Immigration law is the combination of laws, rules and regulations that govern who can enter a country. Immigration and naturalization are two different things. Immigration governs who can come and go from a country. Naturalization controls who can become a citizen. However, they’re interrelated topics. Attorneys who practice immigration law usually have a practice that encompasses both immigration and naturalization.
Where Do Immigration Laws Come From?
In the United States, immigration laws exist on a national level. The U.S. President has significant control over U.S. immigration policy. Federal courts interpret immigration law.
There are international agreements about immigration too. For example, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has been in force since 1976. It says that citizens and legal residents have the right to travel internationally. They’re free to leave their home country, and their country must accept them when they return.
What Things Do Immigration Laws Cover?
Immigration laws control what people need to do in order to enter and leave the United States. That means inspections at common entry points including airports and roads at border crossings. Immigration laws might create requirements for travel documents like passports and visas. Customs officials generally have a right to inspect your belongs and even detain you for questioning when you enter the United States.
United States Immigration Law is an Important Part of U.S. Policy
19 percent of the world’s immigrants live in the United States. The 47 million immigrants living in the United States represent approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population. U.S. immigration laws have changed significantly in recent years.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended a system of ethnic quotas in favor of limits per country. George H.W. Bush’s Immigration Act of 1990 increased legal immigration by 40 percent. Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to approximately three million illegal immigrants. About one million people become U.S. citizens each year.
Paths to Immigration
A person coming to the United States needs official permission to enter the country. The document that gives permission is called a visa. The United States divides visas into categories based on the purpose of the visit and the length of the person’s stay. For very short stays that aren’t for business purposes, a traveler may not need a visa. Most visas that people use to come to the United States are family visas and employment visas.
- Family visas – U.S. citizens can petition to bring certain family members to the United States. With some limitations, citizens can typically petition to bring their spouse, parents, siblings and children. Lawful permanent residents can petition to bring their spouse and children. There are a number of forms that you may need to use for a family-based immigration petition.
- Employment visas – The majority of other visas to the United States are employment visas. There are several different categories including categories for priority workers, skilled workers and investors. An employer needs to file paperwork as well. There are special categories to be aware of. For example, Afghan and Iraqi nationals that have worked on behalf of the United States government can receive a visa in this category in certain situations.
Practicing Immigration Law
A lot of practicing immigration law involves helping a client identify a type of visa that allows them to lawfully enter the United States. If they might be eligible for multiple types of visas, you might need to help them choose among alternatives. You might work on behalf of an individual or on behalf of an employer who wants to bring a worker into the United States.
Once you help a client identify the correct visa, you help them process their application. You help them prepare for anything that can cause their application to fail. For example, you may need to prepare them for an interview. If they need to submit character and fitness documentation, you can help them prepare materials that are going to help them make their case.
Immigration lawyers also defend individuals who face deportation proceedings. Individuals facing deportation orders may have a hearing in front of an immigration law judge. They might depend on an immigration lawyer to help them make their case. Immigration lawyers often practice a combination of advisory law and litigation.
Who Practices Immigration Law?
Immigration lawyers work in private practice, public interest and for the government. A lawyer can establish a private practice that focuses on immigration cases. Clients pay a reasonable fee in exchange for representation. In addition, there are non-profit organizations that exist to help individuals with immigration. These organizations employ lawyers to help clients complete paperwork and navigate the immigration process.
Finally, immigration lawyers work on behalf of the U.S. government. They enforce immigration laws. They might review applications, appear in court or assist with the development of laws and policies for immigration.
Why Become an Immigration Lawyer?
Lawyers may have varying motivations for practicing immigration law. Immigration law can be a stable and financially rewarding legal career. With the U.S. immigration system impacting millions of people each year in critically important ways, there are many people who need the help of an immigration lawyer. While immigration lawyers exist throughout the United States, they tend to gravitate towards large cities and entry points to the country.
Another reason to practice immigration law is to use a diverse skill set. Lawyers who are fluent in multiple languages can find that immigration law is a good way to use their foreign language skills as well as their legal skills. Immigration lawyers often interact with people from other cultures. They have a tremendous impact on the lives of the people they work with. You can make a career out of helping others reach their immigration goals.
Navigating Immigration Laws
Immigration lawyers work in private practice, non-profit organizations and for the U.S. government. They help clients complete the requirements to lawfully enter the United States temporarily or permanently. Immigration laws are complex. People who want to enter the United States lawfully depend on skilled immigration attorneys to help them understand and comply with the many requirements.