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4 Categories of Immigrants

As the destination of choice for a large number of immigrants, the United States operates a complex system of immigration designations and categories. Classification of foreigners is dictated by federal laws and regulations. The Department of State as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are tasked with defining rules under these categories, which results in a classification system that expands to more than 30 types of visas and various other statuses.

It’s easiest to understand the immigrant categories by listing them in the order that makes deportation and removal less likely. The four categories mentioned below were set by the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 and its various amendments.

For more detailed information and advice about U.S. citizenship and immigration services, San Diego residents should consult experienced legal professionals.

1. American Citizens

The legal doctrine of birthright citizenship makes all individuals born in the U.S. or its territories natural-born citizens. This doctrine extends to children born to American citizens who are tasked with military or diplomatic duties overseas. There’s also the category of naturalized citizens, who are former legal residents who went through the process of naturalization and took an oath of citizenship. Citizens cannot be deported, removed, or expelled from the country, and they shouldn’t be prohibited from entering the country as long as they carry valid passports. During the Trump administration, there have been cases of U.S. citizens wrongfully deported or denied entry, but these cases have been corrected through administrative action or court proceedings.

2. Legal Residents of the U.S.

This is a large category of foreign-born individuals who qualify to become conditional or permanent residents. People in the latter category are the ones who obtain green cards, while those in the former are allowed to remain in the country and work as long as they intend to become permanent residents at a later point. Family reunification is a major driver of permanent residency in the U.S., but there are also those individuals selected through the diversity visa program, refugees who enjoy temporary protected status, people who intend to marry U.S. citizens, Iraqi and Afghan citizens who served alongside American soldiers during the War on Terror, and asylum recipients. While U.S. residents enjoy certain protections under the law, they can be deported and removed through various processes.

3. Non-Immigrants

As the name indicates, these are foreigners who enter the U.S. with a purpose other than permanently residing or making a living here. This category is even larger than the previous two because it includes tourists and temporary workers. Non-immigrants can only remain in the country until their visas expire, but in some cases, they may qualify to adjust their statuses to immigrants seeking residency. The only legal protection individuals within this category enjoy is related to the periods during which their visas are valid.

4. Undocumented Migrants

These are foreigners who are staying in the U.S. without valid status, and they include many who were lawfully admitted but ended up overstaying their visas. In fact, having legally entered through a port of entry and been determined to be admissible can be a legal protection against deportation. Undocumented migrants who enter the U.S. illegally have very limited protections unless they can apply for asylum. 

If you’re not sure which category you fall into or you need advice on any aspect of immigration law, reach out to the caring, experienced San Diego immigration attorneys at KS Visa Law. From green cards to family immigration to naturalization, we can address all your immigration-related needs. Call us today at 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.

May 2024