Frequently Asked Visa Questions

Applying for a visa to enter the United States, either as a temporary visitor or with the intent of becoming a permanent resident, can be confusing. The following answers to some of the most frequently asked visa questions should help with this process:

As long as I have my visa, I can enter the U.S. Right?

Usually, but a visa is no guarantee that you will be admitted into the country. Visas do in fact grant a foreign citizen’s entry to a U.S. port-of-entry, such as an airport, but admission past the port-of-entry is determined by a U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration inspector.

When should I contact the U.S. Dept. of State or the DHS about a visa issue?

For questions about U.S. visas and inquiries related to visa denial, you should contact the Dept. of State or the embassy or consulate abroad. But once you are in the U.S., your visa status falls under the jurisdiction of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the DHS. For travelers already in the U.S., the DHS handles petitions, work authorization, extensions and adjustment of status.

What does the expiration date on my visa mean?

Your visa is valid for a specified amount of time, so it becomes invalid after the expiration date. But it does not necessarily mean you may stay in the country until that date, only that you may make repeated visits while the visa is still valid. The length of stay is approved at the port-of-entry by a DHS inspector.

How do I know how long I can stay in the U.S.?

A DHS immigration inspector will give you a small white card called an Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94, I-94W if you are participating in the Visa Waiver Program) upon arrival at a U.S. port-of-entry. The inspector records a duration of status or a specific date. If a specific date is given, then you must leave the U.S. before that date.

Consider speaking with an immigration attorney if you have additional visa questions.


Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Visa Types

Foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. must typically obtain a visa. Visas may be divided into two general categories: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are issued to aliens seeking permanent residence in the U.S., while nonimmigrant visas authorize a stay for a limited period of time with a specific purpose. Following is a discussion of immigration and nonimmigrant visa categories and requirements


Aliens seeking admission to the U.S. as immigrants follow one of two paths depending on their residence at the time of application.

Aliens living abroad apply for an immigrant visa at a consular office of the Department of State. Once issued a visa, they may enter the U.S. and become legal immigrants when they pass through the port of entry.

Aliens already living in the U.S., including certain undocumented immigrants, temporary workers, foreign students, and refugees, file an application for adjustment of status (to legal permanent residence) with the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). At the time they apply for adjustment of status, applicants may also apply for work permits. New legal immigrants are automatically authorized to work and should receive alien registration cards (“green cards”) after becoming legal permanent residents.

Immigrant Visa Categories

Immigrant visas may be divided into two categories: visas subject to numerical limitations and those that are not.

Visas not subject to numerical limitations are granted to immediate relatives (children, parents and spouses) of U.S. citizens, resident aliens returning from temporary visits abroad, and former U.S. citizens. To qualify as a “child” of a U.S. citizen the person must be unmarried, under 21 years old, and either a legitimate child, stepchild, illegitimate child, adopted child, an orphan adopted abroad, or an orphan coming to the U.S. to be adopted. A parent with any of the relationships described under the definition of child qualifies as a “parent.” In order to receive a visa as the spouse of a U.S. citizen the alien must have a “valid and subsisting marriage” with that citizen.

Visas subject to numerical limitations are granted to persons qualifying for family sponsored, employment related, or diversity immigrant visas. There are four categories of family sponsored visa preferences: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children; and brothers and sisters, including spouses and children, of U.S. citizens ages 21 and over. There are five categories of employment-sponsored preferences: priority workers; professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g. ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad); and employment creation immigrants or “investors.”

Family and Employment-Sponsored Applications

Applying for family-sponsored immigrant status is a multi-step process involving numerous submissions. First, the USCIS must approve an immigrant visa petition filed by a relative and accompanied by proof of relationship to the requesting relative. Second, the Department of State must determine if an immigrant visa number is immediately available to the alien, even if he or she is already in the U.S. Third, if the alien is already in the U.S., he or she must apply to change his or her status to that of a lawful permanent resident after a visa number becomes available. If the alien is outside the U.S. when an immigrant visa number becomes available, he or she must then go to the U.S. consulate to complete processing. Applying for employment-sponsored immigrant status requires a similar multi-step process, with the added requirement that the employer must file a labor certification request with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Family and Employment-Sponsored Visa Numerical Caps

Family sponsored and employment related immigrant visas are subject to a complicated system of per-country numerical caps. The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin that summarizes the availability of visas subject to numerical limitations, and lists the countries that have filled their allotments.

