You are currently viewing How can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S.

Are you wondering how can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S. and therefore, how to get legal status in the United States. In this blog you will find all the necessary information.

For you to become legal in American territory, you will have the support of our immigration lawyers in New Jersey. The Curbelo Law law firm has more than 10 years of experience in all types of immigration cases.

What If I Am An Illegal Immigrant In The USA In 2024 And I Want To Become Legal?

If you are in an illegal immigration status in the United States, you run the risk of being detained by immigration authorities. If this happens, you will likely face deportation proceedings from the U. S.

A common example of being illegal is overstaying on a tourist visa in the United States.

become legal in the united states

Depending on the time you have remained illegally in the U. S, you will accumulate unlawful presence, which increases your penalties. Among the most common bars are:

  • 3 years: Activated if you were in the country illegally between 180 days to one year.
  • 10 years: If you were in the U. S. under unlawful presence for more than a year and then leave the country. 

That being said, you could be bared from 3 to 10 years if you leave the U. S. However, you may be able to apply for an immigration waiver of inadmissibility, but it won’t always be available. 

Even in the worst case scenario, it is possible to stop removal proceedings. Call us and we will evaluate your case.

Immigrants Who Entered The U. S. Illegally

The term “undocumented” refers to those foreigners without legal immigration status in the United States. This situation can arise when entering without inspection or with some type of expired American visa .

It should be noted that although there are many beneficiaries of some immigration relief, such as DACA, this does not constitute legal immigration status. This is because they are usually temporary relief.

For these immigrants, the main goal is to find a path to lawful permanent residence. In other words, towards the Green Card.

Who Is Considered An Undocumented Immigrant?

An undocumented immigrant is someone who was born abroad and lacks legal authorization to remain in the United States. 

In addition to this, there are other terms used to describe an undocumented immigrant, including: 

  • Unauthorized immigrant, 
  • Illegal alien, and
  • Unlawful non-citizens.

If you yourself are undocumented or have a relative in that situation, you could find yourself in one of the following scenarios.

Illegal Entry

If you enter the US without being inspected, you are considered an undocumented immigrant. This means that if you cross the border without being inspected, you will be considered illegal.

Keep reading with us, as we will learn how can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S.

penalties for being illegal in the united states

Expired Visa

In this circumstance, you entered the U. S. legally on a nonimmigrant visa. Therefore, upon being inspected, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials provided them with two dates on his I-94 form:

  • The date of your arrival in the U. S, and 
  • The date of your planned departure.

If you remain in the country beyond the approved length of stay, you will be exceeding the authorized period of stay. This means that you will find yourself in an illegal situation, accumulating unlawful presence.

Illegal Re-Entry

Immigrants who re-enter the U.S. without prior approval and have criminal records could face serious consequences. For example, fines, deportation or even imprisonment. 

For more information about possible post-conviction relief for immigration purposes, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Ways An Illegal Immigrant Can Become Legal In The US

Generally, undocumented or illegal immigrants can become legal with some immigration relief. This will allow them to remain legally in the U. S. 

Next, we will look at the ways in which you can go from illegal to legal in the USA.

Asylum In The United States

If you are eligible for the asylum process in the United States, you could obtain lawful permanent residence. Of course, to qualify, you must first prove that you are being persecuted in your country of origin or are afraid of being persecuted.

To begin an asylum process, you must submit Form I-589 accompanied by evidence supporting your application. 

go from undocumented immigrant to legal

Typically, a screening interview is conducted to assess the validity of your scenario. 

If you are granted with this relief, you can apply for the Green Card one year after obtaining asylum. Additionally, your spouse and children can also apply for residency if they were admitted to the United States under the same status.

There are other ways in which a person can be legalized in the United States. For example, through an immigration relief, such as the NACARA program.

U Visa For Crime Victims

If you are a victim of certain crimes or abuses in the United States, you may qualify for a U visa. However, to obtain it, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Having been a victim of some abuse or a qualified crime.
  • Possess information about any criminal activity. 
  • The criminal activity violated U. S. laws.
  • You may be useful in helping to resolve some type of criminal process.
what is a u visa

In our blog on what the U visa is , you can learn about all the criminal activities that qualify for this visa.

Additionally, you must cooperate with law enforcement and submit Supplement B, Form I-918 Certification of Status to apply for a U visa.

It should be noted that your spouse and children can be covered under the same visa. Our law firm can help determine eligibility and contact the relevant authorities. 

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

The TPS in the USA does not lead to the Green Card and will only be valid for a few months. However, you may receive an employment authorization while you have this immigration status.

Keep in mind that you should be careful when trying to get a job in the United States illegally, as it would have serious immigration consequences.


Aside from TPS, if you are a minor and are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, you may be eligible for special immigrant juvenile status.


Another immigration relief that you may qualify for is the VAWA visa available to those who have experienced domestic violence in the US. 

