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Immigration Basics

by Hamid R. Kashani, Attorney at Law
Nov 07, 2018 (last modified Sep 30, 2019)

Who can immigrate to the United States?

Only individuals who fall within certain classes may immigrate to the United States. There are four general classes:

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  • Family Based Classes, e.g., spouses, parents, children, and siblings.
  • Employment Based Classes, e.g. employees with different levels of education and experience, aliens of extraordinary ability, and investors
  • Special Classes, e.g. Amerasians, widows of U.S. citizens, abused spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens, other special immigrants
  • Humanitarian Programs

Most classes are subject to numerical limitations. That means that in a given year only so many immigrant visas are issued under that class. Certain classes are not subject to numerical limitations. For example, there is no numerical limitation on the number of immigrant visas issued to the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens.

What are the steps for applying for an immigrant visa (green card)?

Only individuals who fall within certain classes may immigrate to the United States.  Each class has its own criteria. Generally, applying for green card involves two steps.  First, a U.S. person must petition to classify the prospective immigrant under a certain immigration class.  For example, a citizen or permanent resident may petition to classify a foreign born individual as a spouse, child, sibling, or parent. An employer, may petition to classify a prospective, foreign-born individual as an employee of certain qualification. For a limited number of classes the foreign-born individuals can self-petition for classification.

Once the classification petition is approved, the foreign-born individual may apply for green card based on that classification. If the person is outside of the United States, he or she will have to obtain a green card through a U.S. consulate overseas. See Consular Processing

Foreign-born individuals who are in the United States may apply for Adjustment of Status (AOS). This will allow them to receive a green card without leaving the country.  Not everybody can apply for adjustment of status. See Adjustment of Status

Who are the petitioners, beneficiaries, and applicants?

Most immigration benefits are requested by a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or employer for a foreign-born individual. In those circumstances, the person requesting an immigration benefit for the foreign-born individual is called the “petitioner.”  The foreign-born individual would be the “beneficiary” of that immigration benefits.

Under some limited circumstances, foreign-born individuals may apply for classification on their own.  For example, people of extraordinary ability or those seeking asylum, among others, may apply for their own classification.  In those circumstances, the foreign-born individual would be both the “petitioner” and the “beneficiary,” or "self-petitioner."

What is the difference between petition and application?

Some USCIS applications are denoted as “petitions.” For all practical purposes, there is no functional difference between an application and a petition.

Related Topics:

Consular Processing

Adjustment of Status

Priority Date & Visa Availability

Employment While Application Pending

Travel While Application Pending

Consequences of Overstaying

Derivative Beneficiaries

Child Status Protection Act (CSPA)

Change of Address Requirement


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