I have a good friend who is a citizen of another country. She would like to move to the United States and live permanently, either as a citizen or a permanent resident. What does she need to do?
Although the United States is a country of immigrants, our immigration laws have become quite restricted. The primary focus of our immigration laws now is to promote family unity by allowing close relatives of the United States citizens to immigrate. Thus the primary method for obtaining permanent residency is for your friend to obtain residency by certain close relatives who are United States citizens or lawful permanent residence. If that is not available to your friend, there are a very limited amount of immigrant visas issued based on employment.

Hopefully your friend has a close relative who is either a citizen or a lawful permanent resident. These relatives are defined as spouses of United States citizens, parents of United States citizens over the age of twenty-one (21), or the unmarried children under the age of 21 of United States citizens. Your friend needs to know that if she is attempting to immigrate based on a marriage to a United States citizen, the immigration service will look at that marriage very closely to insure it is a valid marriage not merely entered for the purposes of immigration.

If your friend cannot apply for a family based immigrant visa, her only other option is an employment based immigrant visa. Unfortunately, unlike the family based immigrant visa, the employment based immigrant visas are very limited, both with respect to the amount of visas issued and the requirements to obtain one of those visas. To permanently immigrate based on employment you must apply based on your special professional status or skill. There are five (5) special employment categories in which you must fit if you have any hope of obtaining an employment based immigrant visa. While I will not go into the details of each of these categories suffice to say that most foreign nationals do not qualify. Basically their work skills and education must show that they are of extraordinary ability, outstanding in their field or otherwise head and shoulders above your average worker in that field. In addition, for most employment-based visas, the employer must show the INS that they have already attempted to employ a United States citizens for that job and were unable, after significant efforts, to find a qualified U.S. citizen. In short, employment-based visas are very difficult to qualify for and very difficult to obtain even if you meet the basic qualifications.

While it is quite difficult to permanently immigrate to the United States if your friend does not have a close relative or meets one of the special employment categories, do not forget that she has a number of other options to come to the states for shorter stays. It is quite easy, for example, for her to obtain permission to come to the states for the purposes of attending college. Tourist visas can also be issued and will allow her to stay for a significant period of time. Though there are a number of other options short of immigrating permanently that are available to your friend in the right circumstances. Because of the complexity involved in immigration law, your friend should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss her particular situation in some detail.

If you would like to submit a question please fax directly to Tom Oxford at (409) 866-4196. While we will not be able to answer all questions sent in, we hope to answer those that impact the greatest number of readers.

In reading this article please remember we are providing general answers to broad questions, your individual situation is unique and cannot be dealt with throughly in the space of a newspaper article. When you are facing a serious legal issue, you should always consult with an attorney about your individual circumstances and how they impact the general principles discussed in this article. You should also not hesitate to call Waldman Smallwood at 1-800-833-9151or contact us online.

Tom Oxford, Attorney
Waldman Smallwood Law Firm, P.C.

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