The U.S. immigration system is complex and cumbersome, and many current or would-be immigrants get anxious throughout their long immigration processes.
Whether a foreign citizen just needs to extend their non-immigrant visa, or a visa holder has qualified to apply for lawful permanent residence, or a green card holder yearns for U.S. citizenship, there are hundreds of processes in place and not everyone has the means to hire an immigration lawyer.
In this comprehensive immigration guide from the Miami Herald, you can find news-you-can-use stories with step-by-step explanations and resources available to advance and succeed in your immigration case.
And, despite the hurdles, it’s important to remember that “The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants from all parts of the world. America values the contributions of immigrants who continue to enrich this country and preserve its legacy as a land of freedom and opportunity,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Here’s how to qualify for a U.S. green card
Green cards allow immigrants to live and work in the United States, legally and permanently, before they can seek American citizenship through naturalization.
To apply for permanent lawful U.S. residence, non-citizens must qualify under one of eight categories. Each category has different eligibility requirements that applicants must meet when they submit their petitions.
▪ Read more: Green cards are only available to immigrants who fall under one of these categories
Avoid mistakes that make you lose U.S. permanent resident card
It is a long and laborious road to permanent U.S. residence, one that opens a broad spectrum of job possibilities and offers reassurances to immigrants who can then live and work legally in the United States.
But a green card could be lost through mistakes, status abandonment or deportation orders by immigration judges.
▪ Read more: Immigrants can lose their green cards and face deportation if they make these mistakes
USCIS rules for U.S. immigrants to get a green card
The green card provides three important rights to immigrants who have it: to live permanently in the United States, to work at any legal work and enjoy the protection of all local, state and federal U.S. laws.
The following guide offers a broad look at the different requirements for immigrants who want to obtain and maintain a green card.
▪ Read more: Here’s what it takes for an immigrant to get a green card — and not lose it
How can I become a U.S. citizen through naturalization?
Becoming a United States citizen provides rights and privileges such as voting, traveling with a U.S. passport, bringing family members permanently to the United States, sponsoring citizenship for children born abroad and obtaining government benefits.
The relaunched USCIS website contains numerous resources to guide foreign nationals throughout the naturalization process.
▪ Read more: Once an immigrant has a green card, here’s what they have to do to become a U.S. citizen
U.S. citizenship application: How to avoid common mistakes
The dream of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the United States is to one day declare the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony and become a U.S. citizen.
But applying for citizenship is a process that requires answering questionnaires, submitting documents and passing a much feared naturalization test, in which immigrants must prove they can read, write and speak basic English, and have essential knowledge of U.S. history and government.
▪ Read more: These are the five worst mistakes immigrants make when applying for U.S. citizenship
Requirements for naturalization, interview and exam
For immigrants in the United States, becoming a citizen is often a long and stressful process.
Now we explain the steps required by USCIS to become an American citizen, including appointments, biometric services, interview, exam and naturalization ceremony.
▪ Read more: It’s not so hard for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen. Here’s what you have to do
How to apply for U.S. citizenship, green cards online
Immigrants in the United States applying for benefits such as American citizenship or a green card replacement for permanent residency, can now apply online, using new tools available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Service (USCIS) homepage.
The first step is to create a personal account with USCIS by going to and using an email address.
▪ Read more: Immigrants can now apply for U.S. citizenship and green cards online. Here’s how.
Unlawful acts that could block U.S. naturalization
One of the key requirements for U.S. citizenship through naturalization is to show good moral character.
That signifies behaving in an acceptable manner, not committing certain crimes during the five years before applying and not lying during the naturalization interview. And there are “unlawful acts” that block an immigrant’s path to citizenship due to lacking good morals.
▪ Read more: Good morals are key to becoming a U.S. citizen. These unlawful acts could block immigrants
How to check immigration case status and processing times
Although immigrants may be powerless in the face of delays and decisions by U.S. immigration officials, their worries can be eased if they learn that their cases remain under review, and that the delays are within the average waiting time for the immigration benefits they seek.
Petitioners can track the status of an immigration application, petition, or request using the My Case Status electronic form and use a different tool to estimate average processing times for select forms and locations.
▪ Read more: If it seems like your citizenship or green card is taking too long, here’s how to check
USCIS online tools help immigrants’ petitions
U.S. immigration procedures are complicated enough to spark anxiety and uncertainty among applicants, especially when the cases are taking a long time to adjudicate and their legal status is about to expire.
These USCIS online resources help legal immigrants applying for benefits such as U.S. visa, work permit, green card and American citizenship. Also check case status, change address and study for naturalization test.
▪ Read more: It is hard for immigrants to get green cards and other benefits. These tools help.
