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Resident Alien

What Is a Resident Alien?

The term resident alien refers to anyone living in the United States who is not a U.S. citizen. For example, resident aliens could be lawful permanent residents (LPRs), conditional residents, or residents returning to the country.

An LPR is a type of resident alien who has been permanently authorized to live in the United States. LPR status is validated by possessing a green card. LPRs enjoy privileges that temporarily authorized immigrants cannot exercise. Some examples of these privileges include:

  • Working without restriction
  • Purchasing and owning property
  • Applying for financial assistance
  • Joining the U.S. armed forces

While they can do many things that temporary immigrants cannot, LPRs are barred from running for public office and opportunities that require citizenship to qualify.

Another common type of resident alien is a conditional resident. Conditional residents are noncitizens who are granted permanent residence on a conditional basis. In these cases, the conditional resident is allowed to live in the country but is given a timeline to complete a set of requirements. For example, immigrants who gain conditional residency through marrying a U.S. citizen must maintain their relationship for two years in order to qualify for full permanent resident status.

Key Takeaways

  • Resident aliens are non-U.S. citizens who are either conditional residents or lawful permanent residents.
  • Lawful permanent residents are resident aliens who are permanently allowed to live in the country. In contrast, conditional residents are temporarily allowed to live in the U.S. until they fulfill a set of requirements.
  • There are many pathways to acquiring a resident alien status ranging from family connections to economic or nationality-based programs. 
  • If you are interested in becoming a resident alien or are a resident alien looking to pursue citizenship, an experienced Immigration Law attorney may be able to advise and advocate on your behalf to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Resident Aliens and Immigration Law

The path to becoming a resident alien can take many forms. The Immigration and Nationality Act has provided an array of options for many contingencies. The most common ways to achieve a green card and LPR status include family connection, employment, refugee status, and the diversity lottery. Those are far from the only options however.

One option for resident alien status is open to immigrants who are victims of criminal activity. The U.S. Center for Immigration Services allows green cards to be issued to victims of human trafficking, abuse, or any crime that the USCIS sees fit to use their discretionary power to issue a visa for.

The Immigration and Nationality Act also has a class of immigrants known as “special immigrant status.” Special immigrants include:

  • Religious workers coming to the U.S. to work for a religious nonprofit organization, 
  • Juveniles in need of protection from a juvenile court due to abandonment or abuse
  • Afghan or Iraqi translators and interpreters who worked for the U.S. government 
  • Iraqi workers employed by the U.S. government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for at least one year
  • Afghan workers employed by the U.S. government or International Security Assistance Force
  • International broadcasters coming to work in the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Agency for Global Media or as a grantee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media
  • International organization or NATO-6 employees and family members

In addition to allowing visas based on exceptional circumstances, there are also specific legislative actions that enable immigrants from certain nations under certain circumstances. For example, legislative efforts such as the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) Act, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HIRFA), or the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) allow certain immigrants from specific circumstances to acquire visas.

Finally, there are some special visas issued to individuals in unique circumstances. These circumstances include American Indians born in Canada, children born in the U.S. whose parent is a foreign diplomatic officer, and Section 13 individuals who are diplomats unable to return to their home country.

Bottom Line

If you are an immigrant looking to gain resident alien status or transition from resident alien to lawful permanent resident status, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf to get you the best possible outcome for your case.

Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your alternative options within the immigration system as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.

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