The Myth of the “Good Guy” Visa

I’ve been an immigration attorney for quite a few years now. In my practice, there’s one thing in particular that I see time and again. Without fail, people come to my office and ask for the “good guy” visa. They don’t call it that exactly, but I see this all the time. They tell me things like “I pay my taxes and I own a business,” “He works hard and takes care of his family,” “I’ve been in the United States for years and I love this country,” or “She’s a great person and my family adores her.” They all believe that if someone is a good person, he or she will be able to file immigration paperwork and obtain lawful permanent residence (“a green card”) or U.S. citizenship. They are baffled that during my consultation, I do not focus on those good qualities. Instead, I ask about how they came to this country, their immigration history, and their family ties to the country, among other things. I ask these more technical questions because there is no “good guy” visa.

Being a good person is a good, laudable, admirable thing. People should pay taxes and they should take care of their family. I am glad they love the U.S., and I am glad they have friends and colleagues who care for them. By and large, however, our immigration laws do not take these factors into consideration for purposes of obtaining lawful status in the United States.

Absolutely, the concept of good moral character is does play a factor during the naturalization process and in removal defense. There are sections of immigration law that refer to crimes involving moral turpitude. Good moral character alone, however, is not a path to lawful status. At best, being a good person is one requirement among many needed to obtain an immigration benefit. If someone does not meet all the requirements, that person will not get a visa, or lawful status, or citizenship. For most visa categories, being a good person is more like an absence of negatives. Not having a criminal record matters for immigration, but being a provable upstanding member of the community does not.

In general, U.S. immigration law focuses on the reason the person wants to come to the country and on that person’s ties here. Most people are only able to come to the U.S. if someone or some organization in the U.S. wants to sponsor them to be here. Being admitted to a university or having a job offer are some of the common ways that individuals qualify for a visa. Reuniting with close family or working in a job with insufficient U.S. workers can be ways to apply for lawful permanent residence. Without a family member, a university or college, or an employer sponsorship, the best person in the world may have no way to immigrate to the U.S. except, for example, through the remote possibility of winning the diversity visa lottery, which has 50,000 visas available each year and millions of people applying. That remote chance is getting even less likely as the program is in the administration’s crosshairs.

It’s hard to sit across from a potential client and explain these things, watching as their hopes and dreams of immigrating to the United States are crushed before my eyes. On the other hand, being an immigration attorney can also be an invigorating role as I have the opportunity to utilize my expertise to work with potential clients to help dispel myths about the immigration system, evaluate the visa options available to them under U.S. immigration law, and to then work closely with them to help them successfully navigate those options. No “good guy visa” required.

by Doug Penn