Diversity Lottery

“The diversity immigration program” provides another, but more limited, method of gaining permanent residence. Under this program, approximately 55,000 immigrant visas are available annually to aliens who are natives of countries determined by the I.N.S. to be “low admission” countries, that is, countries that are proportionately under-represented in the U.S. immigrant population. To receive a diversity visa, an individual must have at least a high school education or its equivalent, or, within the preceding five years, two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years training or experience.



Nonimmigrant visas are divided into nineteen main categories and one special purpose category for NATO personnel. The main categories are given letter designations. They are: A, career diplomats; B, temporary visitors for business and pleasure; C, aliens in transit; D, crewmembers; E, treaty traders and investors; F, students; G, international organization representatives; H, temporary workers; I, foreign media representatives; M, students in non-academic institutions; N parents and children of special immigrants; O, aliens with extraordinary abilities; P, entertainers; Q, cultural exchange program participants; R, religious workers; and TN, for NAFTA professionals.

Visa Waiver Program

The “visa waiver program” permits certain nonimmigrants from qualified countries to enter the U.S. for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. As of August 2004, the members of the visa waiver program included:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Tourist and Business Visitor Nonimmigrant Visas

The majority of nonimmigrant visas are issued to tourists (temporary visitors for pleasure) and business visitors (people engaging in commercial transactions in the U.S. but not employment). Often visitors are issued a multiple purpose business/tourist visas (B-1/B-2 category). Both B-1 and B-2 visa are valid for one year and are renewable in six-month increments. It is noteworthy that neither B-1 nor B-2 visa holders may accept employment in the U.S., although an alien on a B-1 may do work for a foreign company located in the U.S.

Temporary Worker Nonimmigrant Visas

An area of nonimmigrant visas that has grown recently is the H-temporary workers category. These visas are issued to workers with “specialty occupations” (such as computer systems analysts and programmers) or to workers performing temporary services or labor when persons capable of performing this work are not available in the U.S (such as agricultural workers). The visas are designed to help employers meet an immediate and temporary need for labor. Numerical limitations exist for some nonimmigrant work visas. For instance, the law limits temporary visas for professionals (H-1B category) and temporary agricultural workers (H-2A category).

Nonimmigrant Visas for Education

Many aliens also seek entry to the U.S. for educational purposes. The F-1 visa is for academic students entering the U.S. to pursue a full course of study at an established academic high school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, or language school. Students who wish to attend vocational or nonacademic programs must enter on an M visa. The J visa covers exchange visitors such as students, scholars, trainees, teachers, professors, research assistants, and leaders in a specialized knowledge or skill. With certain restrictions, F and J visa holders may work while in the U.S. The M visa holder’s ability to work, however, is more limited.

Legal Help with the Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visa Process

Immigrant and nonimmigrant visas provide opportunities for foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for a wide range of purposes. Some of these visas, such as tourist visas, are relatively easy to secure and require only modest time and effort on the part of the applicant. Immigrant visas and some nonimmigrant visas (particularly those authorizing employment, education, or training) are more complex and may involve extensive petitions, applications, and documentation to demonstrate the alien’s eligibility. The assistance of an experienced immigration attorney can help simplify the process for an individual or employer, and can enhance the chance that the visa application process will result in a favorable outcome.


Visas Overview

Foreign individuals (sometimes called “nationals”) often require visas to move between countries or to engage in certain activities abroad.  Visas are official government endorsements, usually stamped in the recipient’s passport, permitting a foreign national to proceed with his or her plans in the non-native country.  In the United States, foreign nationals may receive either an immigrant or a nonimmigrant visa for entry.  The specific visa desired depends on the individual’s needs and goals, as well as his or her status with regard to immigration rules.

