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What is the difference between an immigrant and a nonimmigrant?

People from around the world come to the United States for many reasons. When granting permission for individuals to come into this country (a visa), our immigration system generally divides these new arrivals into two large categories: immigrants and nonimmigrants. 

“Immigrant” status is attached to a person who is granted permission to permanently reside in the U.S. through (for example) an approved family petition filed by a family member who is a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen. Immigrants may also work without restriction and are eventually eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

A “nonimmigrant” is a non-U.S. citizen who enters the United States on a temporary basis and for a specific purpose—for instance to visit or be temporarily reunited with family; go to school; or work for a specific employer. The amount of time that a nonimmigrant may remain in the U.S., and their status here (whether they are allowed to work, where they can work, etc.) depends on the specific type of nonimmigrant visa the hold. In certain cases, it’s possible for for a nonimmigrant in the U.S. to apply for and adjust to immigrant status.

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