How to Immigrate to the USA?

25 mins read

How to immigrate to the USA? Before you start your immigration process, you’ll need to understand what the process includes. To immigrate legally to the United States, you must meet specific requirements. That can be difficult and expensive, so it’s important to know what is waiting for you ahead of. In this step-by-step instruction, we’ll walk you through the steps on how to immigrate to the USA.

So, how to turn the dream of relocation to the USA into reality? There are many ways to reach this goal, so let’s start. 

Immigration Options

There are lots of immigration options available. Most visas require someone else (like an employer or your family member in the U.S.) to apply on your behalf. Some visas allow you to apply for yourself. 

There are two main types of visas:

  • U.S. Permanent Residence
  • U.S. Temporary Visa 

Let’s take a look at some of the visa options available, but first, it is important to know the important difference between a Visa (Nonimmigrant Visa) and a Green Card (Immigrant Visa).

Immigrant vs. Nonimmigrant Visas

The main difference between a visa and a green card is how long you want to stay in the U.S. 

With a nonimmigrant visa, your stay is temporary. One of the things you need to prove to the border worker before you enter with a nonimmigrant visa is you’re not planning to abandon your home country. Nonimmigrant (temporary) visas also generally have an opportunity to prolong. Some can only be renewed for a limited period, and some can be extended indefinitely. 

A green card, on the other hand, means a permanent stay. Unlike a nonimmigrant visa, you may stay and work in the U.S. and obtain citizenship with a Green Card. The number of green cards available depends on your country of origin. Remember that even being the owner of the temporary (nonimmigrant) visa, you can prolong it. And this can be your way of obtaining US citizenship.

Now let’s take a closer look at the most common types of U.S. work visas for immigration.

U.S. Permanent Residence Options

To receive U.S. Permanent residence, you need to obtain one type of green card. Once received, your Green Card will be valid for ten years.

Types of U.S. Green Cards

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

Family-based Green Cards

Most green cards are received by the family members of current U.S. citizens and Green Card holders.

U.S. citizens can sponsor:

  • Their spouse 
  • Married or unmarried children (on the H4 visa)
  • Siblings (if the sponsor is 21 years old)
  • Parents (if the sponsor is 21 years old).

Employment-based Green Cards

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

The first four categories (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4) focus on the knowledge 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 show your extraordinary skills or specialized training.

EB-1: for people with extraordinary abilities (demonstrated through national or international honor), academic researchers, and executives with multinational companies.

EB-2: for individuals with advanced degrees; exceptional knowledge in the sciences, arts, or business.

EB-3: for workers with extraordinary skills with at least two years of training or work experience; experts (those whose job requires a US college bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent); other workers (that require less than two years of experience).

EB-4: for “special immigrants” such as military translators, religious workers, and the employees of international organizations.

The EB-5 green card has a small difference: it can be received by investors who spend between $500,000 and $1 million creating jobs in American society. 

Humanitarian Green Cards

Green cards are also received by refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, abuse, and crime. 

Diversity Lottery Green Cards

Winning the US Green Card Lottery is probably the most awesome and, with a bit of luck, one of the easiest ways into the USA.

The Green Card Lottery (official name is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or DV Lottery) is the annual draw of 55,000 permanent residence permits (Green Cards) issued by the US government. Individuals who meet the requirements can apply for free of charge directly with the US State Department.

However, the application process is complex, and the rules of the Green Card Lottery slightly change from year to year.

Longtime-resident Green Cards

Green cards can be issued to people who have physically lived in the United States, either lawfully or unlawfully, since January 1, 1972, and have not left the country since arriving.

Other Green Cards

The U.S. government offers many other types of green cards, including ones for “special immigrants” such as religious workers, media experts, Afghanistan and Iraq nationals who have assisted the U.S. government, and employees of international organizations.

Here you can check the directory of the Visa categories for all types.

Immigrant Visas Cost

The total cost of applying for employment-based Green Cards depends on the category under which you’re applying. You can pay $1,225 for your green card application. Check out the costs here. The fees are not refundable.

15 New York City Immigration Lawyers

How to Apply for an Immigrant Visa

The application process will vary on where you currently live:

  • Living in the USA: If you live in the United States, you’ll often apply and are processed in the country. It is called Adjustment of Status (AOS)
  • Living outside the USA: If you’re currently outside the United States, you have to apply from your home country and remain there while your local U.S. embassy processes it. It is called consular processing.

Typically green card application process will follow the following steps:

  • STEP 1: Find out if you fit the requirements.

If you fit the requirements, file Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS, including all additional documents and paid fees.

