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Understanding the Four Types of Immigration Statuses in the United States

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This article provides a comprehensive guide of the 4 categories that immigrants living in the United States (U.S.) fall into. The four types of immigration status that exist within the U.S. are: citizens, residents, non-immigrants, and undocumented. If you are a person who migrated fromanother country to the U.S. (recent or not) or you just want a basic understanding of immigration law and policy in the U.S., the following paragraphs provide a basic and foundational understanding of these factors. A criminal history can complicate one’s immigration process and therefore alter the status of the category they fall under.

U.S. Citizens

A U.S. citizen is a person who was born in the U.S. or became a “naturalized” citizen after a period of 3 to 5 years as a resident in the country. A person with citizenship (or a U.S. citizen) cannot be deported from the U.S. with the exception of having obtained the citizenship through fraudulent action. A person with U.S. citizenship can work legally under the law and receive public benefits that he/she/they may qualify for. Additionally, once having acquired citizenship you can petition for the legal status of your family (your spouse, child, parent or sibling).

Conditional and Permanent Residents

A conditional resident and a permanent resident are two sections of the/from the same category.

The distinction between the two is that:

A) Legal Permanent Resident (LPRs)

Immigrants who have obtained a “green card.” When a person in the U.S. is a green card holder, or a lawful permanent resident, they are authorized to live and work in the U.S. permanently. The green card is granted to an immigrant as a form of proof of permanent basis status. An immigrant seeking legal status in the U.S. can become a permanent resident in a number of ways. The most common way is to be sponsored by a family member or employer based in the U.S. Others may achieve permanent residency through refugee or asylee status (or other humanitarian programs). When a person attains refugee status it means that they are someone who is located out of the U.S. and is of humanitarian concern to the country. What this means is that this person demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution in their home country and are seeking refuge in the U.S. because of it. Someone who attains asylee status is a person who has made it to the U.S. border seeking protection from their home country because they have already suffered persecution or fear they will. This persecution or fear thereof has to be due to race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion from the applicant's home country.

B) Conditional Residents

Certain permanent residents are issued a conditional resident status (or a conditional green card) by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which is valid for a two-year period. In an effort to remain a permanent resident, a conditional permanent resident must generally file a petition to “remove the conditions” during the 90 days before the card's expiration. If you married two years time or less prior to the day you were granted permanent residence, the USCIS issues a conditional green card. One is granted conditional residence in this case because you must prove to the U.S. that you did not get married for the sole purpose of evading the immigration laws. It functions as a probation period for two years during which the couple builds a record of their married relationship to one another. At the end of this “probation period”, the couple may file for Form I-715, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, and other supporting documents to function as evidence of a bona fide marriage. A bona fide marriage is one that is conjoined out of real and genuine love with no further motives but the soul purpose of love and intention to stay and remain together.

Non-Immigrant Status

A person with Non-Immigrant Status is one who is considered to be legally living anf working in the U.S. on a temporary basis. People who fall under this category live in the country legally. Examples of a person living in the U.S. with Non-Immigrant status are:

● Students (people with F-1 Visas)

● Business visitors or tourists (people with B1/B2 visas)

● Fiancées (people with K-1 Visas)

● A person with an approved U-Visa or any other individuals granted temporary protected status

For the most part, individuals seeking Non-Immigrant status or living in the U.S. under Non-Immigrant status do not intend to become residents or immigrate (apart from those applying for a U-Visa). If those living in the U.S. under Non-Immigrant status overstay the given time of their visa or violate the terms of their visa, their legal status will change to undocumented.


Lastly, those immigrants who are living in the U.S. and fall under the status of undocumented mean that they are living or staying in the country without permission or illegally. In this case, they would not be able to live in the U.S. temporarily or permanently. There are two ways in which a person can become undocumented. The first way is that the immigrant overstays the period of their legal temporary visa. The second way is that the person neglects to enter the country through a port of entry. People that fall under this category also are not allowed to have access to legally work in the U.S. or reap the benefits accessible to permanent residents. Examples of such benefits include acquiring a driver's license (rules on this law vary across states in the U.S.) and health insurance. Any individual that is considered undocumented risks facing deportation from the U.S. at any given time.

Understanding these statuses and their distinctions can be a crucial step in helping determine your best next step to take when considering to become a legal resident in the U.S. If you are considering any of the statuses listed above and would like more assistance on how to get started, here are some helpful resources on how to do so listed below.

● To learn more about how to become a U.S. citizen and what steps to take visit this link provides by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website: Become a U.S. Citizen Through Naturalization

● To learn more about how to become a conditional and/or permanent resident (obtain a green card visit this link provides by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website: Conditional Permanent Residence

● To learn more about how to acquire nonimmigrant status visit this link provided by A Guide to U.S. NonImmigrant Visas

○ If you are seeking to apply for a U Nonimmigrant Visa you can contact Mil Mujeres at or call (202) 808-3311 for any questions you may have or

assistance you may need in the initiation of your U-Visa process

● To learn more about undocumented status and how to go about seeking legal residency visit this link provided by CitizenPath: 4 Paths to Legal Status for Undocumented Immigrants

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