Visas & Compliance:
Family and General Immigration

Family Immigration

Permanent residents may petition for spouses and children. Fianc visas are available for those planning to marry a U.S. citizen.

Family Sponsorship of Relative

Family-sponsored preferences

First: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.

Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents: 114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, and any unused first preference numbers:

Spouses and Children: 77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;

Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older): 23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Third: Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens: 23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.

Fourth: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens: 65,000, plus any numbers not required by first three preferences.

It is important to note that there is no preference category for spouses or unmarried minor children of American citizens. This is because there is no numerical limitation placed on the immigration of the spouses or unmarried minor children of American citizens. Immigrant visas are always immediately available to them, however, they too must be admissible to the U.S. before a permanent resident visa can be issued to them. Furthermore, immediate relatives may still need to endure long processing times in order to enter to U.S. due to backlogs at the USCIS.

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

Marriages within the United States

The U.S. citizen and the foreign-born spouse must submit an application to the USCIS establishing the marriage and requesting that the foreign-born spouse be granted permanent residency based upon the marriage. The burden is upon the parties to demonstrate that the marriage was entered into in good faith, and not simply to obtain permanent residency for the foreign-born spouse.

After submission of the initial application, the USCIS will eventually schedule an interview. The timing of the interview depends on the specific office where the petition had to be filed and their caseload at the time the application was filed. The office having jurisdiction over the applicants' place of residence is where the application must be filed in most cases. The USCIS uses the interview to evaluate the spouses in person to determine whether the marriage is a good faith marriage. If the individual requested employment authorization for the foreign-born spouse, the USCIS will issue a work authorization card that will enable the foreign spouse's legal employment while the permanent residency petition is pending. This work authorization card may take anywhere from a few days to three months to be issued.

Marriages outside the United States

The foreign-born spouse must normally remain in her/his country until she/he obtains permanent residency. The reason for this is that the spouse of a United States citizen is considered an intending immigrant. As an intending immigrant, foreign persons are excludable from the United States under most types of visas except for the H-1B and L visa categories.

If the foreign-born spouse must remain abroad, the petition is submitted by the U.S. citizen spouse either to the appropriate USCIS office or directly to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where the foreign-born spouse lives. If the petition is filed with the USCIS, when it is approved, the foreign-born spouse will receive a packet of information and requests from the National Visa Center (NVC) and/or the consulate. An interview will be scheduled at the appropriate U.S. consulate or embassy. The entire process may take up to one year to complete.

Marriages that are less than two years old

In situations where the marriage is less than two years old when the foreign spouse becomes a permanent resident, the foreign national resident card (green card) will be valid for two years. Within the 90 day period immediately preceding the two year anniversary of permanent residency, the spouses must submit a joint petition (I-751) to remove the conditions of residency. That is, after successful completion of this second petition, the foreign-born spouse will be granted permanent residency without any strings attached.

Special Immigrant Family Petitions

Death of Spouse

A petition for permanent residency is available for widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. In order for an foreign national to apply under this petition the foreign national must show that he/she was married to the U.S. Citizen for at least two years, and was not legally separated from the U.S. Citizen at the time of the U.S. Citizen's death. The foreign national must not be remarried since the time that the petition was filed. And, the petition for permanent residency must be filed within two years of the spouse's death. The petition is filed on Form I-360.

Children of the deceased parent are also eligible to petition for permanent residency in the same manner as the widow/er. However, children may only petition if they are under 21 years of age.

Additionally, children and widows/ers of deceased U.S. citizens may apply for removal of conditional residency in the same manner as they had for the original petition for permanent residency.

Battered Spouse or Child

In a case such as an abusive relationship or battering, a foreign national may "self-petition" for U.S. residency without the consent or help of the abusing U.S. citizen (or legal permanent resident). In other words, the battered child or spouse may petition for immediate relative classification to gain U.S. citizenship without the batterer knowing or consenting to the petition. Evidence concerning the abuse, as well as the whereabouts of the foreign national, will be kept confidential in order to protect the foreign national who is self-petitioning.

