FAQs (U.S. Immigration)

How the United States Immigration System Works?

U.S. immigration law is complex, and there is much confusion as to how it works. Immigration law in the United States has been built upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.

Once a person obtains an immigrant visa and comes to the United States, they become a lawful permanent resident (LPR). In some circumstances, noncitizens already inside the United States can obtain LPR status through a process known as “adjustment of status.” Lawful permanent residents are foreign nationals who are permitted to work and live lawfully and permanently in the United States. LPRs are eligible to apply for nearly all jobs (i.e., jobs not legitimately restricted to U.S. citizens) and can remain in the country permanently, even if they are unemployed.

How can I become a U.S. citizen?

You may become a U.S. citizen (1) by birth or (2) through naturalization. Generally, people are born U.S. citizens if they are born in the United States or if they are born to U.S. citizens. Normally you were a U.S. citizen at birth.

  1. If you were born in the U.S.. Normally you were a citizen at birth[1] (Including, in most cases, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and after November 4, 1986, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands),
  2. If you were born abroad to TWO U.S. citizens: And at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in his or her life, then in most cases you are a U.S. citizen.
  3. If you were born abroad to ONE U.S. citizen:

In most cases, you are a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:

  • One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
  • Your citizen parent lived at least 5 years in the United States before you were born; and
  • At least 2 of those 5 years in the United States were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday[2].

Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a passport to have your citizenship recognized. If you need additional proof of your citizenship, you may file an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship”

[1] The exception is persons who were born not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, such as children of foreign diplomats.

[2] If you were born before November 14, 1986, you are a citizen if your U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for at least 10 years and 5 of those years in the United States were after your citizen parent’s 14th birthday

When does my time as a Permanent Resident begin?

Your time as a Permanent Resident begins on the date you were granted permanent resident status. This date is on your Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Card or “Green Card”). The sample cards on this page show where you can find important information such as the date your Permanent Residence began.

If I have been convicted of a crime but my record has been expunged, do I need to write that on my application or tell a USCIS officer?

Yes. You should always be honest with U.S.C.I.S. about all:

  • Arrests (even if you were not charged or convicted);
  • Convictions (even if your record was cleared or expunged);
  • Crimes you have committed for which you were not arrested or convicted; and
  • Any countervailing evidence, or evidence in your favor concerning the circumstances of your arrests, and/or convictions or offenses that you would like U.S.C.I.S. to consider.

Even if you have committed a minor crime, U.S.C.I.S. may deny your application if you do not tell the U.S.C.I.S. officer about the incident. Note that unless a traffic incident was alcohol or drug related, you do not need to submit documentation for traffic fines and incidents that did not involve an actual arrest if the only penalty was a fine less than $500 and/or points on your driver’s license.

If my Permanent Resident Card expires while I am applying for naturalization, do I still need to apply for a new card?

If you apply for naturalization 6 months or more before the expiration date on your Permanent Resident Card (formerly known as an Alien Registration Card or “Green Card”), you do not have to apply for a new card. However, you may apply for a renewal card if you wish

If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U.S. citizen?

A child who is born in the United States, or born abroad to a U.S. citizen(s) who lived in (or came to) the United States for the required period of time prior to the child’s birth, is generally considered a U.S. citizen at birth.

A child who is:

  • born to a U.S. citizen who did not live in (or come to) the United States for the required period of time prior to the child’s birth, or
  • born to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent or two alien parents who naturalize after the child’s birth, or
  • Adopted (stepchildren cannot derive or acquire citizenship through their stepparents)
  • and is permanently residing in the United States can become a U.S. citizen by action of law on the date on which all of the following requirements have been met:
  • The child was lawfully admitted for permanent residence; and
  • Either parent was a United States citizen by birth or naturalization; and
  • The child was still under 18 years of age; and
  • The child was not married; and
  • The child was the parent’s legitimate child or was legitimated by the parent before the child’s 16th birthday (children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday do not derive United States citizenship through their father); and
  • If adopted, the child met the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and has had a full and final adoption; and
  • The child was residing in the United States in the legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent (this includes joint custody); and
  • The child was residing in the United States in the physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

If you and your child meet all of these requirements, you may obtain a U.S. passport for the child as evidence of citizenship. If the child needs further evidence of citizenship, you may submit an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship