American society and politics have been dominated over the last four years by an increasing demand for tougher immigration sanctions. The Statue of Liberty stands in the harbor near New York City, holding her torch aloft as a light for the world with a sign reading “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Immigration has been pivotal in American history helping to increase the country’s diversity and its population. In order to understand immigration, people need to know how the immigration process works, past trends, and future trends.
Every American walking the streets of the U.S., aside from Native American citizens, is here as the result of immigration. At some point in time these individuals or their ancestors came to this country from Europe, Asia, or Latin America. America is a country built upon a foundation of immigration, and over the course of its history the country has undergone massive waves of immigration that have bolstered the population and altered the face of the country.
As time has passed, the federal government has sought to control the flow of immigration with laws that lay out the process of becoming a legal, permanent resident of the U.S. Currently there are four major ways in which an individual can emigrate to the U.S. and become a legal resident. These include the following processes:
- Reuniting with family
- Seeking employment
- As a refugee or in search of asylum
- Through other means such as diversity lotteries
Each year roughly 800,000 people are legally allowed into the U.S. under the above guidelines. These guidelines were put in place through the Immigration and Nationality Act, which also established quotas for immigration each year.
The most popular reason for emigrating to the U.S. is to be reunited with family members. Individuals with a family member already legally residing in the U.S. can seek citizenship through familial ties. The process must be started by the current resident of the U.S. This individual must be over 21 and needs to fill out an I-130 petition for an immigrant visa for a family member. The individual looking to emigrate must wait in line behind others wishing to emigrate from their same country before being granted a visa, and ultimately citizenship.
This process has a hierarchy through which the government determines citizenship requests. Unmarried sons and daughters have top priority in seeking citizenship through familial reunion, followed by spouses and finally other family members. Reuniting with family members accounted for roughly 66% of U.S. immigration requests in 2009.
The next most popular immigration process in the U.S. is for humanitarian reasons. Refugees and others seeking asylum represented roughly 17% of U.S. immigration as of 2009, and though their reasons may be similar that two groups are labeled differently regardless. The distinction made by the U.S. government works as follows:
- Asylum: This process is reserved for those who are being unfairly persecuted in their homeland based upon race, religion, or political beliefs.
- Refugees: This process is reserved for those fleeing a repressive regime in their homeland which poses a threat to their way of life, or as the result of a natural disaster.
After family reunions and asylum, the next most popular immigration process is employment. Those individuals seeking employment in the U.S. can be granted citizenship legally based upon their desire for employment. The process must be started by with a Form ETA 750 which is a labor certification request. After this a Form I-140 alien worker request must be filled out. Eventually, a visa number and a worker visa will be assigned to the individual, who may eventually apply to become a permanent resident.
Workers seeking to emigrate based upon employment are ranked based upon the skill sets they would bring to the economy. Certain groups, such as those who are skilled in art, education, or business, are given first priority. Others, such as unskilled laborers, are last on the list.
Other minor forms of immigration exist in the U.S. The most notable is the diversity lottery which allows for immigration from countries with low emigration numbers into the U.S. Other routes are available for those who are looking to invest large sums in American companies or hoping to start their own business.
During tough economic times, such as the current Great Recession, immigration often becomes the target of political maneuvering. This historical trend has repeated itself several times. Consider the following instances:
- The depression of the 1840s mobs of anti-Irish Catholic immigrants burned churches and rioted in Boston and Philadelphia
- In 1882 the government enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning all immigrants of Chinese origin
- In 1942 nearly 200,000 Americans of Japanese decent were imprisoned and their property taken as a result of the country’s battle with Japan during World War II.
Immigration is now back in the spotlight as jobless Americans, afraid of a perceived threat posed by immigrants, ask the federal government to do more to control immigration. Many ideas have been thrown out as a solution to immigration problems, including a border fence along the 2,000 mile U.S. – Mexico border.
Those looking for help with immigration for themselves or others can turn to places like Immigrationexperts.com. Here individuals and companies can find help deciphering with the correct laws, rights, and regulations surrounding immigration.