Disclaimer: This Q&A is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney about your specific case if necessary.
Do I need an immigration attorney for my case?
All cases are different. For some simpler cases, filing your forms online using uscis.gov can be done from your own computer. You can add an attorney to a case filed online if desired. For more complicated cases, such as marriage-based Adjustments of Status, applications for a waiver of illegal presence, new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, etc., an attorney’s assistance can be extremely helpful. Many attorneys whose practices focus on immigration law have years of experience dealing with the various immigration agencies and know the ins and outs of relevant law that absolutely can make the difference between your application/petition being approved or denied.
It is important to remember that regulations and policies impacting immigration law are constantly changing. A helpful attorney will keep up with new case law, regulations, policy guides, and any other rules set forth by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and Department of Labor – the major agencies that may have jurisdiction over your case. Because of this, immigration attorneys are constantly researching relevant law, meeting with immigration agency representatives, and communicating with other attorneys about new issues. In short, the importance of an immigration attorney’s knowledge cannot be overstated.
Am I at risk of deportation/removal if I am undocumented?
Anyone who is present in the United States without legal immigration status is at risk for deportation, which is officially called removal. This means that ICE agents will now be reviewing undocumented persons’ entire files on a case-by-case basis, and weighing all factors in regards to their removability.
Can I apply for United States Citizenship successfully if I have a criminal record?
If you have been a Permanent Resident of the United States for 5 years or more, you may be eligible to apply for Citizenship. Alternatively, you can apply for Citizenship if you have been a Permanent Resident for 3 years, if the basis for your Permanent Residence status is or was your marriage to a United States Citizen. Secondly, you must demonstrate Good Moral Character (GMC). The United States Immigration and Nationality Act, which establishes the rules and regulations for our immigration system, requires Permanent Residents intending to become Naturalized Citizens to demonstrate that they do not engage in any behavior that is considered contrary to our accepted morals and values within the ‘statutory period’ of 5 years leading up to the individual’s applying for Naturalization. Activities during the 5-year statutory period that could result in a finding of a lack of Good Moral Character include but are not limited to: practicing polygamy; committing adultery; engaging in prostitution or gambling; selling or trafficking of narcotics; being a continual drunkard; and committing or attempting to commit theft, bribery, fraud, perjury, violence against another person or persons, etc.
Any crime that is considered to be, “morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, the essence of which is a reckless, evil or malicious intent,” will render an individual ineligible to apply for Citizenship. If you have ever been found to have committed Immigration violations such as lying to obtain immigration benefits, trafficking undocumented persons across the border in to the United States, or willfully misrepresenting yourself to a United States Government Official, you will be barred from obtaining citizenship and can be at risk of being placed in removal proceedings. Additionally, two or more DUI convictions, a jail or prison sentence totaling 180 days or more, or failure to support dependents will also result in a finding of lack of Good Moral Character. It is important to consider previous arrests and/or convictions in the previous 5 years if you are a Permanent Resident considering applying for United States Citizenship. It is also important to remember that this list of crimes and disqualifications is not exhaustive. If you have questions about the requirements and possible disqualifications of filing for Naturalization, consider contacting a licensed attorney who can help you through the process.
How do I obtain a copy of my U.S. Immigration File?
To obtain a copy of all (or most) of your records that are held by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you can file a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows for individuals to obtain a copy of all unrestricted records and information about them held by a United States government entity. You can file a FOIA request with USCIS by using form G-639. This form can be filed by mail, email, fax, or by using the uscis.gov website. With the form G-639, you can request specific records, or you can request your entire ‘A-File,’ which is all documents that USCIS has associated with your name and A-number. Additionally, form G-639 can also be filed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It does not cost anything to file the form G-639. However, the Agency you make your FOIA Request to may charge you up to $25.00 based on the size of your file. To learn more about filing a FOIA Request and access the form G639, please visit https://www.uscis.gov/records/request-records-through-the-freedom-of-information-act-or-privacy-act.
