What are the Four Categories of Immigration Status?

An immigrant will be classified under one of four statuses: U.S. citizen, permanent or conditional resident, non-immigrant, and undocumented. These statuses can change throughout a person’s lifetime.

U.S. Citizen Status

U.S. citizens are either born in the United States or have become naturalized after three or five years as a permanent resident. A person may also be a citizen if one of their parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of their birth.

A U.S. citizen can live, work, and vote in the United States. They are also eligible for many federal benefits, including social services and education loans. They will need to qualify for these benefits just like natural-born citizens.

A person with a U.S. citizen status can petition for legal resident status of their spouse, children, parent, or sibling. A citizen is free to travel in and out of the country for as long as they wish. They cannot be forced to leave the country unless they obtained their citizenship fraudulently.

Permanent or Conditional Resident Status

A legal permanent resident is someone who holds a green card. A green card authorizes an immigrant to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. A green card is proof of legal permanent resident status.

A person can become a legal permanent resident in several ways. Most commonly, they are sponsored by either a family member or an employer in the United States. Some people become permanent residents through refugee or asylee status. The U.S. limits the number of refugees and asylum seekers allowed to enter the country each year. In some cases, a spouse, child, or another close relative may be able to file for legal permanent residency themselves if their legal family member will not or cannot sponsor them.

A lawful permanent resident has permission to live and work in the United States, but they cannot vote, and they are not eligible for certain benefits and social services. They can travel in and out of the county for brief periods. They can be deported if they are convicted of certain crimes or violate immigration laws. They can also petition for legal status of their spouse and child.

A conditional U.S. resident is someone who has been married to a legal resident less than two years before receiving their green card. It requires the couple to jointly file to remove the condition within two years of receiving the green card. If that does not happen within two years, the person’s green card will be terminated, and they could face deportation.

To move from conditional to permanent status, the person must submit a Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence form. They will need to provide supporting evidence and fees. They also must file within 90 days of the conditional residency expiration date.

A conditional resident can live and work in the United States unless they commit a serious crime or violate immigration laws. A legal permanent resident can apply to become a naturalized U.S. resident after five years of permanent residency. A person granted a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen can apply after three years. Legal permanent and conditional residents do not automatically become citizens. They must have a clean criminal background, not owe taxes or child support, and meet other qualifications. They should always consult a lawyer for help if they feel their background might be a problem.

Non-Immigrant Status

A person who does not intend to live in the United States permanently can seek permission from the government to be here legally but temporarily. This permission is generally in the form of a visa that has an expiration date. If the immigrant does not renew the visa before it expires, they will no longer have immigration status.

In addition, a non-immigrant visa will be issued for a specific purpose, such as studying, working, volunteering, visiting family, or enjoying the country as a tourist. People who are in the United States and cannot safely return to a temporarily protected country can usually receive a non-immigrant visa. A person with a non-immigrant status cannot overstay or violate the term of their visas. If that happens or if the visa application was fraudulent, their status will change to undocumented.

Undocumented Status

People who are in the United States without permission or otherwise illegal are called undocumented immigrants. Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or does not have a valid green card or current visa is undocumented. An undocumented immigrant is not authorized to work in the United States. They cannot access health care or get a driver’s license, and they cannot apply for public benefits. They do not have permission to live in the U.S.

People generally become undocumented immigrants in one of two ways. The first is if they came to the United States on a legal temporary visa, such as to visit, work, or study, and stayed past the expiration date. The second is if they entered the United States without going through a legal port of entry. Either way, a person found to be in the United States without legal documentation is at risk of deportation. They do have some rights, however, and should contact a lawyer.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Assist Immigrants of Any Status

Immigrants who want to live in the United States temporarily or permanently must follow certain laws and procedures. Our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help you with the many requirements to get on the path to legal residency or citizenship. Call us today at 215-925-4435 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we proudly serve clients throughout the state and nationwide.