Federal immigration law dictates the rights, duties and obligations of foreigners who visit or live in the U.S. It also provides a means by which certain lawful permanent residents can become naturalized citizens with almost all of the rights of a native-born citizen. Immigration law establishes rules for the nation's borders and ports of entry, determining who may enter, how long they may stay and when they must leave.
Generally, the U.S. government classifies foreigners who enter the country as either immigrants or visitors. Upon entering the country, they receive a visa that allows them to stay in the country for a specified time. However, millions of undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. In some instances, the law allows these immigrants to adjust their status so that they may live and work in the country legally. However, those with no legal remedy risk an encounter with authorities, who may place them in removal and deportation proceedings.
GetLegal’s Immigration Law Center has information about qualifying for a visa, the process of preparing for citizenship and related topics.
Permanent visas, commonly known as “green cards,” permit people to live and work in the U.S. and ultimately may qualify them to apply for naturalized citizenship.
Non-immigrant, or temporary, visas are for tourists, students, business visitors and patients seeking medical treatment.
Becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen requires multiple steps: meeting requirements for residency and moral character, filing an application, interviewing with an immigration officer, and passing a test of U.S. history, civics and English. The process ends with an oath of allegiance to the U.S. and its Constitution.
Asylum grants protection to foreigners who left another country for fear of persecution. The applicant must present a compelling case in both a written petition and a testimony before an immigration officer.
Congress enacts the nation’s immigration laws. Several agencies within the Department of Homeland Security establish procedures and rules for enforcement.
Learn terms commonly used in immigration law.
Last update: Sept. 25, 2008