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Gaining Legal Status as an Undocumented Immigrant

by Shirley Tirado
Gaining Legal Status as an Undocumented Immigrant

It can be difficult to live in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. There are high stakes involved. If you are caught, you will likely be removed (deported) from the country. A family may also be broken up, finances may be disrupted, and immigration penalties may increase. 

An undocumented immigrant’s clear goal is to become a legal permanent resident. Through these pathways, immigrants become permanent residents (green card holders) and citizens of the U.S. There are some paths available even for immigrants who do not have legal status. The options are discussed in this article.

Undocumented immigrants can obtain legal status through a variety of programs.

  1. U Visa for Victims of Crime
  2. DREAMers Green Card through Employment with LIFE Act Protection
  3. Asylum Status
  4. Green Card through Marriage to a U.S. Citizen or LPR

1. U Visa for Victims of Crime

To protect noncitizens who have been victims of certain crimes and have assisted law enforcement, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act created the U visa in 2000. By creating this law, victims are encouraged to cooperate with the police and prosecutors without fear of being deported. Some U visas can also provide a path to permanent residency in certain circumstances, as well as legal status and employment authorization.

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

A DREAMer with higher education may become a candidate for a higher-skilled job in certain circumstances. It is possible for U.S. employers to sponsor the green card of a high-skilled prospective employee under such circumstances. DREAMers may still need 245(i) protection through the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act, even if protected under DACA.

There are many cases in which employers are willing to sponsor undocumented immigrants, particularly well-educated DREAMers. Prior to filing an employment visa petition for a prospective DREAMer, the employer might be required to undergo a Labor Certification or PERM process. 

3. Asylum Status

People who have been persecuted in their home countries or who have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to those countries are eligible for asylum status in the United States. It is essential to understand that this persecution was to be done by the government or by a group that the government cannot or will not control, which is important.

4. Permanent Residence (Green Card) through Marriage to a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident

It is common for immigrants without legal status to wonder how they will be treated if they marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

In most cases, a green card can be obtained by the immediate family members of a U.S. citizen. There may even be no need for a lawyer. All others face a complicated process. However, it may be a viable option for obtaining legal status.

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