What Are the 4 Types of Immigrants?

Updated on April 11, 2024

At a Glance

  • The U.S. immigration system has four types of immigrant status: Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, Temporary Visitor status, Undocumented Immigrant status, and United States Citizen status.
  • LPRs receive green cards and can become citizens after a period of continuous stay.
  • Temporary visitors enter for a short period and intend to return to their home country.
  • Undocumented immigrants enter or overstay illegally. U.S. citizens can be born abroad with U.S. citizen parents or go through the naturalization process. The appropriate status depends on the individual’s circumstances and purpose of entering the U.S.

If you want to immigrate to the United States, you need a visa to enter and maintain immigrant status. But there is no single type of immigrant status. Every immigrant falls into one of four categories. What are the four categories, and which one should you apply for? In this article, we’ll answer these questions in depth.

How Many Categories of Immigrant Status Are There in the U.S.?

The U.S. immigration system is complex. This is because of the influx of so many people into the country under different circumstances. Some come into the States for a shorter period, while others stay long term. Therefore, you cannot place everyone into one category.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides four types of immigrant status. Whenever someone applies to enter the United States, they will have to choose one of the four immigrant statuses. Later, they can switch from one selected status to another, provided they’re eligible to do so.

Four Types of Immigrant Status

There are four types of immigrant status you can hold if you’re immigrating into the United States. We’ll explore each of them in this section.

Lawful Permanent Resident Status or LPR

Lawful Permanent Residents or LPRs are people who receive green cards when they come into the United States. With LPR status, immigrants can qualify for American citizenship after three to four years of continuous stay.

Every year, more than a million immigrants receive LPR status. They can stay and work in the U.S. and pay taxes. They can also participate in voting and certain social services.

There are different types of green cards issued. Those are:

  • Family-based green cards
  • Employment-based green cards
  • Humanitarian green cards
  • Diversity lottery green cards
  • Longtime-resident green cards

Family-based green cards are issued to alien relatives of U.S. citizens. When immigrants come into the U.S., they can become American citizens after fulfilling the requirements. Then they can sponsor their own family members via family-based green cards.

Employment-based green cards, on the other hand, are issued to foreign employees who are sponsored by U.S.-based companies to come and work in the U.S. The H1B visa is a prime example.

Similarly, other types of green cards are issued to different categories of immigrants. Lottery green cards are issued to people of a specific country that does not get enough green cards. To enhance the country’s diversity, the USCIS issues up to 55,000 diversity lottery green cards every year.

Temporary Visitor Status

Temporary visas are issued to immigrants who come into the United States for a short period. They have no intention of staying in the country permanently and intend to return to their homeland after their visa expires.

Immigrants on a visitor visa like B2 or a business visa like B1 are referred to as temporary immigrants. After completing their specific duties or purposes, they’ll have to leave the U.S. if extending the visa is not possible. Foreign citizens looking for this visa need to file the DS-160 form, which is the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. In this form, you affirm that you’re coming temporarily.

A tourist visa is provided for tourism, vacation, medical treatment purposes, or visiting relatives. The validity of this visa ranges from one month to 10 years.

Business tourists coming in with a B1 visa can stay for a few years but have to return. They may come into the country to attend a business event, consult with business associates, negotiate a contract, or settle an estate.

Undocumented Immigrant Status

Every year, tens of thousands of people cross the borders of the United States illegally. They live and work unofficially in the United States unless authorities detain them. These foreign citizens can also be detained at the border Point of Entry and sent to prison for further interrogation.

Some of these people are given immigrant status, while others are deported to their respective countries. The ones that are given immigrant status hold an undocumented immigrant status and are referred to as illegal immigrants.

However, statistics show 62% of illegal immigrants present in the United States did not enter illegally but instead stayed beyond the expiration of their visas. So, even if you came with a valid visa, you could be categorized as an illegal immigrant if you remain in the country after your visa has expired. Therefore, it is always advised to leave the U.S. days before your visa expires, if renewal is not an option.

United States Citizen

Even if you were born and lived your entire life outside the United States, you can still hold American citizenship as you enter its borders. You don’t have to go through naturalization like other foreign-born immigrants. This is covered under INA 301 (a), (b), and (c).

This requires that one of your parents has U.S. citizenship, either by birth or by naturalization. So, if you’ve been living and working outside of the U.S. all your life, you can still apply for and obtain U.S. citizenship. But you’ll have to go through an application and verification process to prove that your parents are indeed American.

You can submit their ID cards, birth records, or state-issued driver’s license as proof. Secondly, you need to prove that you are their child. You can prove your birthright by submitting the CRBA (Consular Reports of Birth Abroad) record.

After the documents have been verified and approved, you’ll receive the visa to come into the U.S. as an American citizen. Eventually, you’ll receive your Social Security card. You’ll be granted every right that an average U.S. citizen is entitled to.

Which One Is Right for Me?

It’s the USCIS’s job to determine which type of immigrant visa you are eligible for. From your side, you need to apply for the right visa type.

To do this, you need to define your purpose. For what reasons do you intend to come to the U.S.? If it is for visiting a family member, then you should apply for a B1 temporary visa. If you’re already a U.S. citizen, you can claim your American citizenship by applying for a Certificate of Citizenship. After going through the process, you’ll receive the correct immigrant visa for you.

Read More


When applying for a United States immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, it’s important to be aware of the latest news. Immigration landscapes change from time to time. What is applicable today might become irrelevant tomorrow. That’s when you need to seek the help of an experienced immigration attorney. If you’re confused about the end-to-end process, we advise you to get in touch with an attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What Are the Four Types of Immigrants?

The four main types of immigrants are:

  • Family-Based Immigrants: These individuals obtain visas and eventually permanent residency (green cards) based on their family relationships with U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Categories include immediate relatives, family preference, and more.
  • Employment-Based Immigrants: These immigrants come to the United States for employment purposes. They typically have job offers from U.S. employers and may fall into categories such as EB-1 (priority workers), EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities), and EB-3 (skilled workers, professionals, and other workers).
  • Refugees and Asylees: Refugees are individuals who are forced to flee their home countries due to persecution, war, or violence. Asylees are those who seek asylum within the United States due to similar reasons. Both groups are granted protection and the opportunity to build a new life in the U.S.
  • Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Winners: The Diversity Visa (DV) program, also known as the Green Card Lottery, allows individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. to enter a lottery for a chance to receive a diversity visa and become lawful permanent residents.

2. How Do Family-Based Immigrants Sponsor Their Relatives?

Family-based immigrants in the United States can sponsor their relatives by filing petitions on their behalf. U.S. citizens can sponsor their immediate relatives, such as spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21, without numerical limitations. Permanent residents (green card holders) can also sponsor certain family members, but there are limitations and waiting periods involved.

3. What Is the Process for Employment-Based Immigration?

The process for employment-based immigration involves several steps, including securing a job offer from a U.S. employer, obtaining a labor certification (in some cases), and filing an immigrant petition. The specific process and eligibility criteria depend on the employment category, such as EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3. Once approved, immigrants can apply for an immigrant visa or adjust their status to become permanent residents.

4. How Do Refugees and Asylees Seek Protection in the United States?

Refugees seek protection by applying for refugee status while outside the United States. They must meet the criteria defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and be referred for resettlement by UNHCR or another designated organization.

Asylees, on the other hand, seek asylum while physically present in the United States. They must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on factors such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Asylum seekers can apply for asylum affirmatively or defensively, depending on their circumstances.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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