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How to Get a Green Card If You Entered the U.S. Illegally?

a U.S. visa card

Those who enter the United States without approval from the Department of State enter illegally. Violating the terms of legal entry can result in serious consequences. Those who enter the U.S. illegally cannot apply for a green card inside the U.S. However, they can leave the U.S. and apply for a green card abroad. Illegal immigrants who remain in the U.S. for more than 180 days lose that opportunity and won’t be able to apply for a U.S. visa legally outside the U.S. for three to ten years.

Since the U.S. takes illegal entry seriously, they only offer very few options for illegal or undocumented immigrants to obtain a U.S. permanent residency (green card). Our Orange County immigration attorneys explain how you can get a green card if you’ve entered the U.S. illegally.

Marrying a U.S. Citizen

Undocumented immigrants who enter into a valid and real marriage with a U.S. citizen make them an “immediate relative” under U.S. immigration laws. There are serious consequences for sham or unreal marriages created to obtain permanent residency. Since immediate relatives are eligible to obtain a family-based visa, an undocumented immigrant would qualify. However, the illegal status of the immigrant can create serious issues and can jeopardize their ability to get a family-based visa.

The 601A waiver can help spouses and other immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen petitioner. The waiver asks the U.S. government to excuse the applicant’s unlawful presence.

Service in the U.S. Military

If you have served or are on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces during a war, you may apply for U.S. citizenship. You would be granted citizenship if you served at World War I, World War II, the Korean hostilities, the Persian Gulf War, or the War on Terrorism.

Cancellation of Removal

If you were arrested by ICE as an undocumented immigrant, you can request a cancellation of removal. This could ultimately grant you a green card if you can demonstrate that you’ve been physically present in the United States for at least ten years. You must also prove that you’ve been a person of good moral character for those ten years, and your removal from the U.S. would be an extreme hardship for your spouse and children.


Undocumented immigrants who are refugees can apply for asylum when they are in the United States. They can apply within one year of entry. You would need to prove that you’ve been persecuted or fear future persecution in your home country.

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If you are an undocumented immigrant who wants to obtain permanent residency, you need an experienced attorney. Contact our Orange County immigration attorneys today at (949) 478-4963!

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