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Immigration and Work

Work and residency are within your reach

Establishing residency and gaining permission to work can seem overwhelming and complicated. The stakes are high for your family and your income. The attorneys and consultants in our network can help clarify your options and set you on a path to a new life.

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Common questions

What is a green card?
A "green card" is the U.S. government-issued card that allows for permanent residency in the United States. The original color of the card was green, but has since changed. Its official name is permanent residence card. Most green cards are valid for 10 years and must be renewed. The two most common ways to obtain a green card are through family and a job.
Who is eligible for a green card?
It depends on what type of green card you are applying for. For family-based green cards, a U.S. citizen or a green card holder can petition for a family member for an immigration visa.

A U.S. citizen may petition for:

• spouse,
• unmarried children under the age of 21,
• parents (the U.S. citizen petitioners must be 21 or older),
• unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21,
• married children of any age, and
• brothers and sisters (the U.S. citizen petitioners must be 21 or older).

Certain permanent residents are also able to file for their alien relatives. To promote family unity, immigration law allows permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) to petition for certain eligible relatives to come and live permanently in the United States.

A green card holder may petition for:

• spouse, and
• unmarried children of any age.

Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate under these categories each year, so there is generally a waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available. If your family relationship qualifies you as an eligible relative of a U.S. permanent resident, then you are in what is called a "family preference category."

For employment-based green cards, there are five preference categories. Of all the people applying for immigration, these people have a higher preference for selection. They include:

1. Individuals of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business and athletics;
2. Professionals with advanced degrees and exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences and business;
3. Skilled workers and professionals holding at least a bachelor's degree;
4. Religious workers; and
5. Investors looking to create jobs in the U.S.

Because obtaining an employment-based green card can be a long process, employers often file for a work visa first.
What kinds of temporary work visas are available?
People often think that getting a visa to work in the United States is impossible. But that's not the case. When it comes to work visas, what's important is the job, occupation or sponsorship. In general, the most common types of visas for temporary work include:

H visas. For certain qualified temporary workers and trainees;
L visas. For employees of international companies being transferred to the U.S.
E visas. For certain types of investors or business people.
O, P visas. For those of extraordinary ability in sciences, the arts, education, business as well as athletes and entertainers.
R visas. For religious workers.
TN visas. For professionals from Canada or Mexico.

These visas allow the holder to bring their spouse and children.

Because of the scrutiny of nonimmigrant visas, it's essential to understand the limits, conditions and restrictions of each one to have a better chance of success and approval of your visa application.
How do I get a work visa?
The process for obtaining a work visa varies by the type of visa. The most common type of work visa is the H1-B visa, which allows foreign workers to come temporarily to the U.S. to work for a U.S. company. The process to get an H1-B visa generally includes the following steps (there are a limited number of H1-B visas available each year and because demand for these visas is more than what is available, petitions are usually selected by a lottery system):

1. For those in certain occupations, the U.S. company files a Labor Condition Application (Form ETA-9035) with the state department of labor or employment agency;
2. The state department of labor reviews the application and certifies it is necessary to hire the foreign worker;
3. Certain applicants need to submit a Temporary Labor Certification Application
4. The company files the approved form along with a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) and any required supplements with the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service) service center in the region where the job will be located;
5. The USCIS service center staff reviews the application to make sure the job offer and position qualify, and if they do, sends you an approval notice.
6. You file the approval notice along with an Application for Nonimmigrant Visa (Form DS-156) with the U.S. Consulate in your country;
7. A consular officer reviews your application and if all the requirements are met, stamps the H1-B visa in your passport.
How is disability determined?
The Social Security Administration has a five-step review process for determining disability in adults. It includes:

1. The applicant's current work activity;
2. The severity of the impairment(s);
3. Whether the impairment automatically qualifies as a disability (more information on qualifying impairments can be found on the Social Security Administration's website);
4. Ability to do past work; and
5. Ability to do other work based on age, education and work experience.
Who is eligible for disability benefits and how soon do they start?
The Social Security disability insurance program has three categories of individuals who qualify for benefits. They include:

1. A disabled worker below full retirement age who is insured under Social Security;
2. An individual disabled since childhood (before age 22) who is also a) a dependent of a worker eligible for disability benefits; b) a dependent of a worker eligible for retirement benefits; or c) a dependent of a deceased parent who was insured under Social Security while they were alive.
3. A widow or widower over age 62, or who is caring for a deceased spouse's disabled child, or child under age 16, whose spouse was insured under Social Security while they were alive.

Once approved, disability benefits for workers usually start 5 months after the onset of the disability.

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Helpful Information

Obtaining Permanent Residency in the U.S.

A green card holder can live in the U.S. indefinitely, work, enlist in the armed forces, or start a business. The only things a green card will not provide are the right to vote, receive government benefits, and protection from deportation. However you obtain your green card, it's the first step to becoming an American citizen. Read full article

Becoming American: Understanding Legal and Illegal Immigration

The United States is one hot destination. Whether the lure is Hollywood, the Statue of Liberty or the world's highest standard of living, people pour over American borders every day, searching for a better life. To do either legally requires a visa or other documentation, issued by the United States Department of State. If someone comes to the United States without proper documentation, or stays after his or her visa is expired, that person is breaking the law. Read full article

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Immigration Reform and What It Means for Immigrants Now

A striking deviation in U.S. immigration policy occurred recently, creating an interesting debate over the hot-button issue of immigration. President Obama's Deferred Action program might drastically modify current legislation already in place in some states, effectively pitting federal might against the rights of individual states. Read full article

"I was pleasantly surprised with the details and amount of time my consulting law firm spent with me. It was so super helpful and made it clear to me that I really ought to use the service to reduce stress and streamline the green card process."

- Emily H., Atlanta, GA

Immigration and Work–Apply for a Green Card, Work Visa, or Disability Benefits

If you need help with matters involving immigration and work, LegalZoom has the resources you need. LegalZoom offers services that will allow you to get a green card or work visa, or apply for disability benefits. When you apply for a green card through LegalZoom, you will receive a free evaluation from an immigration professional who will evaluate your situation. If you decide to proceed, an attorney will handle your filing for a reasonable fee. Applying for disability benefits can be a long and complicated process, but LegalZoom can help make the process a little less confusing. The process begins by answering a few questions. A representative from our participating provider will call to setup your free SSDI benefits evaluation. If your case is accepted, our participating provider will handle all required paperwork. When you apply for a work visa through LegalZoom, you will receive a consultation with an immigration professional to discuss the proper visa classification and a realistic assessment of the likelihood of success of your application and how long it could take to get a work visa. The evaluation is free and if you decide to proceed, an attorney will handle your filing for an affordable fee. LegalZoom offers access to the immigration help you need to make your transition to the U.S. a little easier. The process of applying for disability benefits is also simplified when you choose LegalZoom.