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.

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Articles on HG.org Related to Immigration Law

  • Employer's Use of the E-Verify System
    Electronic verification is used for confirming the ability and authorization for a new hire to work within a company through employers using and implementing these systems in the company. While it may cause little impact to an employee that is already authorized to work within the United States, foreign citizens could find themselves greatly affected.
  • Immigration Law: Employment Eligibility Verification
    For those seeking to immigrate to the United States, it is crucial that the employer and worker file and complete all necessary employment eligibility documents and the individual is verified through the official channels. When these processes are not followed correctly, the company or single employer may face violation charges that could include both civil and criminal proceedings.
  • How to Acquire Foreign Worker Certification
    When someone lives in another country or wants to move there, it is important to acquire a foreign worker certification. For a person seeking work in the United States, this is obtained through the Department of Agriculture for laborers with farms and other locations and the Department of Labor for most other persons.
  • How Long Does an I-601 Visa Take to Process?
    Certain immigrants are considered “inadmissible,” which typically results in them being denied admission into the country or provides grounds to have them removed from the country. However, some immigrants can still be legally admitted to the country if they can have their grounds for inadmissibility waived through an I-601 application. The processing time for this type of immigration relief varies by applicant.
  • Green Card Lottery in the U.S. – Selection and Appeals Process
    The Visa selection and appeals process is in place for foreign citizens to become temporary and permanent residents and citizens of the United States. When the selection passes a person over or the Visa procedure does not accept someone for permanent residency, it is possible through the appeals process to change the outcome.
  • Refugee Status – Can It Lead to Citizenship
    People who leave their home country because of concern regarding their safety may be able to come to the United States. They may be able to receive legal immigration status. In some instances, refugee status may ultimately lead to citizenship.
  • International Crimes and Extradition
    When someone has been accused of a crime, he or she is usually provided the right of a fair trial. However, some of these situations involve extradition to his or her country of origin, and this could lead to complications in ensuring he or she has been punished in accordance with the international courts.
  • Increase in Penalties for Employment Eligibility Form I-9 Violations
    Increases in enforcement for the Immigration Reform and Control Act violations affect employees that work as non-home office workers. Many of these employees may or may not have signed an I-9, but when the federal government checks, these issues could lead to fines and other penalties when the worker has not filed the proper paperwork with the company.
  • Asylum in the USA
    U.S. immigration law includes protections for “asylees” and “refugees.” Before continuing, it is important to understand the similarities and differences between asylee and refugee status.
  • Detention of Individuals Seeking Asylum in the UK
    Persons that have fled their country or habitual residence are seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Many of these individuals have been detained and stigmatized as possible criminals based on the behavior of fleeing and surrounding circumstances.
  • 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.

Immigration Law - US

  • 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act

    This legislation introduced the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. A short summary of the law and related links are available on this web page.

  • ABA - Commission on Immigration

    The Commission on Immigration is dedicated to helping immigrants receive fair treatment in the justice system, regardless of their legal status. This page provides related news and information.

  • Immigration and Naturalization Law - Overview

    The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University presents this discussion of immigration law. The article describes the evolution of the law from colonial times through the post-9/11 era.

  • National Immigration Law Center

    This website contains information and advice for low-income immigrants and their families. Visit the site’s multimedia page for audio clips and videos about immigration.

  • The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

    Passed in 1952, the INA continues to represent the foundation for immigration law in the United States. This online version of the Act is published by the Department of Labor.

  • The White House - Immigration Policy

    Immigration reform legislation is currently being debated in the Congress. This website describes the Administration’s views on the reform bill and other immigration matters.

  • United States Immigration - Wikipedia

    This comprehensive article discusses issues ranging from the environmental impacts of immigration, to immigration references in contemporary pop culture.

  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

    USCIS is the federal agency in charge of processing applications for legal status. Their website provides a great deal of useful content for anyone looking to file an application for immigration benefits.

  • US Department of Labor - Immigration Regulations

    Immigration and employment law often intersect. This page contains links to opinions issued by administrative law judges in labor cases that raise immigration issues.

  • US Immigration Forms

    USCIS provides immigration forms to the public free of charge. Forms can be ordered by mail, phone, or downloaded in PDF format from this web page. Filing fee information is also provided.

Immigration Law - International

Organizations Related to Immigration Law

Publications Related to Immigration Law




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