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Basic visa photo requirements when coming to the U.S.

When applying for a visa to come to the United States, the photograph requirements are specific.

What the requirements are varies a bit depending on the type of visa you are pursuing, but they do have common elements that are the same. Whether a photo or digital image is needed depends on the type of visa. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs strongly recommends having a professional visa photo service take the picture or pictures, but it is not required as long as the requirements are met.

Photos have to be in color, and should be no more than 6 months old so that the picture matches the applicant's current appearance. To make sure the photo is clear, applicants are also required to have the photo taken in front of a white or off-white background and face the camera directly, with both eyes open and a neutral facial expression.

Following these criteria is meant to make people easier to recognize. When getting dressed before the photo, the State Department indicates applicants should wear everyday clothing, avoiding uniforms and head coverings unless they are worn for religious reasons on a daily basis.

If someone wears glasses, he or she may wear them for the photo, but should make sure there is no glare off the lenses. Glasses that are dark or tinted, which hide the eyes, are not allowed. People can also wear hearing devices and similar aids if they regularly do so. Headphones, electronics and other items that are not needed aren't allowed, however.

There are also specific requirements for the photograph's size. The head has to be between 50 and 69 percent of the image's total height, which means between 1 and 1 ⅜ inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head for a normal passport-sized image. That may also be measured as between 22 and 35 millimeters. The head should be centered in the photo, and the picture should be 2 inches wide and 2 inches tall.

If a photo does not meet these and any other requirements, then it will likely be rejected and you will have to take a new one. Check for additional criteria that apply to specific visas. Once approved to come to the United States, whether planning to visit or stay, people may want to send money online to help out loved ones back home.

Useful Links:

Visa Photo TemplateExamples
Tips on taking your own photo


Top 4 questions about the visa process answered

When immigrants are thinking about working in the U.S. so that they can send money home to their families who live in their native country, one way of going about it is to seeking out a visa.

However, while most immigrants have heard of a visa, they may not be entirely clear about what it does and how it works. To help, the U.S. Department of State has answered several questions people often have about visas.

1. While visas are generally used by people who want to travel to the United States on a temporary basis, there are several visas from which to choose. For instance, non-immigrants need one type of visa, while immigrants needed another. The State Department provides some of examples of visa types for immigrants as well as ones for temporary visitors.

2. Something else that immigrants may be confused about is what a visa actually does. For example, while a visa is the first step to visiting the U.S. legally, it does not necessarily guarantee them entry. What it does do is enables foreign citizens to travel to the U.S. port of entry. From that point, the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorizes or denies admittance. CBP offers additional admission info on its website.

3. Once foreign citizens have gone through the admission process and everything has been cleared, they may not know the length of time they have to stay in the U.S. According to the State Department, this is generally determined by the U.S. immigration inspector who authorizes or denies entry. What usually happens is the inspector will give the immigrant a Form I-94 – also called an Arrival Departure Record, with a date on it. That date is the time in which immigrants need to go back to their native country or renew their visa so that they can stay longer.

4. Of course, when foreign citizens seek to gain entry into the U.S. by obtaining a visa, their friends or relatives may want to know how the process is going. However, they may not know how they can find that information out. However, because visa application information is a private matter, that information remains confidential. Because of this, friends will need to get in touch with their foreign citizen relative directly and get the status from them, the State Department advises.

The State Department also has additional frequently asked questions foreign nationals may have before beginning the visa application process.

Helpful Links:

Types of visas for temporary visitors
Visa types for immigrants


Understanding how the government works: The Executive and Judicial Branches

Given the attention the are given by the worldwide media, the president of the United States is the part of the federal government immigrants are likely the most familiar with.

As U.S Citizen and Immigration Services indicates, the president of the U.S. is in charge of the Executive branch of the government. In short, while the Legislature is charged with making laws, the Executive carries out the laws, or "executes" them. It sees to it that laws are enforced.

But the president is tasked with a variety of other duties as well, as the responsibilities that come with the office are considerable. For instance, the president establishes the policies the country will adhere to, proposes laws to Congress, makes appointments to various government positions and is also in charge of the armed forces. This is where the term "Commander in Chief" comes from.

Just as senators and representatives are elected to office, the president is voted by the American people as well. However, unlike legislators, presidents serve four years and are eligible to run for a second term. However, unlike legislators, presidents can only run for two terms. Congressional members can run for office as many times as they would like, provided they have the votes.

The last part of the federal government is the Judicial Branch. This is the portion of government that interprets the law. In other words, the judicial branch reviews laws to make sure that they are accurate and do not conflict with the tenets of the U.S. Constitution.

While the Legislature is composed of one body and the Executive is personified by the president, the Judicial branch is made up of a nine-person body. This group is called the Supreme Court and the people in the body are called "justices."

