How Can an Illegal Immigrant Become Legal?

how an illegal immigrant can become legal

There is no straightforward path to legal status for many undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The current immigration system has strict regulations with numerical limits and eligibility rules, meaning most undocumented immigrants do not qualify through family or employment pathways. This article explores the limited options available and barriers faced when trying to obtain legal resident status.

Family-Based Immigration

Family-based immigration is restricted to close relationships like spouses, parents/children, and siblings. However, visas require a qualified petitioning relative and meeting eligibility rules. So family visas are unavailable to most undocumented immigrants.

Employment-Based Immigration

Employment visas require an employer to request specific foreign workers. Very few undocumented immigrants qualify for these competitive visas, making them unrealistic for most.

Humanitarian Protection

Few undocumented immigrants fleeing their home countries can access refugee/asylum status. Even those with relatives/employers to petition still wait years due to visa demand exceeding availability.

Undocumented immigrants who entered without inspection generally cannot adjust status to permanent residency from within the country. So even if a visa is available, they must leave the U.S. for up to 10 years before reentering, risking long-term family separation.

The Need for Immigration Reform

The limited options and barriers show the system does not provide a viable pathway to legal status for most undocumented immigrants. Many have lived in the U.S. for over a decade, contributing to communities and the economy, yet have no way to legalize. Immigration reform is necessary to create a new pathway that allows them to participate in society and boost economic growth fully.


In summary, there are no simple answers on how an undocumented immigrant can become legal under the current system. The few options available face barriers and restrictions for most. Comprehensive reform is essential to address these challenges and establish an equitable system enabling undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status and fully contribute to the United States.

Q: How can an undocumented immigrant become legal?

A: There are several paths for an undocumented immigrant to become legal in the United States. Some common options include obtaining a green card, adjusting their status, or applying for temporary protected status.

Q: What is a green card and how can an undocumented immigrant apply for it?

A: A green card, also known as permanent resident status, allows an individual to live and work permanently in the United States. To apply for a green card, undocumented immigrants may need to have a qualifying family relationship or qualify under certain employment categories.

Q: Can an undocumented immigrant apply for a visa?

A: Undocumented immigrants generally cannot apply for visas, as visas are generally intended for individuals who are entering the United States legally. However, there may be certain exceptions or special circumstances where an undocumented immigrant may be eligible for an immigrant visa.

Q: What is adjustment of status and how does it apply to an undocumented immigrant?

A: Adjustment of status is a process that allows certain individuals who are already in the United States to apply for permanent resident status without having to leave the country. Undocumented immigrants may be eligible to adjust their status if they have an immediate relative who can sponsor them.

Q: What is cancellation of removal in immigration court?

A: Cancellation of removal is a form of relief available to certain undocumented individuals who are facing removal in immigration court. It allows them to apply for legal status if they can demonstrate that their removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Q: What is asylum and can it help an undocumented immigrant become legal?

A: Asylum is a form of protection that is available to individuals who have fled their home country due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. If granted asylum, an undocumented immigrant may be eligible to apply for permanent residence after one year.

Q: Can an undocumented immigrant become a citizen of the United States?

A: Yes, undocumented immigrants have a pathway to citizenship in the United States. However, the process can be complex and may require meeting certain eligibility criteria, such as obtaining legal permanent residency and maintaining a continuous physical presence in the country.

Q: Can an undocumented immigrant obtain legal status in the United States if they entered the country illegally?

A: While entering the United States illegally can present challenges, there may still be options for an undocumented immigrant to obtain legal status. It is important to consult with an immigration attorney to explore potential pathways based on individual circumstances.

Q: What is the role of an immigration attorney in helping an undocumented immigrant become legal?

A: An immigration attorney can provide guidance, advice, and representation to undocumented immigrants seeking to become legal in the United States. They can assess individual eligibility, assist with the application process, and represent clients in immigration court proceedings if necessary.

Q: What are some common terms related to the process of becoming legal for undocumented immigrants?

A: Some common terms related to the process of becoming legal for undocumented immigrants include deportation, applying for a green card, adjustment of status, permanent resident status, temporary protected status, immigration court, immigration status, and legal immigration status.


[1] Center for American Progress. (2021). Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants Would Boost U.S. Economic Growth. Retrieved from

[2] Pew Research Center. (2019). 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S. Retrieved from

[3] The White House. (2021). The Economic Benefits of Extending Permanent Legal Status to Unauthorized Immigrants. Retrieved from

[4] Congressman Doug Lamborn. (2023). Illegal Immigration. Retrieved from

[5] American Immigration Council. (2021). Why Don’t They Just Get In Line? There Is No Line for Many Unauthorized Immigrants. Retrieved from

[6] National Immigration Law Center. (2023). Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs. Retrieved from