How to legally stay in the United States? Visa, Residency, and Citizenship

If you are a short-term tourist (90 days) from one of the visa exempt countries or Visa Waiver Program countries (please go to, in order to see those countries and the specific conditions), the USA now opens the wide door for you without any vexatious and cumbersome paperworks and application process.

However, there are many cases (study, business, immigration, etc.) that you must meet to obtain a proper visa. In this article, we will introduce you some feasible ways that will make you legally stay in the United States.

First is to obtain a proper visa to travel, enter, and remain the United States.

There are many different types of visas, and they are represented by the acronym alphabets from A to V (but be noted that these acronyms do not necessarily represent the nature of the visas as in the case of R-Visa (religion). This article will focus on the most widely using visas including immigration, working, and studying visas.

Non-immigrant visa
A couple of non-immigrant visas that are widely issued can be introduced as follows:

  • Visiting (B Visa)
    In the majority of of cases, visitors from one of the visa exempt countries or Visa Waiver Program countries do not need to hold this visiting visa. However, if you want to plan a tong-term stay, it will be necessary for you to discuss with travel agencies or relevant institutions in order to make sure that your situation will necessitate you to obtain this visa. If you have major or minor crime history, or if you have visited certain countries (Middle East or North Africa), or if you have illegally stayed in the United States (therefore have been deported), it is likely to obtain the proper B Visa. In addition to these cases, if you have been rejected to enter the United States for some reasons previously, you might need to retry to enter with this visiting visa.
  • Studying (F Visa)
    If you want to study in the United States (from the short-term ESL course to the long-term degree program) as a foreign student enrolled at accredited US institutions, you need to obtain this F Visa under the premise that you will be a full-time student in your institution. Not all F Visa applicants can obtain this visa easily without any problems. There are wide varieties of reasons and situations that would reject issuing of this visa or prevent your entering at immigration. However, if you can present a proper admission from your institution, it is highly likely to obtain this student visa (but be noted that the current socio-political situation of the US demands applicants and students to be prepared strictly in order to obtain F Visa timely. F-2 is the visa given to dependents of F(F-1) Visa student.
  • Exchange Visitor Program Visa (J Visa)
    J visa is issued to participants of work-and study-based exchange visitor programs administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The widely issued exchange visa categories are exchange student/professor, researcher, intern, trainee, etc. Spouses and dependents of J-1 visa holders are issued J-2 visa. As in the case of student visa, it is anticipated that the policy on this visa will also be conservative in issuing.
  • Working Visa (H Visa)
    H Visas are issued to temporary workers in the United States. In the majority of cases, three years of the valid term are given in first issuing, and the additional three can be followed after the first three years. During the period of these six years, it is available for you to apply to the permanent residency (H-1B). H-4 visa is given to dependents of H visa holders, but H-4 visa holders do not allow to legally work in the United States. Even though this visa is a non-immigrant visa, it is one of the few temporary visa categories recognized to have legal immigration intent, that is to apply for and obtain the permanent residency. Besides this H visa, there are the diverse types of visas that will enable you to legally work in the United States, for example, I (media and broadcasting), P (sports and entertainment), O (foreigners “who possesses extraordinary ability” in certain fields), R (religion), etc.
  • Treaty Trader (E-1 visa) and Treaty Investor (E-2 visa) visa
    (It is widely known that E visas are the immigrant visas that will make you legally live in the United States, but please be noted that the actual immigrant visas must be differentiated) E visas are issued to individuals working in businesses engaged in substantial international trade or to investors (and their employees) who have made a 'substantial investment' in a business in the United States. E visas must not be treated as the immigrant visas, but they will allow you to obtain the permanent residency eventually due to the nature of the visa.
  • Others
    There are other types of visas issued to high/special officials, crewmen, etc

Immigrant visas
Immigrant visas are issued to provide a method for eligible immigrant investors or applicants who can demonstrate their extraordinary ability in certain fields (e.g. science, art, education, sports, etc.) to become lawful permanent residents. In order to obtain these visas, petition to immigration must be approved by Department of Homeland Security. Due to the nature of these immigrant visas, you can obtain the residency and therefore legally stay in the United States after the completion of the process.

  • EB-1/2 Visa
    This visa is issued to applicants who can demonstrate their extraordinary ability in certain fields.
  • EB-5 Visa
    This is the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, which is widely known as “immigrant visa.” This visa provides a method for eligible immigrant investors to become lawful permanent residents. However, if you want to be an eligible investor, it is necessary to carefully examine the socio-economic situation and consult with experts.

Second is to obtain the permanent residency under the legal and proper circumstance.

In order to obtain this residency, the first step to take is to apply to the United States lawful permanent residency program as an eligible individual or institution. The possibilities and cases can be categorized as follows:

  • Family relationships (marriage and immediate family)
    Marriage (with US citizen or permanent resident) probably is the quickest way to obtain the permanent residency, even if the situation can be varied. Another way to obtain the permanent residency is to apply to process for family-sponsored visa for immediate family (that is, parents and children). The situation and priority to obtain the permanent residency vary. Parents and children of citizen take priority, whereas siblings usually are placed on lengthy waiting li.
  • Second is to obtain the immigrant visas as it is mentioned in the previous section.
    Applicants those who can present the consistent tax paying history (and no significant criminal history or violation of the law) for a certain period of time are eligible to apply to the permanent residency. The situation and waiting period vary (from six month to many years) depends on the background of applicants (education, tax paying history, and financial transparency, etc.).
  • As it is explained above,
    applicants who finished the immigrant visa process are able to enter the United States with the permanent residency.

Finally, permanent residents are eligible to apply to the citizenship five years after their residency status.

In the case of entering the military, one can apply to the citizenship immediately after joining the army. The situation (for example, the result of the naturalization test) can be varied, it is therefore necessary to be prepared by studying various cases and examples. In the majority of cases, permanent residents can apply to the citizenship with the stable legal status, but in order to obtain the citizenship timely, applicants must be ready for the naturalization process in advance.

In summary,

Although there are the clear guidelines to obtain the legal and proper US visa, permanent residency, and the citizenship, there is no concrete case or example that one can follow. Almost every situation is “case by case,” it is necessary to be well prepared to carefully meet the requirements by assistant of relevant institutions and experts. For example, if you plan to study English for one year in a private institution, or if you are admitted to a graduate study program with a strong funding, or if you want to pursue the permanent residency after your BA study and working visa status, all of these cases need to be treated and prepared differently. Therefore, it is very important for applicants to be prepared to fulfill the “guidelines” and to discuss with experts prior to application process.

UPDATE: 11-08-2017

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