The US, being the land of the free, attracts many prospective immigrants who are hoping to lead a better life or get a second chance in a country far from their own.
The US, in turn, accepts millions of immigrants. By now, immigrants account for 13.6% of the total US population.
However, the number of immigrants doesn’t even compare to the number of applicants. Immigrating to the US isn’t easy, to say the least.
How hard is it to immigrate to the US? Keep on reading to find out.
How Legal Immigration Works in the US
The government agency in charge of approving (or denying) immigration applications is the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They follow the policies set by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952.
According to INA, USCIS can grant up to 675,000 permanent immigrant visas every year. Not included are the spouses, parents, and children under 21 years old of US citizens.
The immigration law in the US works on four basic principles:
- Reuniting families
- Admitting skilled people
- Protecting refugees
- Promoting diversity.
These principles are what guide the immigration officers in deciding the eligibility of an applicant.
How Hard is It to Immigrate to the US?
With that said, how hard is it to immigrate to the US? Those who have undergone the process are the only ones who can tell you how hard it is. But, based on their experiences, we can tell you that it’s not an easy road.
To give you a better idea, let’s talk about numbers. USCIS has a quota per country, so not everyone eligible gets a green card.
In Mexico, for instance, USCIS can accept up to 26,000 applicants per year. That’s a puny number compared to the actual number of people on the immigrant waiting list, which is at 1.3 million.
USCIS is still processing applications from decades ago. If you apply now, you might have to wait another decade or so.
Aside from the long list of applicants, you also have to go through various red tape to get anything done. You’ll have to prepare a lot of paperwork, submit a lot of requirements, and such.
Still, legal immigration to the US isn’t impossible, and there are many ways to do it. What does it take to immigrate to the US? Learn the paths you can take below.
Family-based immigration allows US citizens to petition for family members. Immediate relatives are the priority. Still, other family members can apply through the family preference system.
Eligible immediate relatives are the spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents of US citizens. Such relatives can get a green card with no wait time.
Under the family preference system, applicants can be the adult children, brothers, and sisters of a citizen. Green card holders may also be able to petition their spouses and unmarried children. Applicants must wait for their visa number before they can claim their green card.
Relatives not mentioned here must go through other paths to become legal immigrants.
Employment-based immigration is another common way to become a permanent resident in the United States. Note that USCIS also gives out temporary visas under this pathway.
Prospective immigrants must already have a job offer from a US employer, who will then petition for them. The employer must be:
- Willing to sponsor the candidate
- Take financial responsibility for them
- Prove that the candidate will not displace an American for the role
- Wait for them to get a visa number
In some cases, the employer must also first test the US labor market. They must meet the requirements set by the Department of Labor before filing a petition.
If an employer isn’t willing to do these things, then you won’t be able to use this path.
You may also immigrate to the US as a refugee or asylee. This might be the trickiest path to immigration, as you’ll have to prove the life-threatening or extraordinary conditions happening in your country of origin. Refugees must prove they have a well-founded fear of persecution due to the following:
- Their race
- Their social group
- Their political stance
- Their religion
- Their national origin
If you’re unable to prove these things, you’ll not be able to become an immigrant.
This path gives visas to immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the US.
That’s the first requirement – you have to be a national of one of these countries. You also need to be at least a high school graduate. You also qualify if you have experience in a job for 2 consecutive years.
The way to get a visa this way is by chance. A computer-generated lottery system draws random applicants.
Millions of applicants enter each year, but only around 50,000 people get chosen.
What Happens After Immigration
After immigration, those who obtain an immigrant visa becomes a lawful permanent resident (LPR) once they come to the United States. They enjoy much of the privileges of regular citizens, like being able to apply for almost all jobs and staying permanently even if they’re jobless.
However, they can apply to become a full-fledged US citizen in as soon as five years. There’s no other way to become eligible for US citizenship without being an LPR first.
Non-citizens who are already in the US can apply for a change in status to get LPR status.
Obtaining a US citizenship is a whole different matter, which we’ll not discuss here. Of course, it’s still up to USCIS whether to grant it to you based on several factors.
Do You Want to Immigrate to the US?
Now you know the answer to the question, “How hard is it to immigrate to the US?” Still, we assure you it’s harder than you think.
It’s best to get legal help when you’re trying to become immigrants. Lawyers can teach you how to legally immigrate and walk through the process. If you need more help, read our other immigration guides and tips today.
To read more on topics like this, check out the Lifestyle category