Green Card Through LIFE Act Protection

Some undocumented immigrants with higher education may qualify for higher-paying jobs in the U. S. In such cases, employers may consider sponsoring the employee’s Green Card. 

The Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act offers additional benefits to Dreamers. Therefore, it allows eligible immigrants to complete the residency process without leaving the U. S, as long as they meet the requirements.

Typically, the employer will need to complete a PERM labor certification to file the petition. It is crucial to consult with our attorneys to understand the details and eligibility of this process.

In our blog on the humanitarian parole program you will find a table with the current sponsor requirements.

Green Card Through Registration

A registration provision in current immigration law offers the opportunity for certain undocumented immigrants to apply for a Green Card. However, to qualify, the following requirements must be met:

  • Have entered the United States before January 1, 1972.
  • Have a continuous residence from the date of entry into the country.
  • Possess good moral character.
  • Not be ineligible for naturalization or deportable under immigration law.

The process involves submitting Form I-485 and the necessary supporting documentation. Of course, before attempting this process, we recommend the legal guidance of our lawyers.

Marrying An American Citizen

In some cases, you can marry an American citizen and obtain immediate family status. As a result, it makes you immediately eligible for a Green Card. However, there are several important aspects to take into account:

  • To obtain a Green Card by marriage, you must engage into a valid and bona fide marriage.
  • You will be subjected to a few marriage-based Green Card interview questions to ensure that your union is not fraudulent.
  • If your in a sham marriage, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could deport you from the country.
  • If your marriage is approved, you may be eligible to obtain the K-1 fiancé(e) visa.

It should be noted that the option to marry an American citizen is only available to those who entered the U. S. legally. 

If you entered illegally, the chances of getting married are low. To address this issue, we invite you to read our blog: Can an undocumented immigrant get married in the U. S.

Through The I-601A Immigration Waiver

The I-601A waiver offers a solution for undocumented immigrants who: 

  • Have a lawful permanent resident spouse, or 
  • Entered the U. S. illegally. 

Previously, these individuals had to leave the country and apply for a waiver from abroad, but with the risk of not being able to return. However, now they can do it from the U. S.

Contact us and we will help you apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.

Previous Service In The U. S. Military To Become Legal

If you still wonder how can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S, another path to obtain lawful permanent residence is through U. S. armed forces. Those who are current or former members of the American military service may receive help on some cases. 

Additionally, if you have served in a military conflict while in the U. S, you could receive a Green Card immediately. 

An example of this path were those undocumented immigrants who enlisted in the U. S. army and served in the following conflicts:

  • First World War.
  • Second World War.
  • Vietnam War.
  • Korean war.
  • Persian Gulf War.
  • In Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan.

You may also be eligible for American citizenship. To do this, submit form N-400 and N-426. 

military parole in place

The U. S. government has exclusive programs for the military, such as military parole in place. This program not only provides benefits to military members, but also to their families.

Cancellation Of Removal

If you are at risk of deportation for being undocumented, you may be able to qualify for cancellation of removal and its benefits .

However, cancellation of removal is not available to everyone, so it is necessary to know if you qualify for it. Our attorneys Carolina Theresa Curbelo and Sharon Lieberman will help you examine your immigration possibilities.

Diversity Visa Lottery

If you do not qualify to immigrate to the U. S. under labor, humanitarian or family petition programs, you still have an opportunity to obtain a Green Card.

In the U. S. there is an annual visa program where there are Green Cards for those who wish to live here. 

It is important to mention that this visa lottery is only available for countries with a low immigration rate to the US. Countries with a high immigration rate, such as Mexico or China, will not be able to apply for this lottery. 

Since many foreigners apply for this program annually, the chances of obtaining one each time will be lower.

How Long Does An Illegal Immigrant Have To Live In The United States To Become A Citizen?

An illegal or undocumented immigrant cannot directly carry out the process to get US citizenship. This is because you had to obtain the Green Card first. In other words, become legal. 

Now, how can an illegal immigrant get papers in the United States? There are many ways to get a Green Card. In this blog about on how can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S. we have seen some of the ways to achieve this.

However, it is best to consult with our immigration professionals at Curbelo Law. In any case, upon obtaining residency, you must wait 5 years (3 in some cases) to become an American citizen.

Law Firm That Helps You Legalize your status In The United States

We have already seen that anyone who asks themselves: “How can an illegal immigrant become legal in the U. S” needs to have reputable immigration lawyers to do so.

Although we have clarified what it takes to be legal in the United States, the truth is that it is a complex issue. Therefore, legal representation is key to achieve a legal status here.

At the Curbelo Law firm in New Jersey you can find all the help possible regarding this type of immigration scenarios. We have more than 10 years of experience helping undocumented immigrants legalize their status.

If you are illegal and want to legalize your situation, call us and get a private consultation where we will analyze your case.