What are the Four Categories of Immigration Status in the U.S.? There are four categories that people in the U.S. fall into which are outlined below. Since a criminal conviction can complicate your immigration process, the categories of certain crimes are also explained in this article. Applying these concepts can make all the difference in any immigration petition. Let’s look at the four types of immigration status that exist: citizens, residents, non-immigrants and undocumented. The characteristics of each status are explained below.
U.S. Citizens: People who were either born in the U.S. or who have become “naturalized” after three or five years as permanent residents. These citizens can never be deported, unless the citizenship was obtained through fraud. You can work legally and receive any public benefits you qualify for. In addition, you can petition for the legal status of your spouse, child, parent or sibling.
Permanent or Conditional Residents:
- a) Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) are those who have a “green card”. A green card holder, or lawful permanent resident, is a person who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, you are granted a permanent resident card, commonly called a green card. You can become a permanent resident several different ways. Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or employer in the U.S. Other individuals may become permanent residents through refugee or asylee (granted political asylum) status or other humanitarian programs. In some cases, such as when your spouse can’t or won’t file for you, you may be eligible to file for yourself.
- b) Conditional residents are those who have been married less than two years before they received their green card. This type of residency also requires that you and your spouse jointly file to remove the condition within two years of receiving your green card or the card will be terminated and you will face deportation. To convert your conditional status to permanent status, you must submit, in a timely manner, the application, the appropriate filing fee and any supporting evidence in order to qualify. Please seek the advice of an attorney.
Both types of residents have permission to live and work permanently in the U.S. unless they are guilty of a serious criminal offense or some other immigration violation. If you are a resident, you can also petition for legal status for your spouse or child.
Generally, if you have been a lawful permanent resident for five years, you can apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. But if you were granted a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, then you can apply after three years. Just because you received a green card doesn't mean you will automatically become a citizen. You have to show that you deserve it. If you were arrested for any reason, if you owe any taxes or have failed to pay child support you should discuss your matter with an immigration attorney before filing. Please seek the advice of an attorney.
Non-Immigrants: People who fall into this category are in the country legally, but only on a temporary basis. Examples include: Students (F-1 visa); business visitors or tourists (B1/B2 visas); fiancées (K-1 visa); individuals granted temporary protected status. In general, recipients of these visas don’t intend to immigrate. If the application is fraudulent or you overstay or otherwise violate the terms of the visa, your legal status will change to undocumented. Even so, a high percentage of undocumented immigrants initially came on legal visas.
Undocumented: People who are in the country without permission, or illegally, are called undocumented. This means they do not have permission to live in the U.S. They are not authorized to work and they have no access to public benefits like health care or a driver’s license. Any person who is undocumented runs the risk of being deported or having deportation proceedings started against them at any time. This creates a highly stressful and unstable living situation. There are two ways people can become undocumented. The first is to overstay a legal temporary visa. The second is to enter the U.S. without going through a port of entry.
How to get started? Do you qualify for a green card? How about Deferred Action? Are you, a loved one, or a friend concerned that criminal charges may result in removal proceedings? Or are you already in removal proceedings? Make a request through this website for additional information on how to contact a local immigration attorney for an appointment to see if you qualify for legal status. Only an attorney can help you if you are in removal proceedings, but maybe you want to file a particular petition. Please seek the advice of an attorney.