U.S. Immigration

Nonimmigrant Visas (NIVs)

There is a wide array of nonimmigrant visas available for entry into the United States. These visa categories are commonly referenced by their alphabetic indicator. Seyfarth Shaw will help you navigate the immigration process and find the most appropriate nonimmigrant visa category. Consular Visa Practice With the post-9/11 increase in security measures and resulting delays both in visa processing and at ports of entry, expert legal counsel is more imperative now than ever. Consular practices vary from location to location, and advance planning is essential. Consular processing may or may not be warranted, desirable, or possible, depending on the visa applicant's particular situation. The Department of State and other U.S. government agencies have been engaged in an extensive and ongoing review of visa-issuing practices as they relate to national security. Visa applications are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny than in the past. For most applicants, a personal appearance interview is required, and applicants may need additional screening at the time of submission of their application. Application forms have been revised, and there are new procedures for inspection and admission. In addition, there are now special visa processing procedures for applicants from designated "state sponsors of terrorism," including North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran, and Libya, as well as new requirements for registration of foreign students. We can assist companies with understanding and obtaining the numerous types of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, which do not necessarily guarantee entry into the United States, but allow the holder to appear at a U.S. port of entry to apply for admission.

Permanent Residence/Immigrant Visas (IVs) 

Becoming an immigrant and obtaining permanent residence ("green card") is a multi-step process. The initial step for obtaining employment-based permanent residence ("green card") for most people is called labor certification, a process with numerous complexities and potential pitfalls designed to protect the U.S. labor market. Labor certification, which is governed by extensive and complex regulations known as PERM (Program Electronic Review Management), requires the sponsoring employer to conduct a test of the U.S. labor market for the position it wishes to offer a foreign worker. If, after conducting appropriate recruitment activities, no willing or qualified U.S. workers are available for the position, a labor certification application may be submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor ( DOL). The regulations contain specific requirements governing the types and timing of advertisements and other recruitment that must be conducted as well as parameters regarding the wage that must be offered for the position. Once a permanent labor certification has been obtained, the sponsoring employer may request an immigrant visa on behalf of the foreign worker.

The next step in the process is for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ( USCIS) to approve an immigrant petition, which is usually filed by an employer (if based on employment) or a relative on behalf of the applicant. Some immigrant visa categories are subject to an annual quota that limits the number of individuals who can be granted lawful permanent residence in any one fiscal year (from October 1 through September 30).

Even if USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition, a visa number may not be available immediately. In some cases, given that visa availability under the annual quota is limited by country of birth and by visa preference category, several years may pass between the time the immigrant visa petition is approved and the time a visa number becomes available. If the applicant is already in the United States, he or she may apply to adjust to permanent resident status after a visa becomes available. Applicants outside the United States when an immigrant visa becomes available must go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to complete processing.

Developing an immigrant visa strategy that meets the needs of businesses and foreign workers and takes into consideration the complex web of regulatory requirements, the potential impact of agency delays and immigrant visa availability, and creatively assesses the potential immigration options available to a foreign worker is of critical importance to ensuring successful achievement of the desired immigration benefit. Seyfarth will work with your company to plan how best to leverage the immigration laws to achieve your business goals and avoid common pitfalls. Seyfarth partners are experienced in preparing labor certification applications and employment-based petitions of all types. We can help you to assess your employment needs, meet legal requirements, prepare and review necessary documentation, and establish and maintain work authorization or immigration status for your employees.

Naturalization and Citizenship

Permanent residents may apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens after the passage of a specified number of years, provided that physical residence requirements have been met. For permanent residents married to U.S. citizens, the required period is three years, as long as during the entire three-year period, the U.S. citizen spouse has been a U.S. citizen and the couple has been living together. For most other permanent residents, the required period of permanent residency is five years. Different rules apply to those seeking citizenship based on military service.

All applicants for naturalization must appear for an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), during which they will be tested on English skills and knowledge of U.S. history. In addition, an officer will closely scrutinize the application for naturalization and may question the applicant to make sure that the applicant possesses the required "good moral character." As part of an effort to redesign the naturalization exam, USCIS has begun using a pilot naturalization exam in ten cities. The new exam is designed to provide a more meaningful and uniform evaluation of an applicant's knowledge of civics and U.S. history.

Permanent residents should carefully consider applying for naturalization, taking into consideration all pitfalls in the process. Seyfarth has significant experience in both straightforward and complex naturalization cases, including appeals of adverse decisions, and will guide you through the entire naturalization process.

Family-based Immigration

Family-based immigration of spouses, relatives, and dependents involves a multi-step process. First, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves an immigrant visa petition for an alien relative, which must be accompanied by proof of the relationship. Delays are common, and petitioning relatives are encouraged to begin the process as soon as possible in order to establish the foreign national relative's place in line for an immigrant visa, even if the petition may not be decided for some time. Once an immigrant visa number is available to him or her, if the foreign national relative is already in the United States, he or she may apply to adjust status to lawful permanent resident. If the foreign national relative is outside the United States and an immigrant visa becomes available, he or she must go to a U.S. consulate servicing his or her area of residence to apply for an immigrant visa.

There are numerous requirements and potential pitfalls throughout the family-based immigration process. Seyfarth's expert counsel can help family members successfully immigrate to the United States.