Top 10 Tips for Avoiding Trouble With U.S. Immigration

Keep your status secure and your visa and green card applications moving along smoothly.

US Immigration made easy
US Immigration made easy

Keep your status secure and your visa and green card applications moving along smoothly.

  1. Plan for Delays. If you are in the United States and your work permit or status needs to be renewed, realize that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly called the INS) is extremely backed up. Cope by turning in your application far in advance, to make sure you won’t spend time without legal “status.” As long as you have “status,” the USCIS won’t arrest you during such things as special registration.
  2. Consider Citizenship. If you have a green card, file for U.S. citizenship as soon as legally possible. This will not only protect you from deportation but will also help you get a more secure status for your close family members. Most people have to wait five years after their green card approval before applying, but some people can apply sooner. For more information, see the USCIS website at or the book Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview (Nolo).
  3. Avoid Summary Removal. When arriving in the U.S. from overseas, be ready to convince the border official that you deserve your entry visa. These officials have a lot of power and they can send you back if they think you are a security risk or that you lied in order to get the visa. Tourists should be careful not to pack anything that looks like they’re planning a permanent stay, such as a resumé or a wedding dress.
  4. Send Word of Address Changes. If you’re spending more than 30 days in the U.S., notify USCIS of your changes of address, within ten days, using Form AR-11 (available at If you’re already late, send in the form immediately. Send one form per family member. Also, be sure to send your new address to every USCIS office that’s handling an application of yours — otherwise, it won’t hear of the change.
  5. File Multiple Visa Petitions. If you plan to get a green card through a family member, see if more than one member of your family is eligible to submit the visa petition for you. For example, a brother and a sister who are U.S. citizens could both file for you. That way if the waiting list in one category gets especially long, or if one person dies, you’ll have another option.
  6. Don’t Be Late. Be extremely careful to arrive on time for any scheduled appointment with the USCIS, a U.S. embassy or consulate or the U.S. immigration court. Arriving late — or not at all — can result in months of delays at best, and deportation from the U.S. at worst.
  7. Avoid Visa Violations. Make sure you understand the fine print surrounding your visa, work permit or green card, and follow the rules carefully. Violating even minor terms of your visa or green card — for example, working while you’re here as a tourist or helping to smuggle a family member over the border — can result in your visa being canceled or your being deported. For more information on the various visas and green cards available, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy (Nolo).
  8. Copy and Track Paperwork. USCIS is famous for losing paperwork. Send all applications and other material by certified mail, with a return receipt, and keep a copy. This is especially important for the change of address forms because USCIS doesn’t confirm that it has received these. If you are later threatened with a penalty for failing to file an application or change of address form, your copy and certified mail receipt may be the only proof that you did.
  9. Do Your Own Research. Be careful from whom you accept advice. Rumors and friends can’t be relied on — everyone’s legal situation is different. Even USCIS employees sometimes give out wrong advice, for which you pay the consequences. Do your own research where possible, and if necessary take your unanswered questions to an immigration attorney or accredited representative whose reputation you’ve thoroughly checked out.
  10. Get Help From Above. If nothing else is working, contact your U.S. Congressperson. They can usually make an inquiry for you, which often encourages the USCIS or consulate into taking appropriate action on your case.

Attorney Ilona Bray came to the practice of immigration law through her long interest and concern with international human rights issues. Before joining Nolo as a legal editor in charge of immigration, she ran a solo law practice and worked for a number of nonprofit immigration agencies, including the International Institute of the East Bay and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Ms. Bray was also an intern in the legal office at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College, and her law degree and a Master’s degree in East Asian (Chinese) Studies from the University of Washington. Article source:


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