Immigrant Visas

The Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues immigrant visas to qualified applicants who wish to enter the U.S. to stay permanently.  The specific type of immigrant visa granted varies based on the individual’s status — such as a family member of a citizen or permanent resident, potential employee of a U.S. company, or foreign national with business or investment interests in the U.S.

Numerical Limitations on Immigrant Visas

Some immigrant visas are subject to annual numerical limitations. The USCIS divides family-sponsored and employment-related visas into limited categories, and grants visas based on a pre-determined allocation among those classifications.

Example: For family-based immigration, spouses and children of lawful permanent residents receive a larger percentage of the visas available for family-sponsored immigration than married children of U.S. citizens.  In employment, priority workers including outstanding professors and persons of extraordinary ability in various fields receive a larger proportion of the available employment visas than religious workers.

The Diversity Visa Lottery

In addition to family-based and employment-related visas, the INS grants diversity visas to immigrants from countries that historically send few immigrants to the United States.  The system involves a visa lottery, and is therefore a very uncertain method of securing legal entrance to the U.S.

Immigrant Visas without Numerical Limits

Immigrant visas not subject to numerical limitation are available to:

  • Immediate relatives of citizens,
  • Permanent residents returning to the United States, and
  • Former American citizens.

The immediate-relative category is the most common of these visa categories even though it covers only spouses and children. The USCIS will not grant visas for fraudulent marriages entered into in order to receive immigration benefits, and the bureau penalizes sham marriages through deportation, criminal imprisonment and fines, and permanent bars to permanent residence.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas apply to temporary visitors who intend to return to their home countries.  Nonimmigrant admissions far outweigh the number of immigrant visas issued each year.  The USCIS establishes a wide range of categories for nonimmigrant visas, and each category brings distinct rights and responsibilities for the holder.  Some examples of nonimmigrant visa categories include:

  • A-1 visas for diplomatic personnel,
  • B-1 visas for business,
  • B-2 visas for tourism,
  • F-1 visas for students, and
  • H visas for temporary workers.

Some nonimmigrant visas allow the holder to work during his or her stay in the United States.  Others allow the visitor to bring family members or to enter the country to join family members.

Getting Legal Help with the Visa Process

The application procedure for both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas can be complicated, involving a large number of forms and necessary documentation. In order to ensure that the application process goes smoothly and has the best chance for a favorable outcome, prospective visa applicants should contact an experienced immigration attorney for key advice and proper guidance.

– See more at:

Immigration FAQs

Q: What are some factors that are considered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in granting an individual immigration status?
A: Factors considered by the USCIS include:

  • Whether the applicant has an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
  • Whether the applicant has a permanent employment opportunity in the U.S., and whether that employment fits under one of the five eligible employment categories;
  • Whether the applicant is making a capital investment in the U.S. that meets certain dollar thresholds, and that either creates or saves a specified number of jobs; and
  • Whether the applicant qualifies for refugee status as an individual who suffers or fears persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political view, or membership in a certain group in his or her country of origin.

Q: What is the purpose of the Diversity (DV) Lottery Program?
A: The purpose of the DV Lottery Program is to annually award immigrant visas to applicants whose country of origin has low immigration rates to the U.S. (not more than 50,000 in the last five years). The program is called a lottery because there are more applicants than available visas, and the visas are granted randomly among qualified applicants.

Q: What is the basis for being deported? What are the consequences of deportation?
A: Deportation (or removal) occurs when an alien is found to have violated certain immigration or criminal laws, consequences being that the alien forfeits his or her right to remain in the U.S., and is usually barred from returning.

Q: How is the deportation process initiated?
A: The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues a Notice to Appear (NTA) stating the reason why the alien should be deported or removed. The NTA is served to the alien and is filed with the immigration court. A hearing is scheduled, at which an immigration judge will determine if the information in the NTA is correct. If it is, removal of the alien will be ordered.

