U.S. immigration: Green card, visa -- which do you need?

British Columbia residents who are planning to go to the United States for employment or other reasons may be confused about the requirements for legal entrance and the length of time they will be allowed to stay. With frequent changes to U.S. immigration regulations, it could be quite a challenge to navigate the necessary processes to ensure smooth entry at the border and during the stay. The first thing to understand is the difference between a visa and a green card, which is also called a Permanent Resident Card.

Although both these documents can allow an individual to stay or live in the United States, there is a significant difference. Permanent U.S. residence and employment are allowed for those with green cards, while there could be a time limit attached to a visa. However, two types of visas exist -- non-immigrant and immigrant visas.

A person who holds a nonimmigrant visa will have a specific date by which he or she must leave the United States. These are typically issues for visitors, students, business people and such. In comparison, an immigrant visa -- the same as the green card -- allows an individual to stay in the United States and apply for U.S. citizenship. There are limited numbers of immigrant visas allocated annually, and they are typically obtained through sponsorship by employers, family or special immigration status.

Any person from British Columbia or another country who remains in the United States beyond the expiry date on a nonimmigration visa might be removed and returned to his or her home country. To avoid such a situation, it might be wise to consult with a British Columbia lawyer who is experienced in dealing with U.S. immigration issues. A lawyer who is registered on both sides of the border can be invaluable if complications arise at the border or in the United States.

Source: Echo Press, "Immigration issues and answers", Celeste Edenloff, Oct. 25, 2017

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