Our immigration system is set up to grant immigration status based on three primary categories: Family based immigration (make these links), Employment based immigration, (link) and Humanitarian based immigration (link), which covers refugees and asylum seekers. The procedure for gaining legal immigrant status will depend upon, among other factors, which path you are eligible to pursue based on your employment, education, and family situation.
Family Based Immigration
You can seek immigrant status if you are eligible for lawful permanent residence and have a relative that is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident that is willing to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative on your behalf. The Petition must be filed by your relative, and must be approved before you can adjust your status to that of lawful permanent resident. Be mindful of the fact that there are different categories of relatives, some of which are given preference over others, and some relatives are not eligible to file a Petition on your behalf.
Employment Based Immigration
You can also seek immigrant status based on a permanent employment opportunity. You must be eligible under one of the five categories of employment-based immigration recognized under U.S. law, and your employer must be willing to file an immigrant visa petition (usually Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker) on your behalf, which the government must approve. Your employer will also be required to complete and submit a labor certification request to the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
This category also includes Capital Investment immigrant visas, which are relatively rare. You may be eligible for immigrant status if you make a qualifying capital investment in the United States, provided that the investment meets a certain threshold dollar amount, benefits the U.S. economy, and creates or saves a specific number of jobs.
Humanitarian Based Immigration
Humanitarian based immigrant status is available for persons seeking asylum or refuge in the United States. You may eligible for refugee or asylee status if you have suffered past (or are in fear of future) persecution on the basis of your race, religion, nationality, political view, or membership in a certain group. If you are found eligible for refugee/asylee status, you must then satisfy certain medical and security criteria in order to be eligible for entry into the U.S.