Since the inception of the United States as an independent nation, New York has been the national hub for immigration. There is evidence of this intent inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Accordingly, people from all around the world arrive in New York City (NYC) on a daily basis seeking to immigrate to the U.S. This creates a significant demand for immigration attorney services. So, it goes without saying that navigating the landscape of immigration lawyers in NYC can be a challenging endeavor. However, the following information may be helpful when finding the right immigration lawyer to suit your immigration needs.
Immigration Attorney Services Offered
Immigration lawyers perform a wide range of services relating to many different types of legal issues. Some examples of these services may include assistance with obtaining visas and work authorizations, family-based immigration petitions, deportation defense, obtaining asylum for political refugees, obtaining Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR, also known as a green card) and/or citizenship through naturalization, and establishing a business in a foreign country, among others. Immigration lawyers may also represent you in court. This is a service that may be particularly important in cases involving deportation defense.
Major Classes of Legal Immigrants in the U.S.
The following categories represent the major bases for legal immigration into the United States, whether you are seeking a visa, lawful permanent residency, or citizenship:
- Family: Currently, this path is only available to the immediate family of U.S. citizens. Immediate family is defined as parents, spouses, or children of U.S. citizens. Although, in recent months, the U.S. president has shown an intent to strictly limit family-based immigration to spouses and children.
- Employment: A U.S.-based employer agrees to employ and pay related costs of the prospective employee’s immigration. The applicant may also earn legal immigration based on the demonstration of an extraordinary or unique contribution to the U.S. labor market.
- Students: Temporary visas granted to applicants who are seeking to study at a U.S.-based educational/academic institution
- Investment: Immigrants seeking to invest specific amounts of capital into starting a U.S.-based business enterprise(s)
- Asylum: Protection from racial, political, religious, national, or social persecution
- Lottery: Random selection of applicants for residency within the U.S. – this type of immigration grants diversity visas to approximately 50,000 applicants per year among millions who apply annually. This is the least likely method of obtaining lawful immigration into the U.S.
A U.S. immigration law known as the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) establishes these policies. Accordingly, all immigration applications must be submitted to and approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, immigration decisions may also be reviewed by other government agencies, such as the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), the U.S. District Courts, and the U.S. Courts of Appeal. Applicants may choose to hire an immigration attorney to represent them throughout the application process to ensure that the process is conducted thoroughly and fairly. Applicants may hire any immigration lawyer that they choose. However, a no-cost attorney will not be provided to them for U.S. immigration-related matters.
As outlined above, immigration eligibility can be based on several predetermined categories. Accordingly, applicants may be granted eligibility if the applicant has immediate family lawfully residing in the U.S. The specific types of families that qualify for this category are listed as follows: spouse of a U.S. citizen; unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen; parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old. Applicants may also be granted for a fiancé or fiancée (a person who expressly intends to marry) a U.S. citizen or the children thereof. This is also the case for a person who was married to a U.S. citizen at the time that their spouse passed away.
Employment may also provide an adequate basis for the granting of a lawful immigration. This category of applicants is designated as immigrant workers and they are ranked in terms of first, second, or third preference based on which type of professional abilities they offer.
First preference is given to applicants who “[h]ave extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or [a]re an outstanding professor or researcher, or [a]re a multinational or executive who meets certain criteria.” Second preference immigrant workers are listed as being “… a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, or hav[ing] exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or seeking a national interest waiver.” Third preference workers are defined as “skilled worker[s] (meaning your job requires a minimum of two years training or work experience), or [a] professional (meaning that your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent and you are a member of the profession), or [a]n unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than two years of training or experience).”
Lawful immigration may also be granted to immigrant investors who “[h]ave invested or are actively in the process of investing at least $1 million (or $500,000 in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees.” These categories are highly fact-intensive, and individual applications based on employment will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Other categories of immigrant worker eligibility include special immigrants (religious workers, abused juveniles, Afghan or Iraqi nationals, international broadcasters, and employees and family members of international organizations), those who have been previously granted status as an asylee or refugee at least one year prior, victims of human trafficking and crime, and victims of abuse. There also exists a limited amount of other highly specific categories upon which lawful immigration status may be granted.
