On March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") split into three separate
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) handles immigration benefits,
asylum and naturalization.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) enforces immigration laws within the United
States, such deportation/removal of undocumented individuals within the United States.
Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) enforces immigration laws at the United States borders,
such as at airports or land ports of entry.
Frequently asked Immigration questions and answers:
Where can I get immigration forms?
Most immigration forms are available for free on the USCIS website at http://www.uscis.gov/ (Click
on “Immigration Forms”). The USCIS website also provides the current fees for each application.
I filed an application with USCIS. How can I find out what is happening with it?
If you filed an application/petition at a USCIS Service Center, and you received a Receipt Notice
from USCIS, stating that the application/petition was received, you can check the status of your
case online at: USCIS Online Case Status Search.
You will need your Receipt Notice Number, which has three (3) letters and ten (10) subsequent
numbers, and is printed on the top left-hand corner of your USCIS Receipt Notice.
You can also contact the USCIS customer service hotline at 1-800-375-5283 to inquire into the
status of your case.
I have no immigration papers. If ICE finds me, can they deport me right away?
Generally speaking, if you have never been caught by ICE or USCIS before, they cannot deport you
right away. Currently, although this could change in the future, ICE can start a case in Immigration
Court against anyone they catch in the U.S. without valid immigration papers, if this person has
never had a case against her or him before in Immigration Court. This kind of case is called
“removal proceedings” because ICE is saying that they have the right to “remove” (deport) this
person from the U.S. The person in removal proceedings will have a hearing in Immigration Court
in front of an Immigration Judge. At the hearing, the person will have a chance to try to prove that
s/he should not be deported; s/he can also apply for an immigration benefit that would allow her to
stay in the U.S. These benefits vary greatly according to individual eligibility. Under most
circumstances, ICE cannot just put a person it finds on a plane to her/his home country without the
person having a hearing in front of an Immigration Judge first, unless they have already received a
deportation order or been deported in the past.
What is the difference between legal and illegal aliens?
Illegal aliens are foreign nationals who have entered the United States without any legal status.
The most common ways are by either crossing a land or sea border without being inspected by an
immigration officer, or simply by violating the terms of a legal entry document.
Legal aliens are entitled to enter and remain in the United States as long as they maintain the
terms of their status. Legal aliens who have entered the United States with various types of non-
immigrant visas can become illegal by not obeying the terms of that visa.
What is the difference between an immigrant and nonimmigrant visa?
An immigrant visa allows the visa holder to work and live permanently in the United States as a
lawful permanent resident (“Green Card” holder).
A nonimmigrant visa allows the visa holder to stay in the United States for a limited period of time,
and for a limited purpose. For example, work with a specific employer, study, medical treatment,
tourism or business.
My tourist visa expires in one month, but the I-94 (white card in my passport) I was given at the
airport says I can be in the United States for six months.
When do I have to leave?
You are legally authorized to be in the United States until the date stamped on your I-94 (provided
you do not violate the terms of your visa, for example, by working illegally on a tourist visa).
Your visa gives you permission to board the plane to the United States or enter the United States
via land port of entry. Your I-94 authorizes your length of stay in the United States.
Even if the visa in your passport has expired, if you are still authorized to be here on your I-94, you
are in the United States lawfully.
The reverse is also true, if the time on your I-94 has expired, it does not matter that you still have a
valid visa, you are no longer in the United States lawfully.
Who can petition for a family member to come to the United States?
US citizens and lawful permanent residents may petition for certain family members to become
lawful permanent residents.
For which family members may a United States citizen petition?
U.S. citizens may petition for their “immediate relatives,” which include spouses, unmarried minor
(under 21 years old) children, and parents. For these family members there is no wait to get lawful
permanent residence. As soon as the petition for the family member is approved by USCIS, the
immigrant family member can apply for lawful permanent residence.
U.S. citizens may also petition for unmarried adult (21 and older) children, married sons and
daughters, and brothers and sisters. These family members must wait to be able to apply for
lawful permanent residence. Only a certain number of these family members every year will be
given lawful permanent residence. Everyone else joins a waiting list.
For which family members may a lawful permanent resident petition?
Lawful permanent residents may petition for their spouses and unmarried children (of any age).