Where can I find information online about filing applications and petitions with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security United States Citizen and Information Services (USCIS).
For English you can go to the internet and click on https://www.uscis.gov/. You can also access the information in Spanish at https://www.uscis.gov/es. There are numerous websites claiming to have information about immigration applications and petitions but the foregoing websites are the official ones. Please note, however, that it is always a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney or Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Representative in addition to utilizing the information online.
I have filed forms with the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS). Is there any way to get updates on my case from USCIS without the assistance of a lawyer?
You can check the status of your pending Petition/Application using the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website at https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do. To check your case status, you must enter the receipt number for your case. You can find this number on the receipt notice you received from USCIS when you originally filed your form. This number is located in the top left of the receipt notice, and is a string of 13 characters that is unique to your case only. Your receipt number will start with three letters, which indicate where your form is being processed (such as EAC, LIN, IOE, or others) followed by 10 numerical digits. Once you enter this receipt number on the Case Status Online page, a new page will appear showing you the most recent action USCIS has taken on your case.
Alternatively, you may opt to call USCIS in order to receive updates on your case over the telephone. Calling 1-800-375-5283 will connect you with USCIS’ automated phone system, which will ask for details of what you need help with. You can say ‘check case status,’ which will lead the system to request your receipt number. You can either enter the receipt number by using your phone’s dial pad, or by saying the number out loud. NOTE: The USCIS automated phone system is available in both English and Spanish. If you would like to use the system in Spanish, press 2 on your dial pad.
You can also create an account on the USCIS website, which will send you email or text notifications when there is an update on your case. To create an account and sign up for updates, visit https://myaccount.uscis.gov/users/sign_up. Once you have created your account and linked your receipt numbers, you can find updates on your case at any time without having to re-enter your receipt number.
I filed my Application for Employment Authorization, Form I-765, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) over a year ago. Why has there not been any movement in my case aside from receiving a Receipt Notice?
USCIS is currently processing over 8.5 million cases, with 5.1 million of them extending beyond the estimated processing times listed on the USCIS website. USCIS is understaffed due to resignations and a Federal Hiring Freeze during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In a listening session on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, USCIS indicated that they are staffed at 80% of their pre-Pandemic levels. Additionally, huge increases in form submissions due to the ongoing humanitarian disasters in South Asia and Central Europe are increasing the caseload for USCIS field offices and service centers.
USCIS has announced its commitment to reducing the case backlog and shortening processing times, but substantive results are yet to be seen. Please remember that you may check the status of your case at any time by visiting https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do and entering the receipt number for your Application/Petition.
I just became a permanent resident of the United States. Can I travel outside of the United States now?
Yes. As a permanent resident, you may leave and reenter the United States as you please. Many people wish to go visit family in their home countries after the long process of adjusting status to permanent resident. Be sure to take your permanent resident card (green card) with you, as you will have to present it to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer when returning to the U.S. It is important, however, that you do not stay outside of the United States for any period longer than six months, unless you request and receive a reentry permit first, using Form I-131 Application for Travel Document. If you stay outside of the country for more than six months without a reentry permit, the U.S. government may assume you have abandoned your status as a permanent resident and you may have trouble returning to the country. It is possible you could be denied entry to the U.S., told you must apply for a returning resident visa, or you may even be referred to Immigration Court and/or lose your permanent resident status completely.
You should also remember to document your dates of travel as a permanent resident. If you apply for Naturalization to become a citizen of the United States using Form N-400, you must provide the specific dates you left and returned to the country during any trips you made in the three- or five-year period before filing. If you became a permanent resident as a result of marriage to a U.S. citizen, the statutory period before filing may be three years. Otherwise, the statutory period before filing is five years. You are also required to have been physically present within the United States for thirty months during that five-year period. Because of this, it is generally a good idea to spend the majority of your time as a permanent resident inside the United States.
When considering foreign travel as a permanent resident of the United States, it is important to keep these tips in mind.
My Permanent Resident card expired after I filed to renew it, and the renewal is still pending. What should I do?
If you properly filed Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, to renew the card before it expired, the card is automatically valid for two more years from the printed expiration date. This current policy is due to extreme processing delays at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As of November 2022, USCIS is taking 17.5 months to process 80% of applications to replace Permanent Resident cards.
Note, under this USCIS policy, you can still travel internationally with your expired card if you properly filed to renew as mentioned above. Bring your I-90 Receipt Notice you received from USCIS with you.
I entered the United States on a tourist visa last year and did not receive an I-94. I am now being asked for a copy of the I-94. How do I get it?
You can get a copy of your I-94 by visiting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/recent-search. On the CBP website, you can access your most recent I-94, which shows the date and location of your last entry into the United States, as well as your immigration status upon arrival. There is an additional tab labeled ‘Travel History’ on the website that will show you the date and location of all your previous recorded entries into the United States.
In order to obtain your I-94 on the CBP website, you will need the following information:
- First Legal Name
- Last Legal Name
- Birth Date
- Passport or Travel Document Number you entered with
- Your Country of Citizenship
Once you have submitted the information above, you will get a copy of your I-94, and if requested, your travel history to the United States.
I am an immigrant who arrived in the United States years ago on a tourist visa. I have never left the U.S. since then and I have never changed nor attempted to change my immigration status. I recently married a U.S. citizen. Doesn’t my marriage to a U.S. citizen automatically make me a U.S. citizen?
No. There are documents that you must first submit to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to become a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) before you can become a citizen. Several years after you become an LPR you may be eligible to apply for Naturalization, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. That process is very complicated and often takes many years. Therefore, it is best if you start the process of becoming an LPR soon after you marry your U.S. citizen spouse.
What is DACA?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) program which allows certain individuals who arrived in the United States as children without documentation to secure protection from removal (deportation), work authorization, and Advanced Parole which grants permission to leave the country temporarily without abandoning one’s status. An applicant must meet certain qualifications, including:
- Arrived in the United States before one’s 16th birthday
- Was under the age of 31 before June 15, 2012
- Possessed no lawful immigration status on or before June 15, 2012
- Have been living in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007
- Be currently enrolled in an education program, graduated and obtained a diploma from high school, obtained a general education (GED) certificate, OR
- is an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Armed Forces or U.S. Coast Guard.
Are there any factors that may disqualify me from DACA?
Yes. If you have been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor, or have been convicted of three or more misdemeanors, USCIS may deny your Application for DACA Status. Additionally, if you have left the United States at any point since August 15, 2012 without Advanced Parole, you will be determined ineligible for benefits under the DACA program.
I am currently in removal proceedings or have a Final Order of Deportation. Can I apply for DACA?
Yes, if you meet the other requirements listed above. Additionally, if you had been in removal proceedings in the past that were terminated, you also may apply for DACA Status.
Is USCIS accepting DACA Applications?
Currently, USCIS is unable to approve any new DACA Applications, due to a Federal Court injunction prohibiting Department of Homeland Security from granting DACA benefits to any new applicants. However, individuals can still submit applications to USCIS in anticipation for a resolution of the case in Federal Court. USCIS has announced they will hold on to new applications while the injunction is in effect.
I have DACA Status. Does the court injunction affect me?
Individuals who have been granted DACA Status before July 16, 2021 can continue to submit applications for renewal of their status. No policy regarding renewal requests has changed because of the court injunction. Consult your most recent I-821D (Application for DACA Status) Approval Notice or Employment Authorization Document to determine when your status expires. We recommend filing for renewal six months before the expiration of your status.
I have DACA Status. What are my next steps?
Unfortunately, under current United States law, DACA recipients are not eligible to apply for Permanent Residence or Citizenship. This means that DACA currently does not offer a pathway to permanent, legal residence within the United States. Individuals holding DACA Status who wish to obtain Permanent Residence must qualify under a different category, such as being the beneficiary of an I-130 Petition filed by a direct family member who is a United States Citizen or Permanent Resident.
I have DACA, can I travel outside the United States?
