Foreign citizens who wish to immigrate to the U.S. must follow a strict process dictated by many laws and regulations. The process for acquiring a visa and legal citizenship is not easy. It can be quite complicated and may take many months, or even years, to complete. Before you begin your journey, it is critical to understand every step of the process.
You will need to complete multiple forms, pay government fees, and meet a number of legal requirements. The most essential stage is getting your application approved by the U.S. government.
If you fail to meet even a single minor requirement, your application can be denied. Here, we present a comprehensive informational guide for seeking a visa. It can help you understand the entire immigration process and the steps you should follow.
Difference between immigrant and non-immigrant visas
If you intend to move to the United States to live there permanently, you will need an immigrant visa. If you wish to only visit the U.S. for medical, tourism, or educational purposes, you will need a non-immigrant visa. It will help you live legally in the country temporarily. You should contact an immigration lawyer to understand the process and extensive paperwork you may be required to complete for each specific visa type.
It is essential to understand that not everyone is eligible for U.S. citizenship and a green card. Many applicants do not fulfill the criteria for permanent citizenship, and millions of applications are rejected every year. If you do not qualify, you can research whether a temporary visa can help you achieve your goals or fulfill your purpose.
Common types of immigrant visas
When your goal is permanent citizenship, it is important for you to know about the different types of visas that are available. The U.S. government will grant approval of your application only if you qualify for one of the following types:
- Family-based green cards: In most cases, green cards are issued to family members of permanent U.S. citizens and green-card holders. Therefore, a family member can sponsor you and help you get a green card. A family member can sponsor a spouse, children, parents, or siblings. The approval will depend on a number of factors including how closely the family member is related to the U.S. citizen. In the case of distant relatives, the application may take time, and the U.S. government often denies these applicants.
- Employment-based green cards: Another way to legally move to the U.S. is by getting an employment-based green card. In many cases, you will need assistance from a U.S. employer to get your application approved. In other situations, you will require specialized training to be eligible for certain types of green cards. There are at least five categories, and they are different from general work permits. For example, there is one category for investors, which requires that they invest a minimum amount in the United States and create employment opportunities for the American population.
- Longtime-resident green cards: Citizens who entered the United States lawfully or unlawfully before January 1, 1972, may be eligible under this category. To qualify, the individual must not have left the country after their initial arrival.
- Humanitarian green cards: Refugees, asylees, and victims of abuse and human trafficking are also eligible for citizenship and green cards under this category. It is essential to contact an experienced lawyer to learn more about the procedure.
- Diversity lottery green cards: For those who are unaware, the U.S. government runs a green card lottery each year. It awards immigrant visas to about 50,000 people who qualify each year.
- Other green cards: There are other categories of green cards, such as those for special immigrants, media professionals, and employees of international organizations.
The eligibility criteria for each type of visa will vary and may depend on a number of factors. For example, family-based visas are further classified into different categories, such as immediate-relative visas and family-preference visas. The closer the relationship, the higher the chance of getting approved.
Similarly, for diversity lottery green cards, only applicants from countries with low application rates are eligible. Therefore, the eligibility requirements vary and an experienced lawyer can help you understand the differences and which visas may be applicable to your situation.
How much does it cost to get an immigrant visa?
The total cost of getting an immigrant visa depends on the category of visa for which you are applying. A family-based immigrant visa may cost on average $1,960 for applicants who are already living in the U.S. The cost may differ for applicants living outside the U.S. It is essential to note that your filing fees would be non-refundable. This is why it is important not to make any mistakes in your application. Otherwise, it will further add up to your cost, and the process can become even more expensive.
How long does it take to get a green card?
The overall time it takes depends on your application. On average, it usually takes 10 to 17 months to get approved for a green card. The process can take even longer if you do not provide the required supporting documents. You should consult with an experienced immigration attorney to ensure that you meet the criteria before applying.