Monday 29th April 2013 | Pretorius Law

As an immigration attorney I handle cases for individuals from all parts of the world wanting to enter the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Some individuals seek to establish a business in the U.S. while other individuals seek professional worker visas or seek any lawful means by which to enter the U.S. to be reunited with family.

In order for each individual to understand their specific visa options there are basic immigration fundamentals that each individuals needs to understand. My goal herein is to start building that immigration foundation so that you can begin to understand how to develop an immigration strategy suitable to your long-term goals.

Over the next several weeks I will discuss several immigration fundamentals before focusing specifically on certain visa options.

Immigration Fundamental #1: Non-Immigrant v. Immigrant Visas

Understanding this basic distinction is an important part of creating a realistic goal-oriented immigration strategy whether the ultimate goal is to become a U.S. Citizenship or merely gain a temporary non-immigrant working visas.

Non-Immigrant visas are intended to be temporary in nature, allowing an individual to live in the U.S. and engage in very specific work activities. For example, an individual who qualifies for a visa, such as an E-2 or L-1 visa, will be allowed to enter the U.S. for a specific one, two, or three year period of stay (dependent on the visa type) to develop and direct or work as an employee with a specific enterprise. These non-immigrant visas do not allow an individual to enter and engage in just any type of employment, but instead directly ties the individual to the petitioning company. If you work outside of these visa bounds you are not only jeopardizing your lawful status in the U.S. but you may be accumulating unlawful presence that can lead to significant problems such as three or ten year bars to re-entry or application for a new visa at a later time. Additionally, any failure to maintain valid visa status may put your end goals of a Green Card or citizenship at great risk.

An immigrant visa on the other hand, more typically knows as a Green Card, is a visa granting permanent residency to an individual. Although Green Cards are also issued for set periods of time, normally ten years, individuals with Green Cards are allowed to engage in any type of employment (except jobs with the federal government). Additionally, extensions of Green Cards are relatively much easier to obtain as long as residency requirements are met and other disqualifying issues, such as criminal convictions of certain types, do not arise.

Immigration Fundamental #2: Planning

As most individuals initially enter the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa and then move to a Green Card followed potentially by Citizenship, it is extremely important to ensure you understand all options and potential paths to reach your ultimate goal. This is where planning with an immigration professional becomes critically important. To ensure the smoothest path you need to initially get on the most suitable non-immigrant visa and know what employment or family based Green Card classification you hope to qualify in down the road.

More Immigration fundamentals will follow in the next article. Thereafter we will consider the specific non-immigrant and immigrant visa options that exist so that you can begin understanding what paths you and your family may have to enter the U.S.

Hendrik PretoriusThis is one of a series of articles from Immigration Attorney Hendrik Pretorius, focusing on the U.S. immigration options and processes available to those interested in entering the U.S.

Hendrik Pretorius is an immigration attorney based in San Francisco, California who is an ex-pat from South Africa. Hendrik focuses on helping non-U.S. citizen business owners, professionals, and those in the arts enter the U.S. as well as helping to re-unite families in the U.S.