How Can People Come to the US From Another Country Legally

Many people dream of coming to the United States. Some come to see Washington, D.C., or New York City, while others hope to build a prosperous life here. No matter why they arrive on our shores, each must follow a clear legal process to stay here.

Applying for a Visa

The US Department of State requires visas to enter our country unless you are staying for less than 90 days and are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.

Travelers who need a visa can apply for one of the following through their embassy or consulate before their trip:

  • Student visa
  • FiancĂ© visa
  • Tourist/Business visa
  • Immigrant Visa to pursue permanent residency
  • Transit visa

Most travelers will need a passport in addition to their visa, although there are a few exceptions to that rule outlined within the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Moving From an Immigrant Visa to a Green Card

Anyone who wants to become a permanent resident of the United States must apply for a Permanent Resident Card, commonly called a Green Card. This usually occurs after they hold a family-based or employment-based visa, although the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides some Green Cards to refugees, human trafficking victims, and other special cases.

If eligible, the prospective US resident must apply to USCIS with an application and filing fee, which varies from $750 to $1225, depending on the age of the applicant. The fee is waived for refugees.

USCIS will review the application, then invite the applicant for an interview. If approved, the Permanent Resident Card is valid for ten years.

Becoming a US Citizen

Once a permanent resident lives in the United States for five years, three if married to a US citizen, they can apply for citizenship. They must undergo an additional interview and background checks, as well as US History and English tests, conducted by USCIS. If approved, they attend a Naturalization Ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance.

From there, new US citizens may enjoy all the rights and responsibilities we are granted in our country. From voting to free speech to the freedom of religion, each one is cherished by those who arrive on our shores and choose to become citizens.