In the case of a battered child, the child may petition for citizenship, or the non-legal permanent resident parent (who is not an abuser) may petition for that minor child. The child must be able to show that the abusive parent is a U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident who has resided in the U.S. with the child. The child must currently be residing in the U.S., and deportation of the child would result in extreme hardship. The child must prove that the abusive parent was abusing or battering the child at the time of the petition and at the time of its approval. Additionally, the child must be of good moral character and less than 21 years of age when the petition is filed

Fiance Visas (K)

Fiance Visas (K-1)

The "K" visa is a nonimmigrant visa designated for a citizen of a foreign country who would like to come to the United States to marry an American citizen and reside in the U.S.

  • Both petitioner and beneficiary must be legally able and willing to conclude a valid marriage in the United States;
  • The petitioner and beneficiary must have previously met in person within the past two years unless the Attorney General waives that requirement;

To establish K-1 visa classification for an foreign national fiance(e), an American citizen must file a petition, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) having jurisdiction over the place of the petitioner's residence in the United States. The approved petition will be forwarded by USCIS to the American consular office where the foreign national fiance(e) will apply for his or her visa. A petition is valid for a period of four months from the date of USCIS action, and may be revalidated by the consular officer. As soon as the processing of a case is completed and the applicant has all necessary documents, a consular officer will interview the fiance(e). If found eligible, a visa will be issued, valid for one entry during a period of six months. The processing of this visa is similar to that of an immigrant visa. It includes a medical examination and numerous forms.

The unmarried, minor children of a K-1 beneficiary derive K-2 nonimmigrant visa status from the parent so long as the children are named in the petition. A separate petition is not required if the children accompany or follow the foreign national fiance(e) within one year from the date of issuance of the K-1 visa. Thereafter, a separate immigrant visa petition is required.



General Overview

A person can acquire United States citizenship in a number of ways.

  • In general, a person who is born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen.
  • In certain situations, a person who was not born in the United States can petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a certificate of citizenship showing, that they derived citizenship at birth from a United States citizen parent or grandparent who was living abroad. The most common way for a person not born in the United States to become a U.S. citizen is through the naturalization process


The following are general Naturalization Requirements:


Applicants must be at least 18 years old.


An applicant must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. Lawfully admitted for permanent residence means having been legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws. Individuals who have been lawfully admitted as permanent residents will be asked to produce an I-551, Foreign national Registration Receipt Card, as proof of their status.

Residence and Physical Presence

An applicant is eligible to file if, immediately preceding the filing of the application, he or she:

1. has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (see preceding section);

2. has resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing;

2a. has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years (absences of more than six months but less than one year break the continuity of residence unless the applicant can establish that he or she did not abandon his or her residence during such period); and

2b. has resided within a state or district for at least three months.

Good Moral Character

Generally, an applicant must show that he or she has been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (typically five years or three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for Armed Forces expedite) prior to filing for naturalization. The Service is not limited to the statutory period in determining whether an applicant has established good moral character. An applicant is permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has ever been convicted of murder. An applicant is also permanently barred from naturalization if he or she has been convicted of an aggravated felony as defined in section 101(a)(43) of the Act on or after November 29, 1990. A person also cannot be found to be a person of good moral character if during the last five years he or she:

  • has committed and been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude
  • has committed and been convicted of 2 or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more
  • has committed and been convicted of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana
  • has been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period, as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more
  • has committed and been convicted of two or more gambling offenses
  • is or has earned his or her principle income from illegal gambling
  • is or has been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice
  • is or has been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States
  • is or has been a habitual drunkard
  • is practicing or has practiced polygamy
  • has willfully failed or refused to support dependents
  • has given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

An applicant must disclose all relevant facts to the Service, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of whether the criminal history disqualifies the applicant under the enumerated provisions.


Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. Applicants exempt from this requirement are those who on the date of filing:

  • have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 15 years and are over 55 years of age;
  • have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over 50 years of age; or
  • have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn English.

United States Government and History Knowledge

An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States. Applicants exempt from this requirement are those who, on the date of filing, have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant's ability to learn U.S. History and Government. Applicants who have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.

How to apply?

Before applying for naturalization the applicant should first make sure she/he is eligible. In order to apply, an applicant must send in an N-400 form to the appropriate USCIS office. Children who are deriving naturalization from their parents should complete the N-600 form and submit it with the parent's N-400 naturalization form. Fingerprints and filing fees must also accompany these forms. Applications should be sent to the USCIS offices appropriate for each state. Applicants who reside in the DC Metro area should send their applications to the USCIS Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont. For more information on how to apply, see the USCIS website.


"Green Card" Lottery

What is the "Green Card Lottery"?

