compelling Circumstances EAD sec. (c)(35): A Strategy to Protect Nonimmigrant Workers from Accruing Unlawful Presence
    The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published new guidelines on June 14, 2023, regarding the Compelling Circumstances Employment Authorization Document (EAD) under section (c)(35). This significant development has introduced a temporary relief strategy that could assist certain non-immigrant workers who face compelling circumstances, such as being laid off or facing other personal hardships.
  • How a U.S. Immigration Attorney Can Make Your Dreams to Move to Italy a Reality
    Unlock the doors to Italy with the expertise of an immigration attorney.
  • Receiving Non-Immigrant Visas for the United States
    If you are a lawful permanent resident or a non-immigrant visa holder in the United States, traveling abroad can be exciting and necessary. However, before you pack your bags and head to the airport, it's important to understand the rules and regulations surrounding travel as an immigrant. This blog post will provide you with essential information that you need to know before embarking on your next adventure.
  • ICE Investigations: What Employers Need to Know in 2023
    For employers in Texas and other states around the country, the risk of facing scrutiny from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of many risks they face—and need to manage—on a day-to-day basis. The Immigration Reform and Control Act requires employers and companies to verify the eligibility for employment of their job candidates prior to hiring. Immigration and Customs Enforcement works together with the Department of Homeland Security to "protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety", and conducts investigations to ensure national security. Those investigations can lead to substantial penalties not only for employers, but for their owners, officers, directors, and personnel as well. 
  • Does Immigration Status Affect Your Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
    Every employee hopes to get through their workday safely, but getting injured on the job is always a risk - especially in areas with a high rate of injury, like construction, agriculture, trucking, logging, and fishing. Suffering an injury at work has serious implications for an employee’s ability to return to the job, and the wages lost in the meantime. However, employees have protection under worker’s compensation, which is a form of insurance providing medical benefits and wage supplements to injured workers. In exchange for the benefits of worker’s compensation, an employee waives their right to sue the employer for negligence.
  • Can a Divorce Affect Your Immigration Status in Texas?
    There are an estimated 4.3 million immigrants living in Texas, comprising 16.5% of the state’s total population. Many immigrants are married in Texas, which makes many of them wonder, “can a divorce affect your immigration status?” Each situation is unique, which is why it is advisable to discuss your particular case with a Texas divorce attorney. Divorce is, in and of itself, a stressful and confusing process. However, possible immigration issues may add even more stress if you are contemplating a divorce in Texas.
  • ICE/I-9 Audit – 5 Keys to a Strong Defense
    Are you facing an I-9 audit? Are you worried about whether this audit could affect your business and reputation? If so, then it is important to act quickly because these audits can lead to significant fines and even criminal prosecution. The first and most important step you can take if you are facing an I-9 audit is to hire an attorney experienced in I-9 audit defense.
  • Can My Visa Be Revoked If I Commit a Crime Even If There Is No Conviction?
    Earning the right to live and work in the United States is usually the result of an extensive application process, so the threat of having a visa revoked for having committed a crime is a frightening prospect. The revocation of a visa has severe implications for the visa holder and their family, including inability to re-enter the United States or obtaining visa extensions and renewals. It is important to understand what can happen if a visa holder is arrested and/or charged with a crime, and the necessity of working with an experienced immigration lawyer.
  • New USCIS Guidance Encourages STEM Graduates to Self-Petition for EB-2 NIW Green Cards
    On January 21, 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced their updated guidance on adjudicating requests for Employment-Based, Second Preference National Interest Waivers (“NIW”). NIWs are reserved for eligible foreign nationals with advanced degrees (masters or higher) or “exceptional ability” who seek to live permanently in the U.S. to perform work considered in the national interest.
  • All Immigration Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Immigration including: extradition, green cards, naturalization and citizenship, visas, work permits and visas.

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