Learning How to Reside Legally in the United States: What You Need to Know

Learning How to Reside Legally in the United States: What You Need to Know

For many people around the world, there may be a variety of reasons to immigrate to another country. Whether those reasons be personal, geopolitical, or some other cause, choosing to upend your life and arrive in a new destination is a challenging experience. To that end, however, the United States can serve as a haven of freedom and liberty for all who arrive but learning how to legally remain must be done. 

Fortunately, there are a number of different ways in which a person may qualify to be able to remain in the United States, even if they are not a full-fledged citizen of the country. Learn everything you need to know in order to achieve legal residency in the U.S.A.

United States Citizens vs. Permanent Residents

First and foremost, it’s crucial to look at the difference between U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents, as many people falsely believe you need to be a citizen to live in the country. The main difference between these two revolves around whether or not you can apply for a passport in the country. Citizens are allowed to apply whereas permanent residents are not. 

On top of this, being a citizen comes with added perks such as being able to vote in U.S. state and federal elections, which permanent residents cannot. However, both citizens and permanent residents are allowed to live legally in the United States, which is why those who may not qualify for citizenship pursue the path of permanent residency instead. 

How Many People Immigrate to the U.S. Yearly? 

Out of the many countries in the world, the U.S. is one of the countries that sees the most immigrants on a yearly basis. In fact, it is currently estimated that around one million immigrants arrive in the U.S. per year, with a grand total of over 40 million people currently in the U.S. having been born in another country. Due to this, many immigrants seek out the United States as their potential next home and use one of the following methods to live legally in the country. 

3 Primary Methods to Living in the United States Legally

Generally speaking, there are three primary ways to enter and live in the United States legally without fear of deportation. The following three methods have been put in order of easiest to most difficult to achieve: 

U.S. Visa

A Visa is the most commonly known method of entering a country legally. This document allows a traveler to legally pass through the border into the country by air, boat, and land. There are different types of Visas which come with different application requirements, but the two overarching categories include: 

Immigrant vs. Nonimmigrant Visa

An immigrant Visa is the type of Visa that a person seeking permanent residency will pursue. To qualify for an immigrant Visa, you must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident who you are the immediate relative of. A prospective employer in the country can also choose to sponsor you. Following this, you must have a successful application for your immigrant Visa. 

On the other hand, a nonimmigrant Visa is the more common type and is more commonly known as a travel Visa. This type of Visa can be used by those visiting the U.S. for only a short period of time, whether it be for medical reasons, tourism, visiting friends or family, or anything else. 

Green card

Known as an official permanent residency card, the green card is a step above a Visa as it doesn’t have an expiration. A person who holds a green card is allowed to work and live within the United States legally. The card itself looks very similar to a driver’s license and is the proof that the holder is a permanent lawful resident of the country. 


Finally, citizenship is the be-all-end-all way to legally live within the United States. A United States citizen, whether via birth or naturalization, can live, work, vote, and enjoy every freedom the country has to offer. It’s worth noting that some green card holders choose to apply for citizenship to gain access to these extra benefits after the required minimum number of years. 

Going from Green Card to Citizenship: A Roadmap to Follow 

For those who may not be aware, it is possible to become a citizen after holding your green card for a certain period of time. If this seems like it may be a potential option for you, consider the following steps: 

  • Hold your green card for at least five years: The first requirements (besides being 18 years old) is to ensure you have been a green card holder for at least five years prior to submitting your application.
  • Show you have been continuously resident for 30 months out of those five years: On top of holding your green card for five years, you will also need to show that you were in the United States continuously for at least 30 months of those five years. 
  • Prepare your citizenship application (Form N-400): Applying for citizenship requires submitting an N-400 form which outlines what you are attempting to apply for and why. 
  • Complete your interview process: After submitting your application, you will take part in an interview during which your knowledge of American history and the language will be tested. 
  • Receive a decision and take your oath of allegiance: Finally, you will receive your decision and if you are approved you will take your oath of allegiance to the United States and become a citizen. 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whether you are moving to the United States for only a brief period of time or if you are planning on staying permanently, it’s important to ensure you comply by the laws. By residing illegally in the country, you potentially risk being deported back to the very place you wanted to leave behind. To avoid this, speak with an immigration attorney to discuss your options and to see how to secure permanent residency in the country.