Can I Get a Green Card if I Entered Illegally?

Posted by Frank Gogol

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding illegal immigrants and their rights in the U.S. Some of them have become part of the DACA program and thus got the opportunity to work in the U.S. legally and without fearing deportation. But whether you’re part of DACA or not, you may be asking “Can I get a green car if I entered illegally?” Well, here’s what you should know.

Can an Illegal Immigrant Get a Green Card in the U.S.?

Many immigrants have the chance to apply for a green card through various means. Green cards will allow them to obtain residency status and stay in the U.S., getting certain rights and not being at risk of deportation. Do illegal immigrants have the same chance?

Well, the situation is more complicated when someone entered the country illegally and is undocumented as a result. When entering the U.S. illegally, applying for a Green Card while still in the U.S. is not possible. Keep in mind that entering the U.S. illegally is not the same as overstaying your visa.

Now, you may be thinking that things are easy – you can just leave the U.S. and apply for the Green Card in your home country, and still become a resident. And while there is some truth in that, some factors influence this situation.

If you’ve been in the U.S. illegally for more than 180 days, you will be banned from re-entering the country for a few years, either a period of 3 or 10 years. It all depends on how long you were unlawfully present in the States.

On the other hand, if you entered the States illegally, but then left before reaching the 180 days limit, you will not be banned. Therefore, applying for a green card will be possible if you return to your home country and go to a U.S. embassy or consulate.

There is another thing you should keep in mind. If you were previously deported from the country for any reason and then re-entered illegally, you’ll face worse consequences. You will be banned from ever entering the U.S. again.

If you ever plan on getting a green card, then you have to keep these things in mind and not do something illegal.

Green Card Options for Illegal Immigrants

Even though an illegal immigrant’s situation regarding the Green Card application depends on so many things, you still have options. Obtaining residency status can be done by other means, so check out the list below and find out what you could do to live in the U.S.

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen

It’s not unheard of – an immigrant getting married to a U.S. citizen and obtaining a green card is probably one of the most common things. It’s also an easy way to obtain residency, which is why so many foreigners are sometimes looking towards U.S. partners in some cases.

If you’re lucky enough to find your other half in the United States, then marrying them will grant you the green card you’re seeking. Under the U.S. immigration laws, you become an “immediate relative” and thus you’re eligible for the residency card by marrying a citizen.

But that doesn’t mean being an illegal immigrant will not cause any problem whatsoever. In reality, you can still deal with issues because of your past actions.

If you entered the U.S. on a visa and you overstayed your status, your legal entry will make you qualify for an exception. This lets you apply for the card without having to go abroad. The procedure is known as “adjustment of status”.

However, if you entered the U.S. illegally by not stopping at the inspection point or by secretly crossing the border, things are more complicated. Adjusting your status to permanent residency will be more unlikely to happen, even if you marry. It’s not impossible as long as you are covered by some older laws, but in general, it will cause difficulties.

Also, you could be able to marry someone who is a permanent resident instead of a citizen, but the chances of adjusting your status for you are lower since you have a lot to wait for visa availability.

You could also try adjusting your status by going to your home country and attending an interview for your green card at a U.S. consulate. But that would put you at risk of being penalized for your unlawful presence. If you were in the country for more than 180 days, then you can expect a bar of either 3 or 10 years.

If you weren’t in the U.S. illegally for over 180 days, make sure to leave immediately so you can start the process.

Service in the U.S. Military

If you serve in the U.S. military and you’re active on duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, you may be able to apply for U.S. citizenship. The cool thing is you don’t have to go through the common step that involves applying for the green card first.

You should sign up when you’re on U.S. land, like American Samoa, Canal Zone, Swains Island, or a non-commercial ship of the U.S.

You will be qualified for citizenship for the following conflicts:

  • World War I (1917-1918)
  • World War II (1939-1946)
  • The Vietnam hostilities (1961-1978)
  • The Korean hostilities (1950-1955)
  • “Operation Enduring Freedom” (2001 – ending when the U.S. President gives the order)
  • The Persian Gulf War (1990 – 1991)

Cancellation of Removal

Have you been arrested by the U.S. immigration authorities? In that case, you may be able to avoid removal and get a green card, but only if:

  • You can prove that during your ten years of stay, you have been a person of good moral character
  • You’ve been present in the U.S. physically for at least ten years
  • You are not disqualified from cancellation for any potential crime or immigration violation. You’re not a member of communist or totalitarian countries or persecuting others.
  • You can prove that being removed from the U.S. can put your family members through hardship

Bear in mind that cancellation of removal is only available if you are already in immigration court proceedings and you’re facing deportation. Seek a lawyer’s help and don’t apply on your own.

Apply for Asylum

If you qualify for asylum, you can apply for the right to remain in the U.S. You must do it within one year of your entry, or your authorized stay expiration.

Make sure you prove that you have either been persecuted or fear being persecuted based on nationality, race, religion, social group membership, or political opinion in your home country. If you provide proper documentation and submit Form I-589, you will be able to apply for a green card one year after asylum approval.

Temporary Protected Status

If your home country went through a civil war recently, or a natural or environmental disaster, you can obtain a TPS, aka the Temporary Protected Status. It’s not a green card, but it will offer you protection if your country is unsafe and you will not be deported for a certain period. You’ll get a work permit as well.

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The Bottom Line

If you entered the U.S. illegally, you need to know what your options are when seeking a green card. Hopefully, this article was informative, and you know what to do next.

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