How to lower immigration lawyer cost and questions to ask
With the new complexities and restrictions of the U.S. immigration system, it has become more challenging for immigrants to move through the legal immigration process.
So it’s more important than ever to get expert advice from a lawyer who has experience, has seen similar cases and knows what is going to be convincing to the government agency making the decision. Here we outline what immigrants should ask an immigration attorney before deciding whether to hire him or her.
▪ Read more: To get a visa or green card you need the right lawyer. Here are ways to keep the cost down
Tips to prepare for final interview with USCIS
One of the most important parts of an immigration application is the final interview with USCIS officials, which sparks great anxiety because of fears of a denial.
Almost all applications for immigration benefits require the interview, among them citizenship through naturalization, affirmative asylum, adjustment of status, permanent residence and green card through marriage. Applicants must be very well prepared.
▪ Read more: A misstep in your USCIS interview could lead to deportation. These tips help you prepare
How to avoid mistakes in immigration forms
U.S. immigration applications can be complex and cumbersome, so it’s always better to work with a licensed immigration attorney. But their legal services can be very expensive, and many immigrants opt to go through the process alone.
However, mistakes are common when filing immigration forms, and the applications can therefore be delayed or denied by USCIS.
▪ Read more: Here are some of the worst mistakes immigrants make applying for legal papers
How to stay longer in the U.S. with a tourist visa
Foreign citizens who enter the United States with tourism or business visas for temporary stays sometimes want to remain beyond the periods authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry.
Whether there are issues that make it impossible for them to return home, changes in their non-immigrant visa status, family petitions or tying the knot with U.S. citizens, there are many reasons for trying to extend their stay legally. Here we explore their legal options.
▪ Read more: Here’s what foreigners with tourist visas can and cannot do if they want to stay longer
Online filing for visa extension stay in U.S.
Foreign nationals who enter the United States with non-immigrant visas sometimes want to remain in the country longer than authorized by officials upon admission to the U.S. at an airport, seaport or the border.
The length of time they can legally stay often does not coincide with the limits of their visas, but one of the key U.S. rules is never to overstay the period imposed upon arrival — even if the visa is still valid. Today, the government has an online processing system for benefits applications so people with tourist, business and student visas can extend their time here.
▪ Read more: Here’s a fast and easy way for foreign visitors to extend their stay in the U.S.
Social Security cards with employment authorization for non-U.S. citizens
Two of the most sought-after documents by immigrants in the United States are the Social Security card and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), better known as a work permit, to be able to legally bring bread to the table.
And now non-U.S. citizens are able to apply for a new Social Security card or a replacement when applying for a work permit, and avoid having to go to a Social Security Administration (SAA) office.
▪ Read more: There’s a new way for immigrants to get Social Security cards and U.S. work permits at once
Options for immigrants who face deportation
If immigrants facing deportation orders are held in a detention center, they have few options to avoid removal. But if they have been placed under an order of supervision as part of their removal proceedings, there are ways to appeal, seek other legal avenues to resolve the case or halt the deportation temporarily.
What should a person do if he or she is facing deportation proceedings? Depending on an individual’s particular situation, these tips may help.
▪ Read more: Immigrants facing deportation don’t always have to leave the U.S. Here’s what they can do
ICE raids: What to do if police go to your work, home or stop you
Undocumented immigrants and families with mixed status have basic U.S. constitutional rights that they can exercise during encounters with ICE U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in public places, at work or in their own homes.
One of the most important rights is that ICE agents cannot enter a home or employment site without a valid search warrant signed by a judge, and in the case of workplaces, without the employer’s consent. Below are some helpful resources.
▪ Read more: If ICE visits your home or workplace, or stops you in public, this list will protect you
What to do if stopped by immigration or Border Patrol
Whether in public spaces, places of employment or private homes, all residents — including legal and undocumented immigrants — can exercise basic constitutional rights to respond to authorities.
These include the right to remain silent, the right to deny permission to a search of your person, vehicle or home, and the right to request a lawyer. What should you do when authorities ask for your papers? Bellow are some tips
▪ Read more: What to do if an Immigration or Border Patrol officer confronts you
Common immigration scams to avoid
Legal immigrants anxious over tightening U.S. controls may become the perfect victims for fraudsters who prey on the vulnerability of those involved in often complicated immigration procedures.
Some victims of these illegal schemes may simply lose a lot of money. But for others it’s even worse, because they could run into problems and even face deportation. The U.S. government has issued a warning.
▪ Read more: Being a victim of immigration fraud can lead to deportation. Watch out for these scams
This story was originally published February 17, 2022 11:34 AM.