Moving to the United States is a dream come true for many people in the pursuit of freedom and a better life for themselves and their children. However, being eligible to live and work in the U.S. requires proper legal documentation. The United States accepts more immigrants than any other country in the world and has been a key issue in our history both socially and economically. Today the most common countries immigrating to America are Mexico, Philippines, India, and China. Legal immigration to the U.S. has continued to be on the rise but illegal immigration has become a more prominent issue.

Illegal immigration is an ever present issue and has become a serious problem in our society and economy. According to the New York Times and the Pew Hispanic Center, it is estimated that there were 11.2 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States in 2010, with a majority, close to 60%, migrating from Mexico. While this is an astonishing amount, it does not seem to have increased much since 2009. The financial burden illegal aliens place on U.S. tax payers sums up to just over 100 billion dollars a year. In addition, it is suggested that illegal aliens make up roughly 5% of the workforce in America today, taking viable jobs away from legal U.S. citizens in an already difficult economy. Despite the constant efforts to remedy the immigration problem we are faced with today, it remains an problem and hot topic in our society.

Understanding the laws governing residing and working in the United States is a necessity for any non-U.S. citizen in order to avoid legal action or deportation. There are several ways in which you may be allowed to live and work in the U.S. Visas and green cards allow you to visit and live and work in the United States legally. Green cards allow for an individual to reside permanently in the U.S. until such a time as they may apply to become a legal citizen. For a better understanding of these options let’s take a look at each in a bit more detail.


A visa allows for an individual to enter the United States for an extended period of time, or an amount of time longer than a passport for a regular holiday may provide. However this time period is limited and typically only lasts for a few months. There are several types of visas depending upon the situation and circumstances of the individual, such as student visas, work or business visas, or tourist visas. With a visa you may visit any city in the U.S., but you must leave U.S. territory once it expires. In addition to the type, student, work, etc., visas are broken down into two further categories, immigration and non-immigration. Immigration visas allow for an individual to apply for a green card upon expiration of their visa, where as non-immigration visa requires that the individual return to their own country once they have completed the reason for their visit or their card has expired.

Green Card

A green card is a form of identification issued to an individual that is not yet a U.S. citizen but who wishes to reside permanently in America. Typically, green cards are more difficult to obtain, a green card may be obtained through employers, family members residing in the United States, or through the Green Card Lottery, which allows for 55,000 random individuals each year to acquire a green card. A green card provides for a non-U.S. citizen to live and work permanently in the United States for ten years. After a certain amount of time a green card holder is eligible to apply for full citizenship or to petition for their spouse and children to receive a green card as well. Green card holders are afforded the same conveniences as U.S. citizens, like social security benefits or reduced education fees, but they must be renewed when necessary in order to retain these benefits and avoid deportation.

Citizenship- Naturalization

There are 9 ways in which to become a citizen of the United States, but the most common method for an adult is through the process of naturalization. There are several steps involved in becoming a citizen through naturalization, and there are certain requirements that must be met before citizenship may be granted. In addition, each individual applying for citizenship is thoroughly reviewed and approved on a case by case basis. First, you must be at least 18 years of age and have your green card. You must have lived as a permanent resident for 5 years and have been physically present a minimum of 30 months of those 5 years. You must show that you have the proper moral character required of any American citizen. This is based on both the time you’ve already lived in America and the time before arriving here; in addition you are required to disclose your criminal history even if it may damage your moral character. You must demonstrate that you agree with the principals of the U.S. constitution and be able to read, write and speak English. You must pass an exam known as the naturalization exam, which assesses your knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of American history, government and society. Once all these steps have been completed, you must take the Oath of Allegiance before officially being granted U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship through Birth, Adoption or Parents:

Citizenship is granted to any child born in the United States, despite the citizenship status of the mother. The only exception is for those children born to foreign diplomats. Children may also become citizens if they are adopted by citizens of the U.S., however the child must acquire a green card and undergo naturalization. In addition, children born to a parent that is a U.S. citizen are granted citizenship. In order for this to be applicable, one parent may be foreign and the other a U.S. citizen, this mostly applies to those individuals born outside of the United States.

Reclaiming Lost Citizenship

Former citizens may reclaim their citizenship if, they were born before 1934 to a mother that was a citizen and were denied citizenship due to requirements of the law during that time. They may also reclaim citizenship if they lost citizenship upon entry into the armed forces of foreign countries during the Second World War. In addition, those individuals who lost citizenship due to a marriage to a foreigner that was unable to under go naturalization, may reclaim citizenship. However, this only applies to those who lost citizenship before September 22, 1992. Finally, those persons who lost their citizenship due to their inability to meet the retention requirements of the law, may be able to reclaim lost citizenship under certain circumstances. In the case of adults who lost citizenship because of retention laws, citizenship must have been lost because of the laws in place before 1978.

Posthumous Citizenship

Citizenship is granted to foreigner who died while actively serving the armed forces of the United States, particularly those who died during World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam. However this still applies today to any other hostile military situations.

Doctrine of Constructive Retention

Citizenship may be granted to those persons who were unaware of having citizenship through parents or a parent who was a U.S. citizen. This applies to individuals born and raised outside of the United States and were unable to fulfill the residency requirements before their 18th birthday, or if a person would have resided in the United States if they had been aware of their citizenship may be excused of the residency requirements for becoming a citizen. This is known as constructive retention, meaning that had the individual known they were a citizen of the United States, they would have lived in the U.S., but were unable to fulfill the requirements for residency because they were not aware of the fact that they were eligible to be citizens. There are stipulations however, these individuals must have been born to a parent or parents who were citizens of the United States at the time of their birth, and who had lived or claimed residency in the United States for a period of time before the birth of the individual.

Doctrine of Double Constructive Retention

Those individuals who were born to a parent or parents who obtained citizenship through the afore mentioned doctrine of constructive retention and/or whose grandparents are or were citizens of the United States, may be able to claim citizenship under the doctrine of double constructive retention.

Certificates of Consular Registration of Birth

Any person born outside of the United States may become a citizen if their parents were citizens at the time of birth and had registered the birth with the United States consulate. However, this is only valid if registration with the consulate was made within five years of birth.

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