Immigration FAQs

Get the Immigration Answers You Need

Obtaining immigration benefits is often a lengthy, complicated, and confusing process.  The attorneys at the Caribbean Law Group are experienced in helping their clients obtain immigration benefits.  We have helped people navigate immigration law in connection with asylum, employment sponsored immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, family based immigrant petitions including: naturalization, green cards, fiancée visas, and have represented individuals in Immigration Court.

How can I become a United States Citizen?

An individual must first become a Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) before he/she can become a United States Citizen (“USC”). “LPR” is the legal term for individuals holding a green card. People with green cards have the right to live and work in the United States, to travel freely within the United States, and to travel outside of the country and return. Generally, you must wait 5 years after becoming an LPR to apply for citizenship, although exceptions do apply in limited circumstances. For example, if you obtained your green card through a bona fide marriage to a USC, you may apply for naturalization 3 years after the green card was obtained. There are four primary ways in which an individual can obtain LPR status: (1) family based immigration, (2) employment based immigration, (3) a refugee or asylum application, and (4) the diversity lottery.


I am a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Can I file an immigrant visa petition on behalf of any family members? What is the process?

United States citizens can apply to the government for an immigration benefit for their immediate family members including children, spouses, parents, and siblings. Lawful permanent residents can file an immigrant visa petition on behalf of their spouses, children (minor), and unmarried sons and daughters. If you file a petition for your spouse, the government will schedule a joint interview for both of you before approving the visa petition in order to determine whether the marriage is a bona fide marriage.


I am an abused spouse and my spouse is either a Lawful Permanent Resident or United States Citizen. Do I have any immigration rights if I flee from the abusive situation?

Yes. Battered spouses may be eligible to apply for immigrant visas and obtain their own employment authorization. A battered spouse who has been ordered to be removed from the United States by an immigration judge or by the United States government may be able to remain in the U.S. and receive work authorization. Additionally, a battered spouse who received his green card based on marriage to a United States Citizen is eligible to apply for naturalization or citizenship in three years, regardless of whether the battered spouse remains married to the abusive spouse. There is also an immigration benefit available to other victims of physical and mental abuse.


What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?

The difference between an asylee and a refugee depends upon the location of the applicant. If the applicant is located outside the United States, he files an application for refugee status. If the applicant is inside the United States, he files an application for asylum. Regardless of where the individual is located, he must demonstrate to the United States government that he is unable or unwilling to return to his home country because the home country is unable or unwilling to protect him. The individual must have a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. All factors may provide a basis for asylum or refugee status.


Are United States non-citizens eligible for public benefits such as unemployment compensation, food stamps, cash assistance and access to public health clinics?

LPRs, refugees and other qualified aliens are eligible for food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment compensation. There are many eligibility rules for public benefits based on a person’s immigration status and their financial situation. In Pennsylvania LPRs may be eligible for Medicaid and unemployment compensation. Certain disabled immigrants and LPRs are eligible for food stamps. Other individuals may be eligible for limited medical assistance benefits in an emergency situation. Long term federal benefits following a disaster are available to qualified aliens. Unrestricted federal emergency services are available for victims of disaster areas regardless of their immigration status.


Is the right to marry dependent upon the immigration status of an individual?

No. As a general matter, the right to marry is a federal constitutional right regardless of an individual's immigration status. The states are not allowed to place any restrictions on the right to marry. Note that it is unlawful for a court clerk in Pennsylvania to require a marriage applicant to present a passport and valid visa before issuing a marriage license. Judges have ruled that the state cannot deny a marriage license to an individual on the basis of immigration status.


What is Temporary Protected Status and who is eligible for it?

Temporary Protected Status, known as "TPS," is a temporary immigration status granted to eligible nationals of designated countries. The Attorney General may grant TPS to individuals in the U.S. who are temporarily unable to return to their home country because of armed conflict, an environmental disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. During the period in which a country has been designated for TPS, beneficiaries may remain in the United States and obtain work authorization. TPS, however, does not lead to LPR status. Once the TPS designation of a country is terminated, beneficiaries revert to the same immigration status they maintained before TPS, (unless that status had since expired or been terminated), or to any other status they may have acquired while registered for TPS. Accordingly, if someone had unlawful status prior to receiving TPS and did not obtain any status during the TPS designation, that person will revert back to unlawful status upon the termination of that TPS designation.

The following countries are currently designated for TPS: Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan.


Is there a humanitarian benefit available to non-citizens seeking to enter the United States?

In extremely limited situations Humanitarian Parole allows non United States Citizens (USC) to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis for urgent humanitarian reasons. Someone entering the country under these circumstances is not considered to have been "admitted" to the United States. When the circumstances necessitating the parole are served, the non USC shall be treated as any other non USC seeking admission to the United States.


What must I do to maintain my immigration status?

You must comply with all requirements of your immigrant or non-immigrant status. Failure to comply could result in a revocation of status and removal from the United States. Non-immigrants and immigrants must comply with all of the United States laws. Possible immigration related consequences for criminal convictions include detention, removal (deportation), and future inadmissibility to the United States.


My student visa is about to expire due to graduation. How can I lawfully remain in the United States and continue my training/employment in my field?

Depending upon your particular circumstances, you may be eligible for a J visa, OPT, or other type of non-immigrant visa. J visas allow foreign students to remain in the United States for the purpose of continuing their education and training for approximately two additional years. Temporary employment for Optional Practical Training ("OPT") is available to students in the following situations: (1) during school vacation, (2) part-time employment during the school semester, or (3) after completion of a course of study. You may be eligible for other non-immigrant visas depending upon your level of education, field of study, and employment offers.


What is the difference between non-immigrant and immigrant visas?