If you have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and wish to leave the country, you must ask for permission – called advanced parole. This is done filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will consider your reasons for travel and determine if you should be granted advance parole. In order to be granted advance parole, you must demonstrate that your proposed international travel is for either humanitarian, education, or employment purposes. You may not request advance parole for vacation. If your reason for travel involves an emergency or is time-sensitive (such as the death of a family member in your country of origin), you may request that USCIS expedite your Form I-131 processing on humanitarian grounds.
If you have DACA, it is very important that you do not leave the United States without obtaining advance parole as you will may lose your status and will not be allowed to return.
I am a 21-year-old male immigrant. Do I need to register with Selective Service?
If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25 and you live in the United States, you must register. The U.S. Selective Service keeps a list of men the U.S. government can compel to perform military service on behalf of the U.S. in case there is a war or other major conflict. Registration is mandatory, and it is a felony crime if you do not register. Those who do not register with the Selective Service may be prohibited from obtaining U.S. citizenship, student loans, or other immigration benefits. This applies to every male, regardless of whether you are a citizen, permanent resident, temporary resident, or even undocumented. The only exception is if you have or had nonimmigrant status such as F1 or H1B between the ages of 18 and 25, in which case you are exempt and do not need to register. You can register and find out more information about the Selective Service easily online by visiting https://sss.gov. Note, however, that if you do not have a Social Security number, you must register by mail. You can find the paper registration form on the Selective Service website or at most U.S. Post Offices.
I am a United States citizen, born in Mississippi, and want to file an I-130 Petition for my wife. How do I get my birth certificate?
Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) issues certified copies of birth certificates. There are several options for obtaining your birth certificate from MSDH. You may order a certified copy from MSDH by mailing the request form along with payment of $17 to the Vital Records office at PO Box 1700, Jackson, MS 39215-1700. English and Spanish versions of the form can be found at https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/31,1240,109,62.html. If you would like to request a certified copy of your birth certificate in person, you may visit the Vital Records office at 222 Marketridge Drive in Ridgeland, from 8:00AM to 4:00PM, Monday through Friday. Alternatively, you may call the Vital Records office at 601-206-8200. You are also able to order your birth certificate online, by using the VitalChek service. VitalChek charges the $17 MSDH fee, along with an additional service fee. You may request your birth certificate through VitalChek at https://www.vitalchek.com/order_main.aspx?eventtype=BIRTH.
What is Temporary Protected Status?
Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is an immigration status designation for individuals inside the United States from countries that have experienced severe natural disasters and/or violent political upheaval that make it unsafe for people to return home. TPS designation and review is a continuous process. The United States Department of Homeland Security regularly analyzes conditions in other countries to determine which should be eligible for TPS designation. If your country is designated for TPS, you may apply by filing Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status during a certain time. You may also file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, in order to obtain a work permit, officially referred to as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). In order to receive TPS you must usually already be in the United States on the day of the disaster or political upheaval or whatever day is determined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You cannot enter the United States to take advantage of TPS after the country has been designated for TPS. Temporary Protected Status allows you to remain in the United States for a period of up to 18 months, depending on the conditions in your home country. The Department of Homeland Security regularly renews TPS designations for countries experiencing ongoing humanitarian crises. For example, El Salvador’s continuing economic disaster relating to severe earthquakes in 2001 has afforded TPS to citizens of that country for over 20 years. There are currently about 15 countries designated for Temporary Protected Status, including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and others. For the full list of countries designated for TPS, and for more detailed information regarding the program, please visit https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status.
What is the process for a lawful permanent resident who is married to a United States citizen to apply for Naturalization?