Throughout the year, these justices review laws that are proposed at the federal or state level and determine whether the laws uphold or conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers present the arguments for and against the law and justices determine whether to uphold or overrule a law by voting.

Unlike congressional members and the president, Supreme Court justices are appointed to their positions by the president. The Legislature – namely, the Senate – then votes on whether to confirm or deny the president's appointment. If the justice is confirmed, they serve on the court for the rest of their lives but can resign if they so choose.

This brief history of how the government works may help immigrants establish a better knowledge of the country they send money from – the United States of America.

Helpful links:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The White House
The U.S. Supreme Court – Inside the White House


Understanding how the government works: The Legislative Branch

While finding a job in order to be able to send money back home is typically the most important factor in many immigrants' lives, once they establish themselves, it's natural for them to pursue other interests.

One of these may be government, as it's not uncommon for immigrants to get involved in politics by learning more about current events and what role people have in swaying public policy.

But before immigrants jump into the political fray, it may be in their interest to learn more about how the federal government works. To help, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services put together a primer that can help them learn about some of the fundamental tenets of the American governmental system.

At a basic level, the federal government is composed of three separate and distinct bodies or branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

The Legislative branch is charged with the responsibility of making laws and is composed of an assemblage of spokespeople who are voted into office by their constituents. These spokespeople are called representatives and senators.

Within the Legislative branch are two smaller bodies that compose the whole: The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Both housed in the same building – the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., – the House of Representatives has 435 members, all of whom "represent" their individual states and districts. The more people a state has in terms of population, the more representatives they have. For instance, Delaware – a state with a low population – has one representative, while the heavily populated state of California has 53.

Each representative serves for a period of two years but they can run for re-election when their term has expired.

The other body of Congress is the U.S. Senate. This congressional body is composed of 100 senators, and unlike the House, each state has two senators, no matter how large or small the state may be.

Also unlike the House, senators serve for a period of six years but they too can run for re-election.

While both bodies make laws for the nation, each has duties that are exclusive to them. For instance, as the USCIS documents, only the House of Representatives can introduce laws about taxes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is the only body that can agree to agreements the president makes with other countries. They are also the only body that can approve appointments made by the president to various departments within the government.

Helpful links:

U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
Welcome to the U.S.A. – History and Government


To renew or to naturalize? That is the question

When immigrants are hard at work in an effort to send money home to their loved ones, they may suddenly realize that this is the year their permanent residency cards expires. But before immigrants take the steps necessary to renew, immigration and legal experts say it may be in their' best interest to think about their status and whether it's worth their while to naturalize.

In a special for the Hagatna Guam News, attorney Catherine Bejerana Camacho offered a few pieces of advice immigrants should consider that will help them make a more informed decision.

For starters, before immigrants can even think about naturalization, they should first make sure they qualify. For instance, if permanent residents have only been in the U.S. for two years, they're not eligible to fill out a naturalization application.

However, there are some instances in which immigrants are obligated to fill out a naturalization application. This includes those who have a 10-year permanent resident card that will expire this year. If immigrants don't get this taken care of, they may be prevented from traveling by customs enforcement officers, the source indicates.

Something else immigrants should take under advisement is if there are any conditions in which remaining a permanent citizen is in their best interest. For example, Camacho offers the example of someone who may have filed a petition on behalf of their son or daughter who's living in another country to become a resident in the U.S. By filling out the necessary paperwork to become a citizen, Camacho says they could affect their child's visa category, which could potentially lead to problems down the road, such as a visa taking longer.

Another reason why immigrants may want to renew their permanent residency rather than naturalizing is if they have business interests in their home country. By becoming a legal citizen of the U.S., they may jeopardize their ownership back home, according to Camacho.

Finally, Camacho reminds immigrants to make sure they had any run-ins with the law, as criminal records will likely hurt their chances of their naturalization application being approved.

If all of these scenarios check out, immigration experts say naturalization is typically better than staying a permanent resident. However, individual circumstances vary, which is why Camacho recommends immigrants consult with an expert before deciding.

Helpful links:

Immigrant Legal Resource Center – Citizenship and Naturalization
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – Application for Naturalization
N-400 Document Checklist


5 things you should know when renting your first apartment in the U.S.

While finding an apartment and filling out the necessary paperwork to apply are significant aspects of the apartment-hunting process, there are several other aspects immigrants need to do before they can even think about moving in. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration reviews what these are.

1. Sign a Lease to Protect Your Rights – Assuming that all the paperwork checks out and the landlord agrees to rent out the property, the next thing immigrants will have to do is sign an agreement, or what's referred to as a lease. This is a document that outlines the terms in which the tenant that's renting the property agrees to and also lays out the commitments of the landlord.

2. Repairs, Term, and Responsibilities – By signing a lease, tenants agree to keep the home in good shape, pay their rent in a timely fashion and stay in the unit for a particular period of time. The length is usually a year, but it's not uncommon for rent agreements to be shorter. In return, the landlord agrees to do their part, such as making sure repairs are taken care of and ensuring the property is in good working order, the source indicates.

