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Immigration statuses in the United States can be quite complex. There are many different types, each with their own rules about what you can and cannot do in the country. Whether you want to live in the U.S. permanently, work temporarily, or study, it is critical to understand the status that applies to your situation. In this brief article, we will cover the most common immigration statuses in the United States to help you make informed decisions in your immigration journey.

Citizens

A U.S. citizen is an individual who either acquired citizenship by being born within the United States or obtained it through the naturalization process. The naturalization process is available to legal residents who have lived in the country for a requisite period—typically three years for those married to U.S. citizens or five years for other permanent residents. Naturalization involves fulfilling various requirements, such as demonstrating good moral character, passing English and civics tests, and taking an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. 

U.S. citizens enjoy a number of rights that may not be available to those who hold other types of immigration statuses. One fundamental right that U.S. citizens possess is the ability to live and work permanently in the United States without the need for additional permits or visas. They are not subject to deportation or removal from the country, except in some extreme circumstances. Additionally, U.S. citizens have the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections. They also have the opportunity to run for public office, which is typically restricted for non-citizens.

Permanent Residents (Green Card)

Permanent residence, commonly known as a green card, is a legal status granted by the United States government. This particular status allows foreign nationals to permanently reside and work in the U.S. While permanent residence allows individuals to live and work permanently in the United States, it is not the same as U.S. citizenship. There are several limitations involved with permanent resident status. For example, while citizens are allowed to vote, green card holders do not have this right. Further, permanent resident status is non-transferrable and does not automatically extend to children born outside the United States. It is essential to keep in mind, however, that you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after holding permanent residence status for a certain length of time – five years in most cases, or three years for spouses of U.S. citizens.

In order to avoid deportation, permanent residents must refrain from committing certain crimes and must regularly renew their green cards. There are a few different categories of green cards, such as:

  • Family Based Green Cards
  • Employment Based Green Cards
  • Diversity Lottery Green Cards
  • Refugee or Asylee Status Green Cards
  • Longtime Resident Green Cards

Non Immigrant Visa Holders

Non-immigrant visas are issued for stays in the U.S. for specific purposes, such as tourism, business, study, or temporary work. Each visa category has specific requirements and limitations, as well as rights and obligations. Here’s a detailed at a few examples of the most common types of visas available in the United States:

  • F-1 Visa: F-1 visas are non-immigrant student visas that allow foreign nationals to enter the United States for the purpose of pursuing full-time academic or language studies at a qualified institution. F-1 visas are granted for the duration of the academic program, plus an additional 60 days after the completion of studies.
  • H Visa: H visas are granted to temporary workers in the United States. There are many subcategories under H visas including H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, and H-3. The duration of stay varies by visa type but generally ranges from one to six years. For most H visas, the employer must demonstrate that hiring the foreign worker will not negatively affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. This often involves filing a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor.
  • J Visa: J visas are reserved for those who participate in educational and cultural exchange programs, including research scholars, professors, camp counselors, au pairs, and others. For trainees, J visas are valid for 18 months. For interns and exchange visitors in the hospitality field, it is 12 months, and for professors and research scholars, J visas last 5 years.
  • B Visas: There are two main types of visas in the B category: B-1 visas for business, and B-1 visas for tourism. Both B-1 and B-2 visa applicants must demonstrate non-immigrant intent, meaning they intend to return to their home country after their visit to the U.S. Moreover, visa holders must stick to the activities outlined in their visa type. B-1 activities are business-related, while B-2 activities are tourism or personal in nature.

Undocumented

A critical immigration status category in the United States is undocumented or “illegal” immigration status. Undocumented immigrants, also referred to as illegal immigrants or unauthorized immigrants, are foreign nationals who entered the United States without official inspection or legal admission. It may also refer to individuals who remained in the country after their authorized period of admission in the U.S. expired.

Undocumented immigrants generally have limited access to certain public benefits, social services, and legal protections due to their unauthorized status. Although undocumented immigrants risk being placed into deportation proceedings if immigration authorities become aware of their status, there are certain situations where they may qualify for exemptions or legal protections against removal. If you are an undocumented immigrant, it is wise to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer for guidance and support. They can evaluate your specific situation and advise you on potential paths to legal status or protections from deportation.

Bottom Line

Understanding the different types of immigration statuses in the United States is crucial for anyone dealing with the complex immigration system. From permanent resident status to non-immigrant visas, each category carries its own set of rights and responsibilities. If you have any questions regarding U.S. immigration, please reach out to one of our excellent immigration attorneys today at Attorney At Law. Our experienced lawyers can provide top-tier guidance and ensure compliance to help you seamlessly navigate your immigration journey.

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