"Mr. Phipps, I have a friend . . . "

I am frequently asked by U.S. citizens if they can sponsor a friend or co-worker who is already in the United States. The answer to this question is often “no,” and the reasons behind it highlight some of the problems with current U.S. immigration law.

Problem # 1: There simply is no visa to apply for. If the person is already in the U.S. in unlawful status (having entered without a visa or having overstayed a visa), the law creates several penalties that prevent many people from changing to a lawful status. For example, assume a U.S. citizen has a co-worker who is an experienced brick mason. The brick mason entered the United States without a visa 10 years ago when he was 20 years old. He is not married and has no children. He has no parents or siblings in the United States with lawful immigration status. The brick mason’s skills, willingness to work, and an offer of employment are not enough to secure a visa or work permit. There is no “line” he could get in, there is no form to fill out or fee to pay. This person simply cannot change from “unlawful” to “lawful” status. (But see “It’s Complicated” below).

Problem # 2: The penalties are harsh. In many cases, a person who is in the U.S. and wants to apply for a visa must first leave the United States. However, the departure from the U.S. may trigger penalties that prevent the person from returning to the U.S. for several years. While these penalties can sometimes be forgiven, often they cannot. 

Problem # 3: It’s Complicated. The U.S. immigration laws have been amended so many times over the past 50 years that the result is a patchwork of complicated provisions. On rare occasions, I discover a person falls into an obscure category that makes the person eligible for a benefit. Thus, even in the example given above, I would ask the brick mason several other questions before determining if he were categorically ineligible for a visa. While the odds are stacked against this person, it is worth consulting with an experienced immigration attorney to see if any options are available.