If you are facing an immigration question, careful planning will increase the chance that you will accomplish your objective. How you plan will depend on your current status. An experienced U.S, immigration lawyer can advise you on how to achieve your goals.
If You Are Outside The U.S.
In some ways, this is the best position to be in, because it is less likely that you will have made any big mistakes that could make it difficult for you later. If you plan on coming to the U.S. for a short trip, there are a number of visas that will likely fit your needs. If you want to remain for a longer period of time, then an immigration lawyer should be consulted to help you through the process. It might be difficult to find an immigration lawyer, since most knowledgeable immigration lawyers are in the United States. However, there is an increasing number of immigration lawyers who can be contacted over the Internet.
You should have a clear plan as to when you want to come to the U.S., how long you want to stay, and a sense of what you would like to be doing in the future – even as far ahead as the next ten years. Having this information will help your lawyer provide you with advice about how you can accomplish this goal. The lawyer may examine whether you might be eligible for an immigrant visa in the immediate future or whether the better strategy would be to pursue a nonimmigrant visa first and then to convert that into permanent residency after you have been in the U.S. for awhile. These strategies will depend on whether you have been in the U.S. before, whether you remained illegally, committed any crimes, made any misrepresentations to the INS or consular officials, etc.
If You Are In The U.S.
Seeing a lawyer as soon as possible is advisable since time is always a factor. Perhaps your status will run out soon or has already run out.
You should think about what you would like to do in the short term as well as the long term. If you are in a legal status, then you will need to think about how long you can legally remain in that status. Are there possibilities for changing the status? What are the prospects for moving into a permanent status and how would that be accomplished? Does your situation allow you to leave the U.S. for any period before getting your permanent residency?
If You Are Here Illegally
Planning is particularly important in this situation, because the longer you have been here illegally, the more obstacles you will face. While this might not mean that you will never be able to remain permanently, it does mean that you will have to be extra careful about how you go through the immigration process. The lawyer will be particularly concerned with how long you have been out of status or illegally in the U.S. She will also need to know about your work, education, and family ties with permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
You should also anticipate that if you are discovered by the INS, you will be required to post a bond and will need the assistance of an attorney to help you. A bond of $5,000 or more is not unusual, depending on the facts of your case. You should therefore place the money in a secure location, either in a bank account or with relatives (one of whom is legally in the U.S.) who can work with your lawyer to get you released.