Q: Can a deportation or removal order be appealed?
A: Yes. The alien has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration (BIA). If the BIA decides against the alien, the matter can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Finally, if the Court of Appeals also finds against the alien, the matter can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Q: Under what circumstance will a foreign spouse’s permanent resident status in the U.S. be conditional?
A: A spouse’s permanent resident status will be conditional if it is based on a marriage that was less than two years old from the day the permanent resident status was granted. To remove the conditions, the spouse must establish that the purpose of the marriage was not to evade the U.S. immigration laws.

Q: Under what circumstance will a foreign fiance(e), who has been admitted into the U.S. for the purpose of getting married, be required to leave the U.S.
A: If the marriage to the U.S. citizen who filed the petition to permit the fiance(e) into the U.S. does not take place within 90 days of entering the U.S., the fiance(e) will be required to leave the country.

Q: Can a U.S citizen file an application to adopt a foreign-born child before the citizen has identified a child to adopt?
A: Yes. A married U.S. citizen, or an unmarried citizen who is at least 24 years of age and will be at least 25 when the petition is actually filed, may file a Form I-600AApplication for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, to speed up the adoption process.

Q: What is the basic law that governs immigration? 
A: The federal Immigration and Nationality Act provides the basis for U.S. immigration law.

Q: Can a fee for immigration related services be waived?
A: Yes. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) bureau has discretion to waive a filing fee if the applicant can establish that he or she is unable to pay. In order to have the USCIS consider waiving a fee, the applicant must follow specific instructions, including completion of a form for review by the USCIS.


Immigration Interview Do’s and Don’ts

Many, but not all, immigration procedures require an interview with an official from the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Being prepared and not arousing suspicion will make the USCIS interview as pleasant as possible. The tenor of each interview will depend on the personality of the USCIS official with whom you meet, so it is almost impossible to be entirely prepared.  It is important to remember, however, that it is the USCIS official’s job to determine whether there is anything about your background or present circumstances that preclude you from obtaining the immigration status you desire — the officer does not have anything against you personally.


DO prepare for the meeting.  Bring copies all of your forms and all your document originals.  You should be able to respond to questions about your forms without extensive referencing and confusion.

DO be prepared to answer personal questions if you are at an interview related to your marriage to a U.S. citizen.

DO follow the directions of the USCIS officer.  If the officer wants to interview you and your spouse separately, that is perfectly appropriate.

DO listen carefully and answer only the question that the officer asks you.

DO bring an interpreter with you if you do not understand English.

DO dress appropriately for the occasion.  This is an important meeting for you, and a good impression can’t hurt.

DO remain calm.  If you don’t understand the question, ask the officer to rephrase it.  If you really do not know the answer to a question, it is better to admit ignorance than make something up.  It also helps to be prepared.  If you know there is a part of your application that will raise suspicion, practice a truthful response.

DO show up on time.  USCIS officers are notoriously difficult to reach and requests for changes in interview times are not well received.  If you fail to show up for your appointment, you may have to endure a lengthy process to get another interview.

DO hire an attorney to accompany you if the thought of going through an interview alone is too overwhelming.


DON’T joke around with the USCIS officer.  In particular, avoid joking or sarcasm related to drug dealing, communicable diseases, bigamy, or smuggling people into the country.

DON’T argue with your spouse or other family members in the middle of an interview.  Agree before hand on what you will do if a disagreement arises during the interview.

DON’T argue with the USCIS officer.  If the USCIS officer says part of your application is incomplete, ask for an explanation and attempt to remedy the situation by using the documents and forms you have brought with you.

DON’T lose your patience with the USCIS officer and refuse to answer questions.  Questions that may seem inappropriate or unimportant to you are probably within the boundaries of what is allowed by USCIS policy.  Just remember what the pay off is for going through with the interview.

DON’T lie to the USCIS officer.  If you feel you have something that would be difficult to explain, hire an attorney.  Your attorney should be able to defuse difficult situations during an interview.


Employment Visa Eligibility FAQ

Do U.S. citizens still have to prove to employers that they are eligible to work in the country?

