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How to Enter the US Legally: A Legal Guide on the Pathways to Citizenship

Immigration to the US is a hot topic of conversation these days.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) continues to be debated. The government is more carefully checking refugee status applicants. There is disagreement about which countries should be allowed to send visitors.

We’re even in a time when some people can’t enter the US, even for a visit, because of their home country.

Many people are now left wondering how to enter the US legally.

This article will walk you through the most common ways to enter and stay in the US.

Visas

Visas are a common way for people to enter the U.S. People often think these are only for short trips, but there are actually two types of visas.

Non-immigrant visas let people apply for trips, vacations, or anything that is time-limited.

Immigrant visas are for people wondering how to immigrate to the USA.

A visa is really an application to enter the US. They can be approved or denied by Customs and Border Patrol Officers when you’re entering the country.

There are many different forms of non-immigrant visas. For example, an exchange student has to get a J visa, while an athlete has to get a B-1 visa.

The following chart shows the most common immigrant visas if you’re wondering how to legally immigrate to the US.

  • Spouse of US Citizen- IR1, CR1
  • Fiance to US Citizen- K-1
  • Adopted Child of US Citizen- IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4
  • Diversity Immigrant- DV
  • Family Member of US Citizen- IR2, CR2, IR5, F1, F3, F4
  • Family Member of Lawful Permanent Residents- F2A, F2B

There are also several visa categories for employer-sponsored employment visas.

To get a visa, you also have to pass an interview and pay a fee. When it comes to how to enter the US legally, a visa is a great way to go.

It’s important to note that Customs and Border Control Officers can deny anyone entry to the US, even if they have a valid visa. Since it is up to their discretion, you may want to check in with the Customs and Border Control Office before your arrival.

If you are pregnant and trying to immigrate to the US, you should definitely contact this agency before your planned entry. Some officers will take your pregnancy into account before they allow you entrance. This is to prevent people trying to enter the country on a temporary visa, have a child, and return to their own country to give their child American citizenship.

On another note, if you’re looking for ways to enter the US or other countries with visas, you may need to look into getting another passport. Companies like Legacy Citizenship can help you get them.

Refugee Status

While anyone can apply for a visa, you have to fit specific criteria to apply for refugee status.

According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, you have to fall into one of these categories:

  • Must be fleeing persecution in your home country
  • Have a well-founded fear of persecution based on your race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or a specific political opinion

For example, because of the war in Syria, many Syrians have been applying for refugee status.

Also, during the Iraq War, people who worked with the American army as interpreters were often threatened by other Iraqis. They applied for refugee status because of fear for their lives.

To apply for refugee status, you have to apply to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. These workers screen people and decide which country would be the best fit for them. Only about 1% of applicants are matched to the US.

If you are wondering how to enter the US legally with refugee status, the next step is to get a referral from the US Refugee Admissions Program. If you’re accepted, you get help with your application and a US Citizenship and Immigration Services interview.

If you’re cleared by them, you have to take a doctor’s exam and cultural orientation class. From there you’ll get help with travel plans and even a loan if you need it.

If you come from a country on a terrorist watch list, you will have to get extra screenings. US organizations like the FBI and National Counterterrorism Center may also check immigrants applying for refugee status.

All of this can take between a year and a half to two years.

The last requirement of how to legally immigrate to the US with refugee status is to apply for your green card within two years.

Green Card

A green card is the golden ticket for those wondering how to enter the US legally. A green card lets people who are not citizens stay and work in the US.

There are three ways you can get a green card:

  • Through a family member
  • Through an employer
  • Through refugee or asylee status

Immediate family members of US citizens are at the front of the line to get green cards. You can apply for them if you fall into the other two categories too.

You might have more questions about applying for a green card through your employer. Talk to an immigration lawyer rather than an employment lawyer.

Anyone applying for a green card has to have a clean record though. Anyone who has been in trouble with the law since entering the US can’t apply.

Citizenship

Once you’ve lived in the US for five years on a visa or with a green card, you can apply for citizenship.

You have to have your biometrics read and be interviewed. This interview is an English and civics test. You must pass both tests to get citizenship. If you fail either test, you can retest again in 60-90 days.

Once you’ve passed your tests, you get to take the Oath of Allegiance.

Congratulations! You’re an American citizen!

Now That You Know How to Enter the US Legally…

You may still have a few questions. Try looking for an immigration lawyer. They’re available to give advice and answer your questions on how to enter the US legally.

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