Coming to American: How Can I Live & Work in US?

Posted by texaslawdiva on October 25, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Coming to America: How Can I Live and Work in US?


U.S. Immigrations provides several options for an individual and/or his or family to legally reside and work in the U.S.  Since there are so many possibilities, I am going to begin by summarizing the many options.  Once you see all of the possibilities, it can help you decide which option will work best for you.

The two main categories are the following:  permanent residence visas (also called “immigrant visas” or “green cards” and temporary residence visas (also called “nonimmigrant visas”.


A Green Card holder (permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As a permanent resident, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants a person a permanent resident card, commonly called a "Green Card." 

You can become a permanent resident several different ways.

a)      Family sponsored green cards

b)      Employment based green cards

c)      Green card lottery (diversity green card), and

d)     Political Asylum.

a)         To qualify for a family sponsored green card, you must have a very close relative who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (green card holder).  Who does the U.S. Immigration define as your close relatives? This list includes husbands and wives of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens, and children under the age of 21 of U.S. citizens (including step-children). This category usually takes top priority over other family categories and in most cases can qualify for a green card relatively quickly.

Other family members, such as husbands and wives of permanent residents, children over the age of 21 of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens can also qualify for family sponsored green cards. But, these family members must wait for a green card to be available (there are long waiting lists), which can take anywhere from five to 15 years!

b)         Employment based green cards are another option as well. There are five types:

  • EB-1: for aliens with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, or multinational business managers and executives.
  • EB-2: for aliens with exceptional ability or aliens with advanced degrees (employer/sponsor required)
  • EB-3: for professional workers (with university degree), skilled workers and unskilled workers (employer/sponsor required)
  • EB-4: for religious workers
  • EB-5: for aliens who invest $1 million and create 10 new full time jobs (in limited situations, an investment of $500,000 and the creation of 5 new jobs is acceptable).

Processing times for employment based green card vary widely. An EB-1 or EB-5 application can be approved in less than 1 year. However, an EB-3 application could take more than 5 years.

c)         The green card lottery (diversity green card) is a government program designed to increase immigration from countries that do not produce a large number of immigrants to the U.S. There are a certain number of countries that are elible for the lottery. Thereby, only people born in those certain countries can qualify.  The program is designed to exclude any country that sends more than 50,000 immigrants to the US (for example, people born in Brazil, Canada, China (Mainland-Born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam cannot participate). 

Each year the government selects 100,000 winners for 50,000-55,000 green cards. The green card lottery usually is between October and December.

d)         Yet, another possible way to qualify for a green card is to submit an application for political asylum or refugee status. To qualify, an applicant must prove he or she has been persecuted in the past or has a well founded fear of persecution in his or her home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Asylum applicants may apply for asylum even if he or she entered the U.S. illegally or if he or she is in the U.S. on an expired visa/I-94. Generally, asylum applicants must apply for asylum within one year of their arrival in the U.S. but there are several exceptions which will allow the filing of an asylum application after one year.


If you only wish to stay in the temporarily, you have several options as well.  There are 20 plus different kinds of temporary visas. Here is a list of the some of the most common temporary visas:

  • B-1/B-2 Visitor Visas, which permit a visitor to remain in the U.S. for up to six month (employment is not permitted).
  • E-2 Treaty Investor Visas, which permit investors from certain countries to invest a substantial amount of money and acquire a controlling interest in an active U.S. business.  The visa is issued for up to five years and is renewable.  The investor can work in his or her own business.  The spouse can qualify for an unrestricted temporary work card.  Children up to the age of 21 can accompany the parents and attend school, but cannot work.
  • F-1 Student Visas, which permit foreign students to attend U.S. educational institutions.  Limited employment is permitted in some cases.
  • H-1B Visas for Workers in Specialty Occupations, which permit employment of professional level workers by a sponsoring employer.  The visa is issued for up to three years and can be renewed another three years (additional renewals are possible in some cases).
  • J-1 Visas for Participants in Exchange Programs, which permit business trainees to come to the U.S. to learn about an occupation or profession for up to 18 months.
  • K-1 Visas for a Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen.
  • K-3 Visas for a Spouse of a U.S. citizen.
  • L-1 Visas for Multinational Managers, Executives and Specialized Knowledge employees who are being transferred to the U.S. by a related international company.
  • O-1 Visas for Aliens with Extraordinary Ability who are seeking temporary employment.  This visa is issued for up to three years and can be renewed in one year increments.
  • P-1 Visas for Internationally Recognized Entertainment Groups and Athletes.
  • R-1 Visas for Religious Workers who are being transferred to the U.S. by a related international church.
  • TN Visas for certain professional workers from Mexico and Canada.  This visa is issued for one year and can be renewed in one year increments. 

As you can see, your options may be plentiful. Nevertheless, each category requires strategic planning, patience, and a solid understanding of the U.S. Immigration laws.



Categories: Immigration Law

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