Yes. U.S. citizens and nationals automatically are eligible to work in the U.S., but they still must present proof of eligibility and identity. As with foreign nationals, U.S. citizens and nationals must also complete an Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9, PDF). For purposes of employment eligibility, U.S. citizens include those born in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam; U.S. nationals include those born in American Samoa (including Swains Island).

Are employers required to complete an Employment Eligibility Verification form for each individual who applies for a job?

No. Only those who are hired are subject to eligibility verification requirements. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines “hired” as the point at which a new employee begins working for compensation.

What is remuneration?

Remuneration is food, lodging or anything else of value given to an employee in exchange for work. Employers must complete a Form I-9 for anyone hired to work in return for wages or other remuneration.

Can an employee who fails to produce documentation, as required by Form I-9, be fired?

Yes. The employee has three business days from the start of employment in which to produce the required documents before he or she may be terminated. An employee whose documents are destroyed, stolen or lost must obtain a receipt for replacement documents within three days (and has 90 days in which to present the actual documents).

What if the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) finds out that an employee is not authorized to work, but the employer properly completed a Form I-9?

The employer may not knowingly continue to employ this person. However, the employer will not be charged with a verification violation as long as the Employment Eligibility Verification form was completed in good faith. If government officials can prove that the employer had knowledge of the employee’s status, then the employer faces penalties.

Is the employer responsible for the authenticity of documents produced for the completion of Form I-9?

To a certain extent, yes. The employer must accept any documentation that reasonably appears on its face to be genuine and representing the new hire. To further scrutinize documentation beyond this standard could be characterized as an unfair immigration-related employment practice.

Are photocopies of documents valid, with respect to the completion of Form I-9?

No. Only original documents may be accepted, with the exception of a certified copy of a birth certificate.


When B Non-immigrant Visas Are Appropriate

Many foreign nationals enter the United States with B non-immigrant visas. The B-2 visa may be used by tourists visiting the United States for vacation or to visit friends and family. The B-1 visa may be used by business visitors who are entering the United States to engage in business activities.

A foreign national who enters the United States with a B visa and engages in impermissible activities may face severe penalties including: fraud allegations; removal (deportation) proceedings; accumulating unlawful presence; and bars from returning to the U.S. Thus, employers should not encourage foreign personnel to enter the U.S. with a B visa to work — even for a very short period of time.

Business Visitors

B-1 business visitors may come to the U.S. to engage in activities of a commercial or professional nature, related to their foreign employment or business for which they are not paid from U.S. sources, other than incidental living or traveling expenses. A B-1 business visitor may not perform services for a U.S. entity which could be considered to be employment.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) defines “visitor” as: An alien (other than one coming for the purpose of study or of performing skilled or unskilled labor or as a representative of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media coming to engage in such vocation) having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the U.S. temporarily for business or pleasure.

A business visitor is not authorized for employment in the U.S. It is important to keep in mind the distinction between employment and doing business so that a foreign national does not engage in unauthorized employment.

Legitimate B-1 Activities

The Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”), states that B-1 visitors may engage in the following activities: Engage in commercial transactions which do not involve gainful employment in the U.S.; negotiate contracts; consult with business associates; litigate; participate in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions or conferences; and undertake independent research.

Basic Requirements

Foreign nationals seeking entry into the U.S. “on business” should have the following attributes:

  • The foreign national must maintain an unabandoned foreign residence abroad.
  • The foreign national must demonstrate forceful and compelling ties which would lend credibility to the sponsor’s undertaking.
  • The foreign national must present specific and realistic plans for the contemplated visit.
  • The period of time projected for the visit must be consistent with the stated purpose of the trip.
  • The applicant must establish with reasonable certainty that departure from the U.S. will take place upon completion of the temporary visit.
  • The proposed period of stay must be expressed in terms of remaining for the maximum period allowable by U.S. authorities.
  • The foreign national must demonstrate sufficient ties to his/her home country, such as employment, business, financial connections, close family ties, or other commitments that indicate a strong inducement to return abroad.
  • The foreign national must provide information as to the provision for support of his/her spouse and children while the applicant is in the U.S., where the foreign national is the family’s principal wage earner.
  • The foreign national’s prior visa/ immigration history is relevant to the consular officer’s determination whether to issue the requested visa.

