Regardless if you are in the US without a visa or other documented status, there are some options for you to either defer potential deportation or to gain permanent residency status. Some of the more common options are discussed below.
Deferred Action (DACA)
Should you have entered the US with your parents as a child under the age of 16, you may be apply for deferred action under a new law known as DACA or the “Dream Act.” Provided you have not committed any felonies or serious crimes, have been in the US continuously since June 2007, are under the age of 31, and are in school, graduated, received a GED or been honorably discharged from the US military, you may qualify.
Under DACA, you are not given legal status but any deportation proceedings are deferred. You are allowed to apply for federal tuition assistance or even in-state tuition in a number of states, and can work provided you can demonstrate an economic necessity. You should apply for provisional immigrant status, secure employment, pay off any back taxes and wait for 5 years. Before applying, however, you should consult an immigration attorney for if you do not fit into a qualifying category, you risk deportation.
Asylum and Refugee Status
If you came from a country with a politically oppressive government or came to the US to escape persecution for religious or political beliefs or other reasons, you may be able to obtain asylum or refugee status and a path to citizenship. You must file your application within one year after entering the US. Filing a frivolous application for asylum, however, or lying on your application could have dire consequences.
UN Convention Against Torture (CAT)
A backup plan in case your asylum or refugee application is denied or you are applying because more than one year has passed since you entered the US is to apply for “withholding of removal’ or CAT protection. While these do not confer the same benefits as being a refugee and you may not be able to obtain a Green Card, you may be able to work. Once you do get CAT or withholding, though, you should seek to change your status. Consult an immigration attorney about your options.
Family-Based Green Card
Provided you have family in the US who are citizens or permanent residents, you could apply for a Green Card. It is best if you are a child, parent, spouse or sibling.
Marriage-Based Green Card
If you can show documentation that you were legally married to a US citizen or permanent US resident and physically attended the ceremony, even if it was performed in another country, and the marriage was not a sham, you can qualify for a Green Card. You will be asked many questions to demonstrate that you did not marry for the sole purpose of gaining legal residency.
In all of these cases, do not attempt to apply for any of these without the counsel of an immigration attorney who can properly advise you on which option you may qualify under and the steps you need to take.