Immigration laws are some of the most complex laws and navigating through the maze of immigration regulation can be a significant challenge. This section is designed to provide individuals with basic information on immigration laws and some of the processes required for immigrating to the U.S. Below you will find articles covering immigrants who have the intention of permanently living and/or working there, although U.S. immigration laws also cover entry into the country for almost any purpose -- including temporary stays. Choose a link from the list below for introductory information on immigration and citizenship.
Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are also referred to as "green card holders," despite the fact that the residency document hasn't been green for a very long time. LPRs, as the name suggests, reside permanently in the United States. They are authorized to work for any employer without additional documentation and, within certain restrictions, can enter and leave the country at will.
Residency is typically acquired when a family member or employer applies for the beneficiary to obtain status. There are a limited number of applications that permit an immigrant to file for themselves and certain humanitarian programs that also lead to residency.
LPR status must be renewed periodically and can be lost through rescission/revocation proceedings due to criminal offenses, abandonment, or other violations of status.
Residency through Family
In order to receive residency through a family member, the individual must demonstrate that they do not have any bars to receiving residency. Prior immigration violations, criminal convictions, and other factors may disqualify an intending immigrant from eligibility for residency or may require a waiver before they can be granted.
Depending on the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary a green card may be immediately available, or there may be a long wait to receive residency. Applications are processed as part of a "category" determined by the status of the petitioner, the relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary, and the beneficiary's age and marital status.
Residency through Employment
An individual seeking residency through employment must also be free of bars. As with family-based residency applications, a petitioner is required. In this case, it is typically an employer. Also, similar to family-based immigration, there are categories of applicants that process more or less quickly. In this case, the categories depend on the type of work and experience involved rather than the relationships of the parties.
Residency through Investment
Less commonly, residency may be acquired through a significant investment that benefits the U.S. economy and creates or saves a specific number of jobs. There are a number of approved investment programs that help ensure that investments qualify for residency. One benefit of this method is that no third-party petitioner is necessary.
The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, also called the "green card lottery," is another program through which applicants may receive residency without a petitioning family member or employer. The State Department issues 50,000 immigrant visas from all the lottery applications submitted worldwide. Only countries where few people immigrate to the United States qualify to participate in the lottery.
Learn more about state-specific laws on our immigration law answers page.