Visa Waiver Pilot Program

The Visa Waiver Pilot Program is a program which allows individuals from particular countries to enter the U.S. for business or pleasure without a visa. The Visa Waiver permits a foreign national to remain in the U.S. for a maximum ninety day period. Foreign nationals who enter the U.S. with a Visa Waiver cannot extend or amend their stay in the U.S. For example, if a foreign national enters the U.S. with a B-1 or B-2 visa, he/she may change status to that of an H-1B without leaving the country. A foreign national who enters the U.S. with a Visa Waiver must leave the country to obtain a new visa.

The advent of the Visa Waiver Pilot Program has made it increasingly difficult for foreign nationals from participating countries to get B visas since they must demonstrate a legitimate tourist or business purpose for a trip lasting longer than ninety days. The prospective B visitor should anticipate consular resistance to issuance of this visa and prepare adequate documentation to show why a visa is necessary to overcome the basic presumption that the applicant intends to remain permanently in the U.S. The applicant must be able to demonstrate the ability to stay in the U.S. without being employed and a specific agenda for which the applicant needs to remain in the U.S. beyond the ninety day limit of the Visa Waiver.


The B visa can be one of the most complex and challenging since the issues and elements of the B visa are almost entirely subjective. The consul’s decision to issue or deny the B visa or permit entry into the United States is essentially nonappealable.

The criteria listed above are intended only as guidelines, and the presence or absence of any of them is not to be considered conclusive of the applicant’s intent. Denial of the visa or entry is required by law where the consular or port-of-entry officer is not satisfied with the applicant’s intent to return or abide by the terms of nonimmigrant status.


The B visa can be a very useful tool for foreign nationals to use to enter the U.S. to engage in business or tourist activities. Employers and foreign nationals should evaluate the purpose for which the foreign national may be entering the U.S. in order to determine whether the B visa is the most appropriate visa for the entry.


How to Obtain Proof of Citizenship

So, you’ve obtained your American citizenship. Now how do you obtain proof of citizenship? If you were born on U.S. soil, including U.S. military grounds and U.S. territory abroad, then your birth certificate is your primary proof of citizenship. This does not refer to the birth certificate your parents got at the hospital when you were born. It refers to the standard U.S. birth certificate issued by the state government. If you were naturalized in the U.S., you were given a naturalization certificate instead of a birth certificate.

If your birth took place outside the territorial United States and you have a right to American citizenship through your parents, however, you will not have either of these documents. In this case, you will have to apply for either a U.S. passport or a certificate of citizenship.

Certificates of Consular Registration of Birth

When U.S. citizens give birth to children outside of the U.S., they have five years to register that birth with the U.S. consulate. When they do, the consulate issues them a Consular Registration of Birth Abroad. This is sufficient proof of American citizenship. If you have these documents, do not lose them. There is no way to get duplicates.

If the parents do not register the baby’s birth before the baby’s fifth birthday, there is no way to have a Consular Registration of Birth Abroad issued. In this case, or in the case that you have lost your Consular Registration of Birth Abroad certificate, you must apply for a passport or certificate of citizenship to obtain proof of citizenship.

U.S. Passports

In general, applying for a U.S. passport if you were born in the U.S. is pretty straightforward. If your parents are U.S. citizens and you were born abroad, you may apply for a passport the same way, with a few additional steps. These steps include

  • Proving your parents are U.S. citizens;
  • Providing evidence that your parents followed all residency requirements; and
  • Providing evidence that you have followed all residency requirements (unless you have been excused from them by not knowing the laws).

This evidence may be in the form of citizenship records, tax records, employment records, or affidavits from you or relatives explaining why you were unaware of your claim to American citizenship.

You may apply for passports in U.S. passport offices, but people who file directly with the U.S. consulate abroad typically have better success.

Certificates of Citizenship

The American Citizenship and Immigration Services issues certificates of citizenship to those with a confirmed claim to American citizenship. These certificates can only be obtained from American citizenship and Immigration Services, located in the U.S.

