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Immigration Advice: 4 Ways to Get from Undocumented to Naturalized

If you are living undocumented in the United States, the current political climate may have you worried about your ability to gain permanent resident status—your green card. After all, much of the rhetoric circulating as election season nears appears to press for stricter immigration control. Nonetheless, it is important to know that viable paths remain open. Below are four potential avenues to naturalization that, while not available to everyone, are well worth learning about.

Permanent Residency via Marriage to a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

A common path to legal status is marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. While this has always been possible, it is not necessarily straightforward. U.S. law requires that, if the foreign spouse entered the U.S. without inspection and remained in the U.S., they must leave the country and finish their immigration process through U.S. consulates abroad to obtain a green card. Moreover, if the non-U.S. spouse resided in the country for at least 180 days (6 months) but less than one year they could be prohibited from re-entering the U.S. for 3-years, or if they remained for more than one year, they could be prohibited from re-entering for 10-years. Fortunately, a waiver offering the immigrating spouse assurance that they will be able to return to the U.S. after a successful consular interview may be obtained if it can be proved that being barred re-entry would cause the U.S. spouse “extreme and unusual hardship”. It is vital to speak to an experienced immigration attorney to gain a deeper understanding of the details required for this waiver.

DREAMers Green Card or Permanent Residence through Employment with LIFE Act Protection

For DREAMers who have obtained a higher education, another viable path to naturalization exists. Employers of highly skilled workers may sponsor the permanent residence of an employee; however, it is important to know that if a DREAMer is protected under DACA, such person may still need the benefit of 245(i) protection though the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act. Such protection allows the applicant to circumvent the requirement that they return to their home country in order to conclude the immigration process. LIFE act protection is only available to those who have had an immigrant petition filed on their behalf or on their parent’s behalf on or before April 30, 2001. Once more, it is essential that a person who thinks they might qualify speak to an immigration attorney, as additional requirements exist.

Asylum Status

In exceptional circumstances, asylum status may provide a third pathway to naturalization in the U.S. This avenue is available to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return home. Importantly, this persecution must come from the government or from a group that the government is unwilling or unable to control. In U.S. law, persecution is clearly defined and must come on account of one of the five following categories: race, religion, nationality, association with a particular social group, or political opinion. The first step in soliciting asylum is to have a lawyer file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, along with evidence supporting the claim. Once granted asylee status, a person must wait one year before they become eligible for permanent residence.

U Visa for Victims of Crime

This special visa, created in 2000 by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, protects non-citizens who have been victims of certain crimes, and who have aided law enforcement. The purpose here is to encourage victims to assist law enforcement agents without fear of deportation. Recipients of this visa are granted legal status, employment authorization, and in some cases, a path to permanent residency. Four eligibility requirements exist:

  • The applicant must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.

  • The individual must have information concerning that criminal activity.

  • The individual must have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

  • The criminal activity in question violates U.S. laws.

Many non-profit organizations exist which work with immigrant victims of crime and can explain which criminal activities qualify for the U Visa. If you think your situation qualifies, reach out to such an organization, or consider speaking to law enforcement officials and an immigration attorney.

While the above four circumstances are the most common avenues to naturalization, they are not the only means of obtaining permanent residency. Regardless of whether you believe you qualify for one of the pathways outlined in this article, do not hesitate to contact out experienced team of attorneys. We are happy to answer any one immigration-related question, completely free of charge—just complete the brief form below, submit your question, and our immigration attorney will respond shortly!

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