These family members are not “immediate relatives” and must wait to be able to apply for lawful
permanent residence. Only a certain number of these family members every year will be given
lawful permanent residence. Everyone else joins a waiting list.
What is an immediate relative petition?
“Immediate relatives” are the spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 years of age of
U.S. citizens. An immigrant for whom a family member files an immediate relative petition will be
given a visa number (if s/he is outside the U.S.) or allowed to apply to adjust her status to
permanent resident (if s/he is already inside the U.S.) as soon as the petition is approved –
This means that the person who benefits from this petition does not have to wait for a visa number
to become available at a later date. Married children, unmarried adult children (21 and over), and
brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens will be in the “preference” categories and will have to wait in
line for a visa number.
What is a preference petition?
A preference petition is filed by a U.S. citizen for an adult unmarried son or daughter (21 or older)
or for a married son or daughter (regardless of age) or by a lawful permanent resident for a
spouse, unmarried child (under 21), unmarried son or daughter (21 or over), or by an employer on
behalf of an employee.
Unlike immediate relative petitions, where the person who benefits from the petition is eligible
right away to apply for permanent residence, people who benefit from preference petitions must
wait until there is a visa number ready (“current”) for them.
This is because there are a limited number of people who are allowed to enter the U.S. each year
through the preference petition system. The length of time that a person must wait depends on
which preference category s/he fits into and the applicant's country of nationality. To find out what
the wait is like for each category, consult the State Department's Visa Bulletin, at http://www.travel.
What is an affidavit of support?
U.S. citizens and permanent residents (“sponsors”) who apply for family members to get
permanent residence in the United States must provide an affidavit of support along with the
application for permanent residence.
The affidavit of support is an enforceable contract in which the person who signs the affidavit
promises to be financially responsible for the immigrant until s/he becomes a U.S. citizen, or until
s/he can be credited with 40 quarter years of work (usually this is ten years).
The sponsor who signs this contract must show that s/he has income and/or assets that place
her or him at or above 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for her/his household size.
The form used for the affidavit of support is I-864. The federal poverty guidelines are posted on
form I-864P, available at http://www.uscis.gov/(click on “Immigration Forms”).
How does one become a citizen of the United States?
Any person born in one of the 50 United States, or in Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands
is a citizen at birth, regardless of their parents' immigration status.
A person born in another country to two U.S. citizen parents is also a citizen at birth.
A person born in another country to one U.S. citizen and one non-citizen parent may or may not be
a U.S. citizen. This is a complicated area of immigration law, and anyone who meets this
description should speak with an experienced immigration attorney to find out whether or not s/he
is a U.S. citizen.
Lawful permanent residents may also apply to become citizens after a certain number of years; the
process of moving from lawful permanent resident to citizen is called “Naturalization.”
Lawful permanent residents who gained their status through marriage to a U.S. citizen may apply
to naturalize three years after being granted lawful permanent residence. All other permanent
residents (except some exceptions for those in military service and some VAWA beneficiaries)
may apply for naturalization five years after being granted lawful permanent residence.
What do I need to do to apply for US Naturalization?
To apply for naturalization, you must:
(1) Be over 18 years old;
(2) Have had permanent resident status (“green card”) for at least five years (three years if you got
permanent residence through marriage to a U.S. citizen, and you are still married to and living with
that U.S. citizen; military service may also shorten your wait);
(3) Have been physically present in the United States for at least 2-½ years of the five years
immediately before you file your application for naturalization. You must also have lived in the state
where you file the application for at least three months before you file the application;
(4) Be functionally fluent in spoken and written English, and be able to pass a test showing you
understand the basics of U.S. history and the U.S. system of government. (There are limited
exceptions to this for some people, because of disability, or age and length of residency);
(5) Have “good moral character;”
(6) Be willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath includes being willing to
bear arms on behalf of the U.S. if the law were to require it.
Some people can get their citizenship without meeting all of the above requirements, such as
certain children, or persons who served with the U.S. military in active duty status during certain
periods of war. Also, some non-citizen children may become U.S. citizens automatically if one or
both of their parents naturalize before the children turn 18 years old.
What application do I fill out for Naturalization?
File this application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).
LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENCE (“GREEN CARD”)
What is a Green Card?
