Approved Step-By-Step Guide To The U.S. Immigration Process For 2023

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Work visas comprise a large portion of the almost 200 different types of visas in the U.S . Generally speaking, they allow a foreign national to enter and work in the United States either permanently or for a specific period of time. They might come in the form of a printed document, a passport stamp or sticker, or an electronic record.

If you want to work in the US, this post is just for you. However, before packing your bags and buying your plane ticket, you must first know a few things.

A work visa is distinct from a work permit, which is a legal document endorsing an individual who’s already in the US to work without restriction. A work permit does not grant a person permission to enter the US, whereas a work visa does.

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Congratulations on deciding to immigrate to the United States!

Before you begin your immigration journey, you’ll need to understand what the process involves. To permanently move to the United States you must meet certain requirements, pay government fees, and have your application approved by the U.S. government. That can be complicated and expensive, so it’s important to know what lies ahead.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll walk you through the entire U.S. immigration process, and answer questions including:

Immigration can seem complicated, but Boundless is here to help. We turn all the government forms required for your green card application into simple questions you can answer online within 2 hours. Afterward, we run your application through 4 separate quality checks to ensure the highest accuracy before it’s filed.

To immigrate to the United States means to relocate permanently by obtaining a green card (officially known as an “immigrant visa” or “lawful permanent residence”). A green card allows unrestricted employment and can be renewed indefinitely. It also provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

Not everyone is eligible for a green card, and applying for one can be expensive and time-consuming. Many people instead use temporary visas to visit, work, or study in the United States. Such visas (officially called “nonimmigrant visas”) are often renewable and good for multiple visits, which might allow you to live in the United States for several years.

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This guide focuses on the options for permanent immigration. Remember, though, that many people start out on temporary visas (such as F-1 or J-1 student visas) before going on to gain green cards. If you don’t currently qualify for an immigrant visa, think about whether a temporary visa might help you achieve your goals. Boundless + RapidVisa can help you complete your student or exchange visa application, prepare for your visa interview, and answer any immigration questions you may have. Learn more about what we do to help.

Are you ready to immigrate? Find out if you’re eligible for a marriage-based green card or a family-based green card, or learn more about how Boundless can help you navigate the immigration process.

To immigrate to the United States, you’ll need to figure out which type of green card you’re eligible for. You’ll likely only be able to immigrate if you qualify for one of the following.

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  • Family-based green cards
  • Employment-based green cards
  • Humanitarian green cards
  • Diversity lottery green cards
  • Longtime-resident green cards
  • Other green cards

This guide focuses on family and employment-based green cards since those are the options used by most immigrants. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Family-based green cards

Most green cards are issued to the family members of current U.S. citizens and green card holders. Eligible family members include spouses, widows/widowers, children, parents, and siblings, but the rules vary depending on whether the sponsor is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, and also on how closely related the immigrant is to the sponsor. You can read more about the requirements for a family-based green card below.

  • Employment-based green cards

Many immigrants come to the United States using employment-based green cards, which are issued in five different categories based on the skills or other benefits you bring to the country.

The first four categories — called EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, and EB-4 — focus on the skills you bring as an employee. In some cases you’ll need a U.S. employer to sponsor your application; in others, you’ll have to demonstrate extraordinary abilities or specialized training. You can read more about these requirements below.

The EB-5 green card is a little different: it’s issued to investors who spend between $500,000 and $1 million creating jobs in American communities. The details vary depending on your home country, so seek legal and financial advice if it’s a route you want to explore.

An employment-based green card shouldn’t be confused with a work permit (officially called an “Employment Authorization Document”), which is a separate document granting marriage-based green card applicants the right to work in the United States.

  • Humanitarian green cards

Green cards are sometimes issued to refugees and asylees, as well as to victims of human trafficking, abuse, and crime. Getting a visa as a member of one of these groups can be complicated, so speak to a lawyer if you think you might be eligible. Our introductory guide to green cards has more details about humanitarian visas.

  • Diversity lottery green cards

The United States runs a “green card lottery” that randomly awards immigrant visas for up to 50,000 people each year. Only applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States are eligible to apply. Check the Boundless guide to the diversity lottery for more information.

  • Longtime-resident green cards

Green cards can be issued to individuals who have physically lived in the United States, either lawfully or unlawfully, since January 1, 1972. They must have entered the United States before that date and not have left the United States since arriving.

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  • Other green cards

The U.S. government issues many other types of green cards, including ones for “special immigrants” such as media professionals, religious workers, Afghanistan and Iraq nationals who have assisted the U.S. government, and employees of international organizations. In some situations, green cards are also available to Cuban citizens and American Indians born in Canada.

Boundless offers unlimited support from our team of immigration experts, so you can apply with confidence and focus on what’s important, your life in the U.S

For most green card applications, you’ll need to pass:

  1. background check, for which you may have to submit police reports from places where you’ve previously lived and answer questions about past convictions.
  2. medical exam, during which you’ll be asked questions about your mental health, use of drugs and alcohol, and history of communicable diseases.

You’ll also have requirements based on the specific visa for which you’re applying. Let’s take a look at the requirements for family-based and employment-based green cards:

  • Family-based green cards

The main requirement for a family-based green card is that you be closely related to a green card holder or permanent resident.

The total cost of applying for a family-based green card is approximately $1760 for an applicant living in the United States or around $1400 for an applicant living abroad. This includes mandatory U.S. government fees, which are nonrefundable, plus the typical cost of the required medical examination.

The total cost of applying for an employment-based green card varies depending on the category under which you’re applying. You can expect to pay $1225 for your green card application, but your employer could face additional filing fees and labor certification costs, potentially driving the total cost to around $10,000.

In either case, your filing fees are nonrefundable, so it’s important to get your application right the first time.

The application process you’ll follow will depend on where you currently live:

  • Living in the United States: If you’re already in the United States, you’ll often be able to file your application and remain in the country while it’s being processed. This is called Adjustment of Status (AOS)
  • Living outside the United States: If you’re currently outside the United States, you’ll usually file your green card application from your home country, and remain there while it’s processed by your local U.S. embassy or consulate. This is called consular processing.

Congratulations on becoming a green card holder! After all the hard work, you are now free to live and work wherever you like across the United States. You also have a clear pathway to eventual U.S. citizenship.

Your physical green card will be mailed to the U.S. address you put on your application. This can take up to 3 months, but you are allowed to remain in the United States and to work for U.S. employers in the meantime.

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