Immigration: Question & Answer

This month’s article will address the most common questions that I have received from prospective clients who are seeking answers for their immigration cases. In my practice I encounter a large number of individuals who are in dire need of legal advice but they usually choose to consult the advice of their friends and families as opposed to a legal professional. As an attorney I appreciate the fact that the public may be deterred from speaking with a lawyer because of the cost.  However, the bottom line is that you should seek assistance from an attorney if you have any immigration issues. Individuals who I consult with on a weekly basis often find that they have waited too long to rectify their immigration issues and now their opportunity has passed. With all immigration issues my advice is that it is always better to take an offense approach rather than a defense approach. In other words, the best strategy is to identify and rectify the problem before it is brought to the attention of Immigration.


This month I will answer three questions that I routinely encounter when meeting with prospective clients.


1.      Question: I am permanent resident but I have a criminal history. Will I encounter any problems when I choose to renew my permanent resident card or if I travel overseas?


Response:  Immigration regulations require that permanent residents renew their alien cards every ten years. If you have a permanent resident card that has no expiration you are still required to apply for the new alien card which has the ten-year expiration date. Immigration regulations, as it relates to criminal convictions, are complex and are constantly changing. Some criminal convictions will not produce an immigration issue while some convictions could lead to mandatory detention and deportation. The best way to ascertain whether or not a criminal conviction will have an immigration consequence is to seek the advice of a qualified immigration attorney. It will not be beneficial for you to wait until your alien card is about to expire or to travel without first seeking legal advice. In situations where the criminal conviction will have immigration consequences it is best to know this information before you are detained by Immigration and/or placed in removal proceedings. Some individuals who have criminal convictions may be eligible to apply for post-conviction relief on their criminal cases that could result in a less severe criminal conviction or an outright dismissal of the criminal charge and conviction. However, the key is to know the possible immigration consequence of the criminal conviction before you are detained, stopped at the airport, or placed in removal proceedings.


2.      Question:   I entered the United States as a minor child on a family member’s travel documents. I have lived in the United States all my life. I am now married to a United States citizen and we have children. Can I apply for my permanent residence in the United States?


Response: Immigration regulations require that individuals enter the United States in a lawful manner. This means that you must enter with your own travel documents and you must be admitted and inspected by an immigration officer at your port of entry, i.e., at the airport or border crossing. If you entered with someone else’s documents then this is not considered to be a lawful entry. Currently, an applicant must establish that his/her last entry into the United States was lawful. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but the exceptions are specific and are mandated by law. As such, the best way to determine if you must return home to apply for permanent residence or if you fall within an exception is to seek legal counsel. The exceptions are too lengthy to discuss in sufficient detail in this article. In the event that you are required to return home you may be eligible to apply for a waiver of the applicable 10 year or 3 year penalty that is given for your unlawful entry and stay in the United States.


3.      Question: I am ready to apply for permanent residence. Will I be able to work while my case is pending?


Response: Generally, applicants who have applied for permanent residence, (in the United States), are eligible to receive work authorization while their case is pending. Generally, an applicant who entered the United States legally and who is married to a United States citizen spouse is usually eligible for permanent residence provided there is an absence of a criminal history, document fraud, or any other issue that would warrant a denial. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. In Atlanta, Georgia the processing time for permanent residence has been greatly reduced. Currently, the estimated processing time is between four to six months. Consequently, now is an opportune time to apply for permanent residence if you are eligible for that immigration benefit.


Thank you to everyone that had submitted questions to our firm. If you have a general question or an immigration topic, you may submit it to our firm at [email protected] and your question and our answer may appear in our monthly Q&A article. Please note that complex questions will not appear in our article and can only be answered via a paid confidential consultation.


Disclaimer: This article is a broad overview of common immigration questions. This article is provided as a public service and is not intended to establish an attorney-client relationship. Any reliance on the information contained herein is taken at your own risk. The information provided in this article should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

About the Writer:
Safiya Byars ([email protected]) is the senior partner and owner in the Law Office of Safiya Byars ( She is an active member of the Caribbean and International communities in Georgia. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Montevallo and received her law degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her office is located at 160 Clairemont Avenue, Ste. 200, Decatur, Georgia 30030.  Attorney Byars handles all immigration matters, deportation defense, family law issues, and business formation/litigation. To discuss you case, contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or 678-954-5809.