50,000 visas are annually allotted in a random drawing to individuals from nations under represented in the total immigrant pool. We can accept your application now and have it prepared for timely submission. According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, out of the 8 million applications submitted in DV 99, 2.5 million "were disqualified for failing to properly follow directions." Thus, it is important to carefully follow instructions or obtain course to properly file your application.

Who is eligible to enter?

To enter, an applicant must be a native of an eligible country, and MUST have EITHER a high school education or its equivalent; OR two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience. An applicant is eligible wherever she resides. In addition, there is no requirement to speak English or have relatives currently living in the USA.

What are the requirements for education or work experience?

The law and regulations require that every applicant must have at least a high school education or its equivalent or, within the past five years, have two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years training or experience. A "high school education or equivalent" is defined as successful completion of a twelve-year course of elementary and secondary education in the United States or successful completion in another country of a formal course of elementary and secondary education comparable to a high school education in the United States. Documentary proof of education or work experience should NOT be submitted with the lottery application, but must be presented to the consular officer at the time of immigrant visa interview.

How do I know if I won?

The State Department will notify winners by mail. The State Department will not notify applicants to let them know they were not selected. The only way you will know that you are not selected is if you have not received a registration notification letter before the date the USCIS officially states that it has stopped notifying people.

Refugee and Asylum

Who is eligible for refugee status?

Any person who cannot reside in a country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may apply to be granted asylum into the United States. Additionally, the person applying for asylum must not be "settled" in any other third country were he would otherwise be safe from persecution. The applicant must show sufficient evidence to prove persecution, or that he has a legitimate fear of future persecution. Many different forms of proof are valid to show evidence such persecution.

An foreign national who is outside the U.S. and fits the above definition is considered a refugee. If the foreign national is already in the U.S., she is considered an asylee. The foreign national, irrespective of her current status, may be granted asylum by discretion of the Attorney General. From the date that the foreign national is within the United States or present at a border or port of entry, the foreign national has one year in which to apply for asylum. All aliens are afforded the same procedural rights when applying for asylum. However, stowaways are a "disfavored" category of aliens since they have no right to examination before an Immigration Judge and no right to appeal an asylum request.

Spouses and children may also enter the United States as derivatives to the refugee if they enter the United States in the physical company of the refugee. Or, spouses and children may enter the United States under a "following-to-join" derivative status. This occurs when the spouse or children are admitted to the U.S. after the refugee has been in the United States for at least four months.

What are the exceptions to refugee status?

The definition of "refugee" does not include war refugees or displaced persons who flee areas of armed conflict for reasons other than persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Specifically excluded from the term "refugee" are people who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, in some instances, those persons who attempt to establish a coup in their home country as a form of political expression may be granted asylum if that person can establish that the coup's actions were justified. For a coup's actions to be justified, the refugee must establish that there were no procedures by which citizens may freely and peacefully change the laws, the officials, or the form of government; and where individuals who express views critical of the government are arrested and held incommunicado for long periods of time without due process.

Where to apply for refugee and asylum status?

Aliens who need to apply for refugee status should consult an attorney, a non-profit organization, or the U.S. Consulate for help in the application process, whenever possible. Refugee applications are submitted to the country's USCIS office or a consular office designated for refugee investigations. The locations of these consular offices are Nairobi, Havana (Cubans only), Mexico, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Ankara, Athens, Belgrade, Frankfurt, Madrid, Moscow (former Soviets only), Rome, Vienna, Zagreb, Cairo, Riyadh (Iraqis only), and New Delhi. If the applicant's life or safety is in imminent danger, the consular officer must follow special instructions regarding temporary refuge, and must notify the State Department of such incidents.

Applications by asylees are submitted to the Texas Service Center. And, an interview will accompany the application for asylum. At this interview, the applicant will submit evidence to prove his/her case.

How to apply for adjustment of status as an asylee?

After an asylee or refugee has been granted asylum in the United States, she can then apply for an adjustment of status to become a U.S. citizen. The asylee must first maintain one full year of presence in the U.S. in order to obtain an adjustment of status. The same regulation applies for those persons who are derivatives of a aslyee. Ultimately, the Attorney General has the discretion to grant adjustments to permanent resident status (up to 10,000 adjustments may be made each fiscal year). Persons with a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may be eligible to apply for asylum or refugee status in the U.S.


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