Visiting, living, working, investing and/or becoming an entrepreneur in the United States is part of the dream of many people, not only for Brazilians. It is the country that most attracts immigrants in the world. It is estimated that about 1.1 million people obtained a residence permit in the United States in 2018. This makes the American Immigration Law naturally complex and demanding. Thus, engaging with the United States without basic knowledge of immigration and other business-related laws (not to mention the everyday American life) can be personally and financially risky.
Immigrants entering the United States have always experienced some difficulties, but these difficulties have become even harder in recent years. We have experienced, through our professional practice that, driven by the immense desire to move to the United States, many Brazilians end up being victims of scams, “schemes” and false promises, especially due to the lack of information. A situation that gets even worse because of the cultural and legal differences between our countries.
One of the factors that cause problems is that the American immigration system is based on the foreigner’s intention, who is traveling to the country, that is, the reason for the trip. The general rule is that the American government, through its consulate or embassy, will issue a visa that allows the foreign travelers to travel and present themselves at the “port of entry” located on a point at the American border. This visa, however, is not a guarantee of entry or permanence in the country, it represents an authorization to travel to the United States.
The foreigner's permission to enter in the United States is a prerogative of the immigration border agent, the one who asks for a passport when we pass through customs at an airport. This U.S. agent will check the suitability of the visa and the purpose of the reason for the trip, by means of questions that aim to check if his intention to travel is really connected with the presented visa. Other reasons can lead to entry impediments, such as lack of links with the traveler's country of origin, health protection issues or other factors.
Since visas are authorizations based on the traveler's intention, and as the intentions are vast, today there are more than 180 (one hundred and eighty) types of American visas, divided into two large groups: temporary visas and permanent residence visas (Green Card). Temporary visas are composed of tourist visas, student visas, diplomats and many others. Residence visas, on the other hand, are linked to family, professional ties, humanitarian protections and others.
It is important to highlight that the permanent residence (Green Card) cannot be confused with the American Citizenship. The permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen and, therefore, cannot enjoy all citizens' rights, such as the right to participate in American democracy by voting. Even so, the resident's condition is much more stable and much more secure than that of a temporary visitor, being able to use some public resources, attend schools without restrictions, greater facilities to obtain loans (even from the government) and much more.
Understanding the basics of the American immigration law and understanding how the country's immigration system works are essential factors for anyone who wants to travel to the United States and for them to be successful in their objectives. Even for those who do not intend to work or to become a resident in the country. This knowledge also helps to prevent future problems for those who travel on temporary visas today, but can, at a certain time, think about a possible definitive change to become a resident in the United States.