If you are a lawful permanent resident (meaning that you have a “green card”) and you have been married to and living with a United States citizen for three or more years, you may apply for Naturalization. You must have had conditional or lawful permanent residence for at least 2 years and 9 months when you file the N-400 Application for Naturalization form. If you have conditional permanent residence, you must have filed the I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions for Residence in a timely manner in order to file the N-400 after 2 years and 9 months. And your U.S. citizen spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for the entire three years you have been living together. If your Form I-751 is pending with USCIS, you may still file the form N-400 Application for Naturalization if you have had permanent residence for the last 3 years. The I-751 Petition must be approved before the N-400 Application will be approved, but both forms can be pending at the same time. You, the lawful permanent resident, will still be required to meet the other qualifications for Naturalization, such as demonstrating good moral character and proficiency in the English language. In addition to the foregoing, the permanent resident applicant will have to submit supporting documentary evidence that you have been married to AND living together with your U.S. citizen spouse during the 3 year statutory period. Such evidence might consist of documents you may have already submitted with your I-751 Petition and such other evidence gathered since you filed the I-751 Petition.
Can more than one family member file an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative for the same Beneficiary?
Yes. In fact, it is sometimes wise for more than one family member to Petition for the same Beneficiary. For example, if a Petitioner dies before the Beneficiary is eligible to come to the U.S. or to adjust status to permanent residence in the U.S., then the I-130 Petition is automatically revoked. So, having another Petition approved or pending may still allow the Beneficiary to become a lawful permanent resident. In another case, one Petition may allow a Beneficiary to become a lawful permanent resident quicker, depending upon the family relationship between the parties.
One negative thing about more than one family member filing an I-130 Petition for the same Beneficiary is that there is a U.S. government filing fee for each Petition filed. Therefore, the filing fee of the unused I-130 Petition will be lost.
Do I have to get the COVID-19 vaccine to become a U.S. Permanent Resident?
Most likely, yes. When you file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, you must also submit a form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccine Record. The form I-693 must be completed by a USCIS “Civil Surgeon.” The form reviews your medical history as well as your vaccination records to determine if USCIS deems you medically fit to adjust status to permanent resident. The form requires you to have received certain vaccinations against communicable diseases, depending on your age.
On October 1, 2021, USCIS updated guidelines to require individuals seeking Lawful Permanent Resident status to receive a complete COVID-19 vaccine schedule at the time of examination. A complete vaccine schedule means either one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
According to USCIS, individuals who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 may be granted a waiver of the requirement only under one or more of the following exceptions:
- The vaccination is not age-appropriate;
- The vaccination may cause adverse effects due to a specific medical condition;
- The vaccination is not routinely available where the civil surgeon practices; OR
- The vaccination supply is limited and would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive the shot.
An exception will not apply to the vast majority of the applicants for permanent residence. This means you will need to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to be granted lawful permanent residence status. If you have questions regarding whether these conditions apply to you, you should reach out to the Civil Surgeon who will fill out your I-693 Medical Form. For more information regarding the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, please visit https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/covid-19-vaccination-required-for-immigration-medical-examinations. To find a Civil Surgeon near you, visit https://www.uscis.gov/tools/find-a-civil-surgeon.
Can I become a United States citizen if I have criminal convictions?
Maybe. To qualify for Naturalization, pursuant to the 3- or 5-year residency and English language requirements, you must also demonstrate you have ‘Good Moral Character,’ or GMC. USCIS looks at your entire criminal history, including expungements, and determines whether you have Good Moral Character based upon your actions during the ‘statutory period.’ The statutory period is the 3- or 5-year period immediately before the filing of your N-400. If you committed certain crimes in this period, you may be deemed ineligible for Naturalization – and you could even be deported depending on the crime. The crimes that may prevent you from having Good Moral Character are classified as ‘Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude,’ or CIMTs. There is no definitive list of CIMTs, so it may be difficult to determine if your specific conviction falls under the category of CIMTs. However, CIMTs are generally found to be crimes involving specific intent to harm another person or property. For example, assault, theft, robbery, fraud, adultery, etc. have all been found to be Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude. If you are unsure if the crime you have been convicted of is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude, it is important to consult with a licensed attorney or accredited representative who has experience representing Naturalization applicants with criminal histories.
Unfortunately, we are not able to address or publish all of the questions we receive.