The difference between a non-immigrant and immigrant visa is based on the intent of the visa holder ("beneficiary"), and the duration of time that the beneficiary is allowed to remain in the United States. Depending upon the specific non-immigrant visa, a beneficiary has the right to live and work in the United States. Employment, however, is often restricted to an identified job for an identified employer, and for a specific amount of time. As a result, a change in employment requires a new petition. Generally, non-immigrant visas are tied to specific employment or educational circumstances.


I do not have work authorization. Should I pay income taxes? How do I pay taxes without a Social Security number?

Regardless of whether or not you are working lawfully in the United States, you should pay income tax on all income that you earn. This is especially important if you intend to apply one day for an immigration benefit since the government requires evidence that applicants have paid income taxes prior to obtaining a green card. Individuals who lack a Social Security number can apply for a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) through the Internal Revenue Service, and use this number to pay taxes on any income earned.


I have heard discussion about an "amnesty" that is available to illegal immigrants. What does amnesty mean, and am I eligible for it?

The word "amnesty" is often used by the media to describe an expired provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In 2000, Congress and the President revived section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. They signed into law a provision which allowed individuals who were otherwise ineligible to adjust their status, (i.e., to apply for a green card), so long as they were either the beneficiary of a visa petition or a labor certification filed by April 30, 2001. During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden expressed support for reinstituting this provision of law. If and when section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is revived, we will advise clients and educate the community of the legal development and its associated requirements.


I entered the United States on a temporary visa and overstayed the date stamped on my I-94. What is my status?

If you overstayed the date on your I-94 card, you are considered to be unlawfully present in the United States. If you are working, you are working without valid employment authorization. People who are unlawfully present in the United States for a period of time between 6 months and 1 year, and who voluntarily depart the United States, are inadmissible to return for 3 years following the date of departure. An individual who has been unlawfully present in the United States for 1 year or more will not be able to return to the United States for 10 years following departure.


What should I do if I get picked up by immigration and put into detention and removal proceedings?

The most important thing you can do is to send a photocopy of the charging documents you receive from ICE to a trustworthy friend or family member. Your friend of family member should contact an attorney as soon as possible to provide you with an accurate assessment of your chances based on all applicable laws. The applicable laws might include violation of immigration and/or criminal laws. The charging document states the reasons why the US governments believe someone is subject to removal from the United States.


I received a notice to appear in immigration court. What does this mean? What will happen if I do not appear at the time and date indicated on the notice?

If you receive a notice to appear in Immigration Court, the government has most likely initiated removal (deportation) proceedings against you. In addition to the date and time that you are scheduled to appear, the notice should also set forth the provision(s) of law pursuant to which the government seeks to have you removed. A possible consequence of failing to appear for a scheduled hearing is that unbeknownst to you, the court could issue an order for your removal. If you are ordered to be removed and you fail to depart the United States by the specified date on the final removal notice, you may be fined and/or imprisoned, and be inadmissible to return to the United States at a later date.


What does it mean if I file a petition for an immigration benefit, and then I receive a letter requesting additional information?

A letter from the government requesting additional information indicates that the government has questions which were not answered by the information provided in your complete visa petition or application. Depending upon the information you subsequently provide to the government in response to their request for additional information, your petition may or may not be approved.


My employer asked me to complete an I-9 form. What is this and why must I complete it?

Form I-9 verifies the identity and lawful employment authorization of the individual worker. I-9 verification is required for all hired workers, and the employer has a responsibility to comply with I-9 requirements. Failure to comply with I-9 requirements may result in civil and criminal charges, penalties and possible imprisonment. The I-9 Employment Verification process cannot be used to rule out potential employees, and an employer's obligation to comply with I-9 requirements does not begin until a worker is hired for employment. Employers are required to maintain I-9 records for three years after the date of hire, or one year after the date employment ends, whichever is later.


If I am an undocumented alien, am I eligible for worker's compensation benefits?

Yes. An undocumented alien who is injured while working in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is entitled to payment of all medical bills by his employer, or the employer's insurance carrier. The worker may also be entitled to lost wages. However, the length of time that benefits are payable is contingent upon the extent of the injury, and the worker's ability to return to work. If you are an undocumented worker and are concerned about workers' compensation benefits, you should consult one of our workers' compensation attorneys for information relating to your rights.


Do I need an attorney to apply for an immigration benefit?

While there is no rule requiring an individual to obtain a lawyer to assist in the pursuit of immigration benefits, it is a wise decision to hire one for several reasons. Immigration law comes from Congress, and the United States Departments of: Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, and State, and the Court system. The Lawyers at the Caribbean Law Group remain apprised of the most recent legal developments. We are always ready to provide our clients with the most up-to-date information. Lastly, note that there are many well intentioned non-lawyers engaged in the unauthorized and illegal practice of immigration law. Unlike lawyers, unlicensed practitioners are not required to zealously represent clients to the best of their ability, and are not required to remain up to date with the most recent and critical developments in the law. Non-profit organizations are available to assist low income people with their immigration matters.


How does my lawyer get paid?

Unlike most other areas of law, immigration attorneys typically charge a flat fee for their services. This means that you and your attorney will agree to a legal fee that will be clearly stated in a signed retainer agreement before any work is started on your case. While unexpected complications may require additional legal fees as your case progresses, you will always know the cost before your lawyer begins any work on your matter. Lawyers at the Caribbean Law Group understand the financial constraints that clients face and we are willing to negotiate payment plans which can be incorporated into the retainer agreement.

Many immigration applications and petitions have associated costs. These costs, known as "filing fees," are established by the United States government and are not part of your legal fee. Clients are required to pay all filing fees prior to any actual filing.