Introduction to U.S. Immigration System
The U.S. immigration system is complex and can be overwhelming for those navigating it. There are many rules and laws that both protect and control the immigration process, it's important to understand them and how they work before starting the process.
The application process for a visa or permanent residency can be complex and time-consuming. In general, the process involves completing and submitting a specific application, attending an interview (if required), and waiting for a decision from the USCIS. The USCIS is the agency responsible for determining an individual's eligibility for a visa or permanent residency, processing the necessary paperwork, conducting interviews, and issuing approvals or denials. It's important to understand the role of the USCIS and to follow their guidelines and instructions when submitting an application.
The specific documentation and forms required will vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for and your individual circumstances. Some common documents include passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and employment records.
There are many different types of visas available for individuals seeking to immigrate to the United States. The most common categories include:
- Family-Based Visa - the individual must have a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
- Employment-Based Visa - the individual must have a job offer from a U.S.
- employer or possess specialized skills that are in demand.
- Humanitarian Visa - the individual must be able to demonstrate that they need protection from persecution or are victims of trafficking or other crimes.
- T-Visa - (Victims of Trafficking) individuals must be victims of severe human trafficking, present in the U.S. or at a port of entry due to trafficking and cooperate with authorities.
- U-Visa - (Victims of Certain Crimes) is for victims of specified crimes who suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to aid in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- SIJ Relief - (Special Immigrant Juvenile) individuals must be under 21, unmarried, and declared dependent or under custody of a U.S. juvenile court due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, with the court determining it's not in their best interest to return to their home country.
Family-based immigration is designed to reunite families who have been separated due to immigration barriers. Family-based immigration applies to situations involving immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including spouses, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21.
First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
Second Preference (F2): Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of LPRs.
Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old.
Each preference category has a limited number of visas available each year. Each applicant requires a separate visa and applicants must wait until a visa becomes available in their category. The waiting period can be several years, depending on the category, applicant's country of origin and even family size.
Asylum and refugee status are two legal processes designed to provide protection to individuals who have fled their home countries due to persecution or fear of persecution.
- Person who is seeking Asylum: is someone who is already in the United States
- Person who is seeking Refugee: a refugee is someone who applies for protection from outside the United States.
To apply for asylum, an individual must file an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application must include a detailed statement describing the individual's fear of persecution, along with any supporting evidence. USCIS will then schedule a credibility interview with the applicant, which will be conducted by an asylum officer.
To apply for refugee status, an individual must be referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another designated referral agency. Once referred, the individual will be screened by the Department of State and, if found eligible, will be invited to apply for resettlement in the United States.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long and complex process that requires meeting certain criteria. The most common way to become a U.S. citizen is through naturalization.
To be eligible for naturalization, an individual must have
- lived in the United States for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen),
- Be over the age of 18
- Be able to speak, read, and write English.
- Pass a background check
- Be of good moral character
- Have a basic knowledge of U.S. government and history
The naturalization process involves several steps, including completing an application, attending an interview, and taking an English and civics test. The application for naturalization can be completed online or by mail, and requires documentation such as proof of residency, employment history, and tax returns.
To prepare for the citizenship exam and interview, it is important to study and practice. There are many resources available, including study materials and classes offered by non-profit organizations and community colleges. The citizenship exam consists of an English language test and a civics test. The English test assesses the applicant’s ability to speak, read, and write English, while the civics test covers topics such as U.S. government, history, and geography.
There are many resources and support available for immigrants in the United States. Immigrants can access legal services, language classes, job training programs, and other resources through non-profit organizations and government agencies. These organizations can also provide emotional support and counseling for immigrants who may be struggling with the challenges of adjusting to a new country.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS is a federal agency that administers the country's immigration system. The agency provides information on citizenship, naturalization, and the application process. USCIS also offers resources and services to help eligible individuals apply for citizenship.
National Immigration Law Center (NILC): NILC is a national advocacy organization that works to defend and advance the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their families. The organization provides legal support and resources to immigrants, including those seeking citizenship.
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC): ILRC is a national nonprofit organization that provides legal education and support to immigrants, advocates, and attorneys. The organization offers resources on citizenship and naturalization, including eligibility requirements, application procedures, and legal rights.
The Dream.US: The Dream.US is a national scholarship fund that provides financial assistance to Dreamers, undocumented students, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who want to pursue higher education. The organization also offers resources on immigration policy and advocacy.
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): This is the official website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It provides comprehensive information on the Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Users can learn about the program, request DACA for the first time or renew an existing DACA status, and find guidelines and filing processes. The website also provides information on fee exemptions, travel, and combating immigration scams.
U-Visa (Immigration Relief for Victims of Certain Crimes): This is the official website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It provides comprehensive information on U nonimmigrant status (U visa) for victims of certain crimes. Users can learn about the eligibility requirements, qualifying criminal activities, and the process for applying for U nonimmigrant status. The website also offers information on filing for qualifying family members, fees, U visa extensions, and applying for a green card. It emphasizes resources available for victims of human trafficking and other crimes.
Child Welfare Information Gateway: Child Welfare Information Gateway is a national resource center for child welfare professionals, foster parents, and others who work with children and families. The center provides resources on foster care, adoption, and other child welfare issues, including resources on the immigration status of children and families.
Legal Services of New Jersey: This nonprofit organization provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals in New Jersey. They have a dedicated immigration team that can assist with citizenship applications, DACA renewals, and other immigration-related matters.
LSNJLAW: LSNJLAW SM is a website provided by Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ), a nonprofit organization offering free civil legal assistance to low-income individuals in New Jersey. The website allows users to find legal information by selecting a legal topic or using the search box. For those in need of legal help, the LSNJLAW SM statewide hotline provides free legal assistance in civil matters. Users can apply online or call the hotline number provided. The website emphasizes that unsolicited emails should not be used to request legal assistance and provides contact information for regional programs and the statewide legal assistance hotline.
The Child and Family Advocacy Clinic at Rutgers Law: This clinic provides legal representation and advocacy for children in child abuse and neglect cases, as well as administrative proceedings for public benefits, education, immigration, medical, and mental health issues. Law students work under the supervision of a licensed attorney and limited cases are accepted during the academic year. To inquire about services, call (856) 225-6568 and leave a message. Someone will return your call within two business days during the hours of 9 am to 4 pm. Please indicate in your message if it's okay to leave a message at your phone number.
NJCIC (located in Jersey City): NJCIC is the NJ Consortium for Immigrant Children, a coalition of legal advocates and professionals supporting immigrant children and youth. They focus on systemic advocacy, legal programs, and capacity building to promote the well-being and rights of young immigrants in New Jersey. They aim for lawful status, access to education, justice, and health equity for all immigrant youth, while fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment.
LALDEF: Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) promotes the rights of all immigrants (with a focus on the Latin American community in the Mercer County area); facilitates access to health care, education and legal representation; advocates for the integration of immigrants; and fosters inter-cultural communication to strengthen our communities.
Catholic Charities Legal Services: CFCS - Legal Services for Immigration provides legal consultation, assistance, and representation to clients of limited means from all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions in the northern and central New Jersey areas.