Immigrating to the U.S. can be arduous journey - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Immigrants to the U.S. face red tape, paperwork

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(RNN) - Congress is currently debating a way of giving millions of undocumented immigrants a route to citizenship, the first revamp of the system in decades.

A bill currently being studied by the Senate would chart a 13-year path to citizenship, paved with $2,000 in fines, fees, and income and employment requirements, according to the Associated Press.

Critics are panning the measure as being too prohibitive for lower-income immigrants, while Republican critics of the bill want to boost background checks of immigrants in the wake of the Boston bombings.

The immigration system as currently constructed devours time, patience, reams of paperwork, and depends in many cases on the immigrants' family or employment ties.

Permanent residents

Lawful permanent residents earn a permanent resident card, more popularly known as a green card.

Permanent residency gives immigrants the rights to live and work in the U.S., while being protected by its laws, in exchange for obeying the laws, filing taxes and supporting (and not overthrowing) the government, according to U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services.

In most jurisdictions, permanent residents do not have the right to vote.

Those with family members already in the U.S. can immigrate if the relative in the U.S. agrees to sponsor and prove he or she has enough income or assets for support.

The U.S.-based relative must file a petition to the USCIS, and in most cases, must demonstrate an adequate income or assets to support the immigrant, and accept legal responsibility by completing an affidavit of support. Once this is complete, the intending immigrant will be able to apply for the immigrant visa.

After the petition is approved, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) to be given a case number.

For family-preference immigrant visa cases, when an applicant's priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, the NVC will send the choice of address and agent form to the applicant, if an attorney or agent will be used.

Fees and medical examinations

NVC will process the applicant's case by giving the applicant instructions to submit the appropriate fees, which can be expensive.

Fees are assessed for filing forms, obtaining a mandated medical examination and required vaccinations, translations, photocopying, obtaining needed documents and expenses for travel to the U.S. embassy or consulate, as needed.

All the fees add up. For instance, the fee to file the immigrant petition for an alien relative - the I-130 form - is $420, and the processing fee for an immediate relative and family preference application is $230. It costs $720 to file an orphan immediate relative petition.

However, fees can be waived. For instance, there are no application processing fees for certain Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa applications.

Once the fees are paid, the NVC will request the necessary immigrant visa documents, including the affidavit of support, application forms, civil documents and more.

When the file contains all the required documents, the NVC schedules a visa interview appointment.

Applicants bring their valid passports, as well as any other documentation needed, to their visa interviews. During the interview process, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken for background checks.

Medical exams

Before a visa can be issued, the applicant, no matter their age or country of origin, must undergo a medical examination that must be performed by an authorized physician.

The exam, which scans immigrants for medical conditions relevant to U.S. immigration law, includes a medical history review, physical examination, chest X-ray and blood tests for syphilis.

According to the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, immigrants are required to have vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, influenza, influenza type b, measles, meningococcal, mumps, pneumococcal, pertussis, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and varicella.

Types of visas

Immigrants can apply for one of two groups of family-based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories.

Immediate relative immigrant visas are based on a close family relationship with a U.S. citizen.

Spouses, unmarried children younger than 21, an adopted child and a parent of a U.S. citizen at least 21 years old can apply as immediate relatives.

There is no limit each year on the number of immediate relative immigrants.

More distant relatives of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident must compete for a family preference immigrant visa. A limited number of these are distributed each year.

Whenever the number of qualified applicants for a category exceeds the available immigrant visas, particularly in categories with many approved petitions, immigrants and their families must wait, sometimes for years.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins cannot sponsor relatives for immigration.

In addition to family visas, foreign nationals can obtain visas through a prospective employer, or through a diversity visa lottery, available to citizens of those nations who have few who immigrate to the U.S.

Others who immigrate to the U.S. may have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

These people may seek asylum or refugee status, and in some cases, may have to file for permanent resident status within one year of entering the U.S.

Intercountry adoptions

Thousands of U.S. families adopt children from overseas.

Adopted children from other countries must first obtain a U.S. visa before traveling or moving to the U.S. Two distinct intercountry adoption processes are available: the Hague Convention process and the non-Hague Convention process, depending on whether the other country involved is also a party to the Hague Convention.

Adoptive parents submit forms and documents to USCIS, and children adopted abroad must be interviewed for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate before moving to the U.S. The time required for the paperwork and interview depends on the child's country of origin.

Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, children adopted abroad are automatically granted citizenship if at least one of the child's parents is a U.S. citizen, the child is younger than 18, the U.S. citizen has custody of the child, the child is admitted as an immigrant for permanent residence and the adoption is final.

Parents must file a form with USCIS to receive a child's certificate of citizenship.

Ineligible

Certain conditions and activities may make people ineligible for a visa. Examples of these ineligibilities include drug trafficking, overstaying a previous visa and submitting fraudulent documents. Ineligible immigrants will be informed by the consular officer and advised on their options.

Citizenship

Once someone spends enough time in the U.S. as a permanent resident - five years (or three years if married to a citizen) - the immigrant can apply to become a naturalized citizen.

Among the requirements, prospective citizens must be at least 18 years old, demonstrate competency in English and civics and be of good moral character.

As with the permanent residency application, there's at least one form to fill out, with supporting documentation, two passport-sized photos and applicable fees.

Once the form is accepted, the prospective citizen must go to a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting and a criminal background check by the FBI.

A naturalization interview is then scheduled, where the English and civics tests will be administered. An interviewer will also ask any questions they may still have about the application and supporting documents.

If applicants fail the English or civics portion of the test, the person has one more chance to pass. Only the failed portion of the test is readministered.

Once the tests are passed, the Oath of Allegiance is administered. Immigrants then turn in their green cards and receive certificates of naturalization.

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