The application process differs for other types of green cards, such as the diversity lottery, humanitarian, and longtime-residence green cards. More information you can find on the USCIS website.

  • STEP 2: USCIS will check and hopefully approve your application. If this is done, you will fill in your actual green card application, using Form I-485 to apply from inside the United States or Form DS-260 to apply outside the United States. For family-based green cards, your sponsor also has to fulfill Form I-864, guaranteeing to support you financially.
  • STEP 3: If you’re applying from inside the United States, USCIS will review your petition and inform you of the details for an interview to take your biometrics. If you’re applying from outside the United States, your petition will be reviewed by your local consulate, and you’ll get your biometrics taken as part of your consular appointment. In both cases, you’ll also need to pass a medical exam as part of the process.
  • STEP 4: After the appointment, you’ll be informed whether your petition has been approved. If you applied from inside the United States, your green card would be sent to you. If you applied via consular processing, your passport would be returned with a visa inside; once you arrive, your green card will be sent to your U.S. address.

U.S. Temporary Visa Options

While the job market in the U.S. is under pressure, foreigners are still finding great opportunities to move and work in the U.S.

Here are some of the most common U.S. visa applications:

Employment-based Immigration

Even not having the Green Card Lottery or relatives on-site, immigration to the USA is possible. People who have a contract with a US company have a right to employment-based immigration. With higher education, the chances of being employed by a US company increase.

Work visas are for individuals looking to find a job in the United States for a certain period. Most often, a potential employer files a petition for hie employee to apply for a visa. Here are the most common types of nonimmigrant (temporary) work visas:

H Visas

H-1B visas are for people in special professions or academic fields who have a college degree or higher education. These visas allow you to stay in the USA for three years.

Eligibility:

  • A job offer from a U.S. employer for a role that requires special skills
  • Proof of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in that area
  • Your employer must prove that there is a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for this position.

H-2A and H-2B visas are for seasonal or peak load, temporary workers in an agriculture (H-2A) or non-agricultural (H-2B) field. Generally, it’s not more than a year.

H-3 visas are for those looking for training in any organization except graduate medical school or training or training to meet the needs of those who require special skills. This classification is for individuals who want training within the United States but want to find their work outside of the U.S.

I Visas

I visas are available for any media expert of the foreign press, including journalists, reporters, film crews, editors, and similar occupations, representing foreign media outlets. For most, this is an indefinite visa as long as the holder is engaged in this position for the same company.

L Visas

L Visas are for those who are temporarily relocating within a company at which they already work, either at the executive/management level (L-1A) or through specialized expertise (L-1B). An L-1A visa is three-year-long. L-1B is active for only one year.

O Visas

O visas are for those with extraordinary and exceptional skills or achievements. O visas can also be obtained to those who travel with a person of exceptional ability or a family member. It has many advantages: an annual quota does not limit the O visa, and you can apply many times. Also, the O-1 Visa holders benefit from having a right to work despite the J-1 Visa two-year foreign residency requirement; more benefits of the O visas read here

How Much Does It Cost To Apply For An O-1 Visa?

Although the O-1 sets a high standard with its requirements, it’s easier to get than you might think. In general, O visas can be received by individuals who demonstrate outstanding skills in their field. The vital requirement of obtaining it is the availability of publications. But if some of your achievements were not presented to the public, they can be changed. Check out the PRnews service. It includes an impressive catalog of reliable media outlets, where you may contact directly with journalists, who will estimate your achievements and post articles about them.

P Visas

These visas are for those who are the best in performance, athletic, or artistic endeavors and the people who accompany these extraordinary individuals. It usually has event-based durations.

R Visas

R visas may be received by non-immigrant religious workers who are members of a religious denomination that holds official non-profit status in the U.S. 

TN NAFTA

This visa was created for Canadian and Mexican citizens to apply for temporary entry into the United States to be involved in different business activities under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Family-based immigration

Family of US citizens or Green Card holders are also eligible for permanent stay in the United States. Family-based immigration is split into two categories, which depend on the degree of family ties.

The right to live permanently in the US is allowed to the following people: (future) spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of US citizens or Green Card holders. They will get their permanent residence visas without waiting times.

The second group includes siblings and children over 21 years of age of US citizens or Green Card holders. They usually have long waiting times.

Immigration via Investment

People in business are always welcome in the United States. The amount of the minimum capital required differs between $900,000 and $1,800,000, depending on the state. Immigration via investment is particularly interesting for self-employed individuals who have enough assets.

How to Apply for a Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Visa

The process of applying for a visa will depend on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Follow the specific instructions for the country that you live in.