“Green Card” is a term often used to refer to lawful permanent residence in the United States.
Lawful permanent residents have the right to live and work indefinitely in the United States, as well
as to petition for certain family members to get green cards. Lawful permanent residence is also
the first step towards becoming a citizen of the United States (“Naturalizing”).
There are a number of different ways to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States,
including through a family member, through an employer, by being granted asylum or refugee
status, or through the diversity visa lottery.
The "Green Card" is a Form I-551 card issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. This
card identifies the alien as a "lawful permanent resident alien" in the United States who is entitled
to live and work in the country
How do I get a Green Card?
There are five major ways to get lawful permanent residence in the United States: 1) through a
family member; 2) through an employer; 3) through the diversity visa lottery; 4) by being granted
asylum; 5) by entering the U.S. as a refugee.
There are other ways to obtain a Green Card, but they are more limited and usually involve a
special program through USCIS.
What is “adjustment of status”?
Adjustment of status is the process by which a person inside the United States becomes a lawful
permanent resident. The person's immigration status is “adjusted” to that of a lawful permanent
What is the difference between “change of status” and “adjustment of status”?
Change of status refers to the process of changing from one nonimmigrant status to another,
such as from a student to a temporary worker. Adjustment of status refers to the process of
becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
I lost my green card. How do I get a replacement?
File an application I-90 to request a replacement permanent resident card (“Green Card”). This
form is available at http://www.uscis.gov/(click on “Immigration Forms”).
What is the Green Card/Diversity Visa Lottery?
This is also known as the “Green Card Lottery”.
Each year the United States holds a lottery for 50,000 immigrant visas for people from countries
with low rates of immigration to the United States.
Lottery winners may apply for permanent residence in the United States (if in the United States) or
may apply to enter the United States as lawful permanent residents (if outside the United States).
Which countries are included in the lottery?
Every year, the Department of State identifies the countries that are eligible to apply through the
diversity visa lottery. The lottery program DV 2009 includes all countries except Brazil, Canada,
China (mainland-born), Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, the
United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Persons
born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.
Who can apply for the diversity visa lottery?
Applicants must have either a high school education or its equivalent or have, within the last five
years, gained two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of
training or experience. Lottery winners may bring their spouses and unmarried children who are
under 21 into the U.S. as well.
How and when can I enter the diversity visa lottery?
There is one lottery per year, and entries are accepted only electronically and only during a
specified two-month period each year. For example, entries to the DV 2009 lottery may be
submitted from noon (U.S. Eastern time zone) October 3 until noon December 2. Instructions for
the DV 2009 lottery are now posted at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov/.
It is important to read and follow the instructions carefully. Note: No fee is charged for the
electronic lottery entry in the annual DV program.
In general, watch the State Department Web site (http://www.state.gov/) for more information and
instructions on the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. You may also call the State Department's Visa
Lottery Information Center at 1-900-884-8840 for more information. Please note: There is a charge
for each call. You may also contact your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. A listing of U.S.
Embassies and Consulates can be found on the State Department website.
What is registry?
A person who has continuously lived in the U.S. since January 1, 1972, and is of good moral
character may apply to become a permanent resident, even if s/he has lived here without valid
immigration documents. There is an additional registry provision for persons who entered the U.S.
before July 1, 1924.
Why should I have an initial consultation with an attorney?
Because an attorney needs to learn the facts of your unique case in order to protect your interests.
In addition, this gives you a chance to talk with the attorney and determine if this person is the right
attorney for you.
Do I need to find my attorney based on what country I come from?
No, American immigration law generally is not country specific. We represent people from all over
the world and throughout the U.S.
Do I need an attorney that practices where I live?
With today's technology, many cases can be handled by attorneys who do not practice where you
live. In addition, many immigration applications are filed in Regional Processing Centers that
cover large areas. We represent clients from all over the U.S.
If you have any further immigration questions or concerns, please contact:
DiSanto & DiSanto, PLC
6945 East Sahuaro Drive
Suite # 125
Scottsdale, Arizona 85254
The following information may be helpful in understanding basic answers to commonly
asked immigration questions. For further explanation or discussion of an immigration
question or issue, please contact our Scottsdale, Arizona office: 480-551-7020.