The Statue of Liberty standing on Ellis Island is engraved with “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door”.1 With the on-going tensions in the United States government, all the way up to the White House, this very important transcription gets a little murky. Which would unfortunately, be a quite accurate description of our immigration policies in this country. The United States is a country founded by immigrants and built on the backs of immigrants. For whatever reason, as immigrants of this country either by choice or not, we can’t seem to get it right.
The political rhetoric in this country lends a very messy hand to stirring the pot. We are in an environment where identity politics and tribalism is at its most rampant. You can either be for one side or for the other. There isn’t much room for people who like to find themselves right in the middle. Our Congress and our Senate has dug in their heels and toes all the way up to the knees, entrenching themselves on their respective sides. Any defect from what was on the agenda for whatever side the congressman or senator is playing for, could be seen as political suicide. People on your own team would essentially set out to bury you with your constituency for someone who is more apt to play ball. With that kind of political rhetoric and unrealistic expectations, no wonder DC is so gridlocked when it comes to getting things done.
Now we are seeing the unfortunate ramifications of our House of Representatives and our Senators retreating to their respective sides. It has taken a sever toll on the very citizens who put them into office to represent them. We recently saw examples of this in the government shutdown where 800,000 federal workers were not receiving a paycheck. We are also seeing extreme forms of this chaos in our current immigration policy. The government can’t seem to agree to agree to meet to discuss immigration. Both sides seeing compromise as a dirty word and considered defection from your tribe.
As a result, we have one sided disastrous policies such as Family Separation where if you entered the US in a way deemed illegal, if you have small children with you, your children will be taken from you until you are able to be processed. In some cases, parents haven’t seen their children in months. Even after this unfortunate policy was implemented, there was more finger pointing and blame coming from our representatives than solutions to an obvious issue. So with all the blow-hard rhetoric about needing a wall, What to do with DACA recipients, anchor migration, work visas, who should be considered for paths to citizenship, it’s hard to know if we still even have an immigration policy. If we do, what is it?
Here is a great guide to get you started on understanding how to properly immigrate to the United States.
Where to Start the Immigration Process
If you want to get started on the immigration process, the first thing you’re going to need to do is apply for an immigration visa. According to travel.state.gov2, to be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative, U.S. lawful permanent resident, or a prospective employer. Primarily, immigrants seek family or employment bases visas. Once you’ve made it to the US, applicants can look into permanent resident status or possibly even a green card which will grant holders the right to stay and work in the US. The next step would be to establish your path to citizenship if that’s what you are interested in pursuing. If this is a route you’d like to take, the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) will need your application and you will need their approval. Once approval is confirmed, the National Visa and State Departments will be involved in your case. The entire process can become overwhelming and quite cumbersome. It is advised if you care able to obtain an attorney to do so. If any steps in the process are missed, you may have to start all over again, and many people don’t have that kind of time.
The Types of Visas Available
If you are a bit confused as to which visa is the right one for you, you are not alone. There are many different categories of visas you could apply for. Here are a few examples of the visas that could be applied for.
Immediate Relative and Family Sponsored
For immediate relative and family sponsored visas, applicant would need family ties here in the US to qualify. For example, the applicant would need to be the spouse of a US citizen, have a Fiancé who is a US citizen and lives in the US, must be a circumstance of an Inter-country adoption of orphan children by US citizens, certain family members would need to be US citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program awards up to 50,000 applicants yearly, a visa for a green card. This may grant permanent residency in the US and can ultimately lead to a path to citizenship. Applicants are required to minimally have a high school education as well as 2 years of work experience within a small window of time. Generally you will need these requirements completed in the last 5 years.
Visa Waiver Program
The Visa waiver program allows individuals who are not planning on getting permanent residency to remain in the country for a limited amount of time. These visas are known as nonimmigrant visas. This permits individuals from other countries to stay in the US for up to 90 days. It will be on the applicant to leave for a time and they’d be permitted to come back and reapply.
If you are a tourist or visiting for business, you may qualify for nonimmigrant visas. This will allow to to visit for business or for leisure. Nonimmigrant visas could last for up to one year. There are nonimmigrant visas for students who are eager to study at a formal institution here in the US.
Temporary workers may also qualify for Nonimmigrant visas if they have a specialty in a particular occupation. Employers may have challenges finding US citizens who specialize in the kind of work they need done and will need to outsource.
The Costs of Immigration
The cost of immigration varies wildly with each case. It can dramatically change if you decide to use an attorney or go it alone. Lawyers will obviously charge you an arm and a leg, along with all of the souls of your offspring. Just kidding about the offspring, but it may feel like they are ripping everything from you with prices ranging from 5K to 7.5K, not including application fees. In some cases, costs can run all the way up to 12K. Make sure an immigration lawyer takes you through all the costs that could be associated with immigration.
From Visa to Green Card
If you want a Green Card, which will bestow rights as a permanent resident and allows applicants to work, you will need a visa first. This is a lot easier said than done. If you are in the process of getting a renewal, unfortunately the process is no easier as you are treated as a brand new applicant.
You may be able to apply for a green card and a visa simultaneously. Either way, the process will take months up to 10 years so prepare yourself for the long haul.
It is worth mentioning again, this process is not to be taken lightly and you will need a professional to properly guide you through all the pitfalls of trying to get stable immigration status in the US. Lawyers, though costly, will be your best advocate and line of defense to get you to the finish line.