If the applicant intends to work or earn money via employment within the U.S., their employer must sign a contract that pledges intent to provide financial support to the immigrant applicant to sustain the applicant while in the U.S. This employer is referred to as a sponsor in these types of situations. Most often, the sponsor is the party who files the immigrant petition on behalf of the applicant.
Such a promise is called an affidavit of support, and it is required to be submitted to the USCIS in all cases that involve immigrant employment within the U.S. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they are unlikely to become dependent on public assistance to sustain themselves while living in the U.S. This process is known as a public charge, and applicants who are determined to have a strong likelihood of requiring public assistance may be determined to be ineligible for lawful immigration status.
If you are seeking to defend yourself against deportation, it is important to know that your deportation decision will be made at a deportation hearing. As a matter of due process, all prospective deportees are entitled to advance notice of the hearing and to be present at the hearing. Many prospective deportees choose to hire an immigration attorney to defend them against deportation and to be present at the deportation hearing. A prospective deportee may hire any attorney they choose, but a no-cost attorney will not be provided to them by the government in immigration cases. During the deportation hearing, a federal judge will consider relevant facts, such as the immigrant’s reasons for being in the U.S., whether the immigrant is employed, the individual’s criminal history, and whether he or she has children born in the U.S. An immigrant who has been convicted of violent crimes (e.g., robbery) or crimes of dishonesty (e.g., fraud) may be particularly susceptible to deportation sentencing. The basis of a deportation sentence may be criminal or civil in nature.
The prospective deportee is entitled to examine the evidence against them, present their own evidence and witnesses, and cross-examine the government’s witnesses who testify against them. The standard by which the evidence will be weighed is relevance (to the extent that the evidence tends to make a deportation determination more or less necessary). This standard is much lower than that of a conventional civil trial, which is usually evaluated by a preponderance of the evidence (whether the event was more likely than not). The prospective deportee is not entitled to a trial by jury. The ultimate deportation decision will be made by the deportation judge, and the judge is not subject to any statutory limitations when imposing a sentence.
Types of Visas
If you are seeking a visa, the following represent some of the types of visas offered by the USCIS:
I-140 Visa: an employer’s application for an immigrant visa and proof of ability to pay
H – 1B Visa: an employment-based, nonimmigrant visa for temporary workers
K1 (Fiancé) Visa: a visa issued to the fiancé or fiancée (imminent spouse) of a United States citizen to enter the United States
E2 Visa: A treaty investor visa is a nonimmigrant visa reserved for foreign entrepreneurs of countries that have a Treaty of Trade and Commerce with the United States
L1 Visa: The L1 visa is an intra-company transfer U.S. visa. It allows a U.S. company to transfer a key employee from one of its offices in another country into the United States
EB-5 Visa: The EB-5 visa provides a method for eligible immigrant investors to become green card holders by investing $500,000 or $900,000 after Nov. 21, 2019, to finance a business in the United States that will employ at least 10 American workers
Immigration Waiver: An immigration waiver is a pardon for specific types of immigration violations
Note: Immigrant visas (IV) are issued to persons seeking to reside permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas (NIV) are issued to persons with a permanent residence outside the United States who wish to be in the U.S. temporarily for tourism, medical treatment, business, or temporary work or study, for example.
Official information about visa filing and processing timelines can be found here:
The current list of USCIS filing fees can be found here:
Also, there are many resources available in New York to aid you in your search for the right immigration attorney. For instance, the New York State Unified Court System maintains an index of all attorneys licensed to practice law in New York on their website:
This index allows you to search for an attorney based on various criteria. Also, the following organizations and their contact information may be useful when looking to resolve your immigration matter:
Helpful immigration-related organizations in and around NYC
New York Legal Assistance Group, Inc. 7 Hanover Square 18th Floor New York, NY 10004 (212) 613-5000
Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc. 268 Genesee St. Utica, NY 14609 (315) 793-7000
Immigration Equality New York, NY 10005 (212) 714-2904
Ansob Center for Refugees 28-19 Steinway St., 2nd Floor Asotoria, NY 11103 (718) 278-4303
Bronx Legal Services (Legal Services NYC) 349 E. 149th St., 10th Floor Bronx, NY 10451 (917) 661-4500