How Can An Illegal Immigrant Become Legal In The US?

How Can An Illegal Immigrant Become Legal In The US?

Jun 13, 2023

Getting legal status in the US might seem like a difficult process. We admit it is not the easiest, but following the proper guidelines is not impossible either. Then, how can an illegal immigrant become legal in the US? There are different ways people are considered illegal immigrants.

In this article, we will discuss the different ways an illegal immigrant in the US can become legal. There are many paths to getting legal status; thus, we will explore all the various ways one can obtain it.

Who Is an Illegal Immigrant?

Before learning how to change your status, you should know when you are considered to be an illegal immigrant.

In simple terms, if you are a foreigner with no current status to live or work in the US, you are an illegal immigrant. Undocumented immigrants are the ones that come to the US through the border unlawfully or evade inspection at the airport or seaport. These immigrants usually do not have any documents with them as well.

Individuals who come through legally using student visas or tourist visas but overstay their permitted stay are also illegal immigrants. Or if someone violates the terms of their temporary visa, such as engaging in work not allowed under the visa can also be considered illegal immigrant. It is generally easier for illegal immigrants to get legal status in the US if they have some documents and enter legally.

What Are the Paths to Getting Legal in THE US?

First, we must mention that the longer you stay as an illegal immigrant in the US, the harder it will be to fight off penalties and become a legal citizen. This is why we recommend you try to become a US citizen as soon as you enter the country.

There are six broad ways to get legal status in the US; we will explain them below.

Through Asylum Status

The asylum status is for people who may have entered the US legally or illegally but fear persecution or have already faced persecution. Suppose the immigrant comes from a country where they are persecuted for race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and belonging to a social group. Persecution includes imprisonment, torture, genocide, and inequality in treatment due to the factors mentioned.

To be considered as an asylum seeker, you must fall under the criteria of section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). However, you will not be eligible if you did not apply for asylum within the last entering the country, have applied previously but were denied, or can be sent to a second safe country with an agreement with the US.

To apply for asylum, you must fill out the I-589 form. This cannot be filed online, and you must mail it.

Through Immediate Relative Category

If an illegal immigrant marries a US citizen, they can get a green card because they will be considered an immediate relative. Similarly, the unmarried child under 21 of a US citizen and the parent of the US citizen are considered to be immediate relatives.

This is an easy way to get citizenship, but some rules must be followed. First of all, you must enter the US through legal paths and should have been inspected and admitted into the country. The process requires the person who wishes to admit their alien relative into the US to file Form I-130 on their behalf. After that, the person who wishes to apply for a green card, i.e., the spouse or child, must file Form I-485.

Can a U.S. Citizen Marry an Illegal Immigrant?

Although you can get a visa by marrying a US citizen, it must be a valid marriage. To be eligible for the marriage, you will be asked questions about your spouse and your marriage. If the marriage is determined to be a sham, you will be expelled from entering the country. There are some other requirements as well.

Through the U Visa

If the immigrant is a victim of abuse or qualified crime, possesses information about a certain criminal activity, or can be useful for solving and proving some crime, they are eligible for a U visa. The crimes include abduction, peonage, domestic violence, incest, slave trade, torture, and trafficking.

Even the victim's close relatives, spouse, parents, child, and sibling can apply for US citizenship through this visa.

To be eligible, you must be lawfully admitted in U-1 nonimmigrant status and have lived in the US continuously for three years. You also need to stay in the US, file Form I-485, and wait for the decision by USCIS. If you file for Form I-918, you can become eligible for some immigration benefits for you and your family while waiting for the visa.

Through the LIFE Act Protection

Illegal immigrants that are children are protected under the DACA program, which allows the children to request deferred action for two years and can be repeated every two years. This means the children can prevent getting deported and request a work permit. However, it still needs to provide legal status.

This is when the LIFE Act comes into play. If the child has received higher education and can be a candidate for highly skilled jobs, a US employer interested in the individual can sponsor a green card for them. The LIFE Act allows the child to apply for this sponsorship from the US no matter how they entered the country. With the LIFE Act protection, you can go to your home country and wait for the procedure before entering through legal means.

To apply for the LIFE Act, you must fill the Form I-485 Supplement A and be present in the US when filing it. Also, there is a fee of $1000 USD unless exempt.

Though Non-LPR Cancellation of Removal

If you have tried most things and are still getting deported, canceling removal is the last chance to stay in the country. Can an illegal immigrant become legal after 10 years? If you have been living in the US for a long time and are in the process of getting removed, you can apply for non-LPR cancellation of removal, which can get you a green card.

You must have lived in the US continuously for 10 years with a good moral character and clean background. Also, there is more chance of an individual getting this if there is exceptional hardship for the US citizens or your immediate relatives living in the country. Some other rules and laws also need to be followed, such as applying for asylum while being a national of a certain country.

Unfortunately, you may still face rejection even if you fulfill all the requirements. Under this law, they issue only around 4,000 green cards annually.


In the end, you should have an immigration attorney to get a green card while being an illegal immigrant.

Even if you cannot find a way, many organizations are willing to help illegal immigrants and push for legislative change. So, you can always contact them to get support.