3. Paying a Security Deposit – Once both sides sign the lease, tenants may then be asked to pay a security deposit. These are fees that landlords charge to tenants right before they move in to their units. Basically, a security deposit ensures the landlord will be compensated should they experience losses due to the tenant, such as paying for damage or as a way to pay for rent that the tenant may have neglected to pay. Security deposits are typically equal to one-month's rent, the source indicates.

4. Getting Your Security Deposit Back – While security deposits may be an additional expense immigrants were not aware of, this money is typically returned to to tenants whenever they decide to move out. However, the landlord may decide not to reimburse the tenant if they had to pay for repairs that resulted from the occupant's tenancy.

5. What Expenses are Covered – Finally, while rent usually covers the cost of living in the apartment, it sometimes includes expenses for other things. Rent may include the cost of utilities, such as gas, electricity, heat, water and trash removal. However, some landlords may require that the tenant pay for these expenses separately. To find out, USCIS advises immigrants to ask their landlord about what rent includes before signing an agreement.

Finding a place to live is a crucial part of immigrants' experience in the U.S. It will help give them the peace of mind they may need so they can work and send money home to their families.

Helpful links:

Department of Housing and Urban Development: Fair Housing – It's Your Right
HUD's Public Housing Program Apartment-hunting Guide


The steps involved in finding and renting an apartment

When immigrants come to the United States, they know that one of their first priorities is to find a job so that they can send money to their families. As important as this may be, however, it may be even more vital to find a place that they can come home to.

Immigrants are likely well aware that the state of housing in the U.S. isn't as healthy as it has been in the past, with many property values losing their value. Perhaps as a result of few people buying homes, there's been an increase in the number of people renting properties, such as condominiums and apartment units.

While immigrants may have a goal of eventually a buying a home of their own, they're typically in financial situations more conducive for renting. However, given immigrants' newness to the country, they may be unsure of what they need to do to begin the process.

To help, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offers a few tips.

The best way to find a place is simply by looking around. When driving or walking in an area, there will likely be signs saying "Apartment Available" or "For Rent." Immigrants who are apartment hunting may also want to peruse their newspapers under the "Classified" section, as this part of a newspaper has the contact information for people who are renting out residences. Other ways the source advises immigrants of finding a place to live includes asking friends who they may work with or checking the internet. If consistent web access isn't available, public libraries typically have computers with internet accessibility offered to local residents.

The next part of the rental process is meeting with the building's landlord. As the USCIS indicates, "landlords" are the people that own the building that's being rented out.

In the process of speaking to the landlord about the unit, they will likely ask that a rental application be filled out. This is so the landlord knows what the immigrant's background is and if they have a steady job to pay for the property. These forms require that the immigrant fill in pertinent information, such as their Social Security number, name and proof of employment. Establishing proof may involve listing the contact information for their company's boss or attaching a pay stub to the application.

Helpful links:

Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants
Department of Housing and Urban Development
NYC Affordable Housing Resource Center


The benefits of U.S. citizenship

When immigrants have gone through the process of becoming legal residents of the U.S., it’s quite the achievement. It takes a great deal of determination and resolve to satisfy all the requirements. Therefore, once it’s achieved, it’s understandable why so many start devoting all of their attention to finding a job so they can send money to those they love back home.

But it may be in immigrants’ best interest to take their legal residency in the U.S. an additional step by applying for citizenship.

According to immigration lawyers, there are a variety of reasons why going the extra mile for citizenship pays off. One of the biggest ones is the latitude it gives immigrants. For instance, should they want to travel or live abroad for a certain period of time, they’re perfectly free to do that as a citizen. As a legal resident, however, they’re not subject to the same standard. For instance, once legal resident immigrants return to the U.S. after travelling, they have to present a variety of documents that indicate they have a legal right to live in the country, such as by presenting their passport as well as their green card.

Another benefit of citizenship is the legal right to vote in federal and local elections. They can also run for office and be awarded grants that are only offered to U.S. citizens. Permanent residents have no such rights and can be denied from participating in elections or applying for some grants and scholarships.

While immigrants often come to the United States so they can provide for their families who still live in their home country, feelings of homesickness may lead to them to want their spouse or child to move to the U.S. As a citizen, immigrants have the ability to file a petition for their loved ones to come to the U.S. and live there permanently as legal immigrants. The process is considerably easier for citizens compared to residents.

But perhaps the best reason to become a U.S. citizen is the security it provides. As a citizen, immigrants cannot be removed or deported from the country for virtually any reason. The only way this may happen is if it’s discovered that the immigrant falsified statements and/or documents in order to obtain a green card.

These are just a few of the perks that come with U.S. citizenship. For more information on how to apply, click here.