In general, you will need:

Check the Status of a Visa Application

To check on the status of your U.S. Visa application:

To Sum Up: how to immigrate to the USA

You don’t have to look for how to move to the USA anymore. All types of visas were described in this guide. Whatever the visa type may be, make sure you begin your application process in advance. Different waiting times apply for each type of visa, and you would want to make sure you get in line as soon as possible.

FAQ: How to immigrate to the USA

📍 How to immigrate to the USA legally?

There are many legal ways to immigrate to the USA and receive a visa or a residency card. It can be split into six groups:

  • Family-based Immigration Visas. The largest group to immigrate to the U.S. comes with family-based visas. U.S. citizens and legal residents can invite foreign spouses or fiancees, as well as unmarried children. They may also apply for siblings 21 or older and parents.
  • Work Visas. Another way to move is to get a work visa. Employers can sponsor a foreign worker with special abilities if they can’t find qualified experts in the U.S. There are many types of work visas. Some are for a short period of time or long-term visas. H1B visas are common in Silicon Valley, where there is high demand for IT experts.
  • Student Visa. There are two kinds of student visas. An F visa allows to receive the academic studies or language training programs in the U.S. An M visa is for non-academic or vocational studies. 
  • Visa Lottery. One of the more easy ways of moving to the U.S. is through the Diversity Visa Lottery program. Every year, the government randomly gives out 50,000 visas to people who live in countries with low immigration numbers to the U.S.
  • Investors. Foreign people in business who invest at least $500,000 in the US business and create at least five full-time jobs are eligible for an immigrant investor visa.
  • Asylum . People may also show up at a U.S. port of entry and seek asylum if they can prove they have been or could be persecuted in their country. Everyone who is looking for the same protections from outside the U.S. is considered a refugee. Anyone who is illegally in the United States can get asylum protection.

📍 How to immigrate to the USA without a job offer?

If the option of immigrating with a job is not available for you, you must consider different visa options. Some work visas do not need a job offer and a sponsor in the United States:

  • In EB-1A, visa fits for those who have exceptional and extraordinary knowledge in sciences, education, arts, business, or athletics; and for multinational managers and executives. 
  • An EB-5 visa, which is called an investor visa, fits well for business people who can invest at least $500,00. 
  • Get the DV lottery.
  • Find a close relative who has a US residence.

📍 How to immigrate to the USA from Mexico?

The most likely way to obtain a Green Card is through a job offer in the US. Immigrant work visas contain the EB-1 and EB-2 visas and help receive a Green Card soon after entry. Non-immigrant work visas are temporary and contain the H-1B, L-1, O-1, E-1, and TN. As Mexico is a member of NAFTA, the TN visa is available for Mexican immigrants. If an immigrant comes to the US under a non-immigrant work visa and wants to become a permanent resident, they may change their classification and apply for an immigrant work visa while in the US.  Also, there are many non-profitable organizations, which may help you to immigrate to the USA. e.g. MALDEF, CHCI, UNIDOS US… 

📍 How to immigrate to the USA from Canada?

Canadian citizens are also included in the NAFTA agreement, which means some special conditions. As you will see, Canadian citizens have a beneficial status in terms of entering the United States for business and non-business reasons. Canadian citizens may apply for:

  • TN Visa (Trade NAFTA)
  • L-1 Intracompany Transfer Visa
  • TN Visa v. H-1B Visa
  • B-1 Business Visitor
  • E-1 Visa & E-2 Visa

📍 How long does it take to move to the USA?

The waiting time is different and varies on the type of visa you apply for. The most short period is a month for a temporary visa with premium options.  And if you’re applying for a Marriage Green Card, you can get your permanent visa within 10 to 17 months (if you’re married to a U.S. citizen) and in 23 to 38 months (if you’re married to a Green Card holder). 

📍 How to immigrate to Israel from the USA?

For those wishing to move to Israel, there are four different types of visas:

  • Immigration visa: For people of Jewish faith looking to immigrate to Israel, you can apply based on the Law of Return, and visa regulations for Israel require you to pass an exam with an aliya representative.
  • Student visa: Many students find religious studies or international programs choosing to move to Israel. To attend universities and courses in Israel, you must apply for a student visa.
  • Clergy Visa: Required for those who want to immigrate to Israel to fulfill clerical duties in religious communities.
  • Work visa: If you want to immigrate to Israel for work, you must receive a signed contract with your employer first.
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Daria Nartya

Hi! My name is Daria. I’m a content-manager, SMM, English, Ukrainian, Russian translator, have a master's degree in Finances, but I can't do somersaults. My copywriting goal is to help businesses get their message across to the audience and receive the most out of it. Feel free to contact me: [email protected]

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