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US Immigration FAQs

1. What is an Immigrant Visa Number?

U.S. law limits the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available every year. This means that even if the INS approves an immigrant visa petition for you, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately. In some cases, several years could pass between the time INS approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. In addition, U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country. This means you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas.

2. How Do I Apply for an Immigrant Visa Number?

Your relative or employer files a visa petition with the INS for you (the beneficiary) to become an immigrant. In some cases such as priority workers, investors, certain special immigrants, and diversity immigrants, the petition is filed directly by the beneficiary. INS will tell the person who filed the visa petition (the petitioner) if the visa petition is approved. INS will notify the Department of State's National Visa Center of the approval and file will be kept there until an immigrant visa number is available.

3. How Can I Find Out When an Immigrant Visa Number Will Be Available for Me?

Each approved visa petition is placed in chronological order according to the date the visa petition was filed. The date the visa petition was filed is known as your priority date. The State Department publishes a bulletin that shows the month and year of the visa petitions they are working on by country and preference category. The bulletin can be found at here.

4. I am a legal P.R. in the United States from Spain. When I saw CNN's Nation Within program on TV tonight,an officer said that an immigrant in the United States is not protected by constitution or has not constitution right.Is this true? If this is true, then it is legal to discriminate a legal immigrant. Please give me an answer.

That information is incorrect. Once inside the U.S., an immigrant is entitled to all constitutional guarantees barring some such as federal government employment, right to run for the Presidency of the U.S., etc.

5. How can an immigrant lose his or her green card?

The coveted green card (which is, however, not green) enables a foreign national to work in the United States. The right to work is not absolute, however, and a green card holder can lose the card and the corresponding employment status. Generally, there are two ways to lose a green card:

  • losing permanent residence status, and
  • becoming deportable.

Immigrants lose resident status when they abandon the United States as their permanent home. Without the support of a continuing legal resident status, the green card becomes invalid. The quickest path to deportation is conviction of a serious crime. Serious crimes include, but are not limited to, those involving:

  • moral turpitude,
  • controlled substances, and
  • prostitution.

Due to the importance of the green card, if a holder is charged with a crime, he or she should seek professional legal help immediately. Immigrants should also consult an attorney to ensure that their travel or other plans do not legally indicate an intention to abandon resident status if they do not so intend.

6. Does a Social Security card entitle the bearer to work?

If an individual can present valid work authorization and adequate identification, he or she can receive a card from the Social Security Administration. Although a Social Security card is an important employment document, it does not give the holder the right to work in and of itself. The Social Security card is not the same as permission to work. Immigrants and visa holders must have authorization from the government in order to work legally.

A Social Security card may remain active even though work authorization lapses. If an immigrant receives a Social Security number based on work authorization, the number still works for tax purposes on interest-bearing accounts and property ownership even if a visa or immigration status expires. However, the individual cannot work legally without renewing his or her employable status with the INS. If the individual intends to stay in the United States for a considerable period, he or she should consider applying for permanent status to avoid the need to continually renew temporary status.

Social Security cards issued to persons with temporary immigration work status state that they are "Valid for work only with INS authorization." Workers must maintain their immigration status in order to retain work authorization, and employers must ensure that they view proper work documentation prior to hiring any employee. Both workers and employers can benefit from legal assistance regarding work authorization rules and procedures.

7. How about the entry into the United States?

Immigrant visas are valid for 120 days for a single entry into the United States. The principal beneficiary must travel to the United States, with or without other members of the family, before the expiry of the 120-day period. At the port of entry, each immigrant visa will be taken for filing and an entry stamp placed in the immigrant's passport. The entry stamp serves as visa documentation until the intending immigrant receives a Resident Alien ("Green") Card.

8. Do I need to take finger prints?

The United States Department of State has announced that the current legal requirement that applicants for U.S. immigrant visas have their fingerprints cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation before visas can be issued will expire on April 30, 1998.

Applicants for U.S. immigrant visas who have previously been informed that they must appear at a U.S. consular office to have their fingerprints taken are advised that, as of May 1, 1998, this will not be necessary.

Immigrant visa applicants who have already given their fingerprints for clearance or who do so before May 1 must await the results of that process before further action can be taken in their cases.


This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.

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