Obtaining this document is usually a bit more difficult than obtaining a passport, because it tends to take a lot longer. Some people have waited over a year to receive their certificate of citizenship. People whose citizenship was obtained via naturalization of a parent have the best luck with a certificate of citizenship, because the evidence is so obvious and easy to obtain.

Evidence of your citizenship claim should include

  • Parents’ birth certificates;
  • Marriage certificates; and
  • Naturalization certificates.

You will also need to prove what your name is and show any changes to your name, so include your birth certificate, marriage certificate, or decree of divorce with your application


Success Story of an Illegal Immigrant’s Application for Green Card

The Attorney General has discretion to grant applications for adjustment of status. A successful case requires not only good arguments but also credible, well organized and presented evidence. I did an extensive research and wrote compelling legal arguments. But these would have been useless if I did not have credible evidence to back them up.


Let me tell you a success story in a case, which I had the privilege to work on. Her case was rejected by a supposedly “super lawyer” because her case was hopeless. Last week, I had a surprise visit from her. She showed me her green card and a letter from USCIS welcoming her to America. This is the most difficult case I’ve ever worked on since I became an immigration attorney. I put my heart and soul into the case, and WE WON!

Victoria is a native and citizen of Mexico. In 2001 she came to the United States illegally and worked without authorization. She also committed an act, which under our immigration law is serious enough to disqualify her to apply for a legal permanent resident status. Ten years later, Victoria married a U.S. citizen who filed for her immigration petition. When Victoria applied for adjustment of status, her application was denied for immigration law violations.

On appeal I painted a picture of Victoria as a model citizen, which is true. We were able to get 103 signatures on a petition to stop her deportation. We were able to get affidavits and letters from Victoria’s previous employers attesting to her honesty and integrity. Victoria’s U.S. citizen husband is a qualifying relative for I-601 waiver. I submitted a psychological evaluation of Victoria’s husband, which provided the diagnoses and described how Victoria’s threat of deportation had affected him mentally and emotionally. We also submitted documents how Victoria’s deportation would create financial hardship to her husband and children. I was able to get a work authorization for Victoria while the case was pending and she found a well-paying job. While her husband is working, his salary is not enough to pay for household expenses and to support their children who remain in the home country. We submitted articles about the home country’s economic condition and how difficult it would be for Victoria to find a job in her home country considering her education, age and health issues. Victoria is suffering from serious illnesses, which would be aggravated if she were sent home. She has a health insurance through her employer while it would cost her a fortune to pay for medical care in her home country.

The Attorney General has discretion to grant applications for adjustment of status. A successful case requires not only good arguments but also credible, well organized and presented evidence. I did an extensive research and wrote compelling legal arguments. But these would have been useless if I did not have credible evidence to back them up. Victoria worked as caregiver most of the years she has been in the United States. She touched the lives of so many people she cared for and their families. They described her as person of great integrity, good-hearted, one of the best caregiver they ever met, etc. USCIS is not a tin man. Their adjudicators are humans and are touched by great stories like Victoria’s. One lesson learned from Victoria’s case: be good to the people you meet because you never know when you will need them. I believe that the strength of Victoria’s case came from the outpouring of support from the people she worked for and with. Disclaimer: some facts and details have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the persons involved.

Preference Relatives for Immigration Purposes

Preference Relatives or Preference Categories apply to family members who are relatives but not immediate relatives. There are a limited number of visas available to relatives who fall into the category of preference relatives. The government limits the number of persons who are issued visas by assigning a priority date to each relative who has an approved Alien Relative Petition.


The visas available to preference relatives are subject to annual numerical limits.

An I-130 is approved for a preference relative and the relative is given a priority date. Visas are provided to preference relatives according to their priority date and on a first come first serve bases. There are limited situations when a preference relative is granted permission to enter the United States before his or her priority date becomes current.

Preference Categories are as follows:

• First preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (adult means 21 or older).
• Second Preference (2A): Spouses of green card holders, unmarried children (under 21) of permanent residents.
• Second Preference (2B): Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents.
• Third Preference: Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens.
• Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens.