U.S. Immigration Policy

U.S. Immigration Policy

The US Immigration Policy is a very complex policy governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This policy is centered round four major aspects regarding permanent immigration, namely:

  • Family reunification;
  • Immigrants with skills that are needed in the USA;
  • Refugees protection; and
  • Diversification by country of origin.

These four sections are covered under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which has an annual limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants. However, there are some exceptions that apply to close family members.

Immigrants who have successfully passed through the very stringent admission process are termed legal permanent resident (LPRs), meaning that they are now lawfully entitled to live and work permanently in the United States. After 5 years as a green card holder individual LPRs would then qualify for citizenship through naturalization. Individuals, who received their green card as the spouse of an U.S. citizen, and women who received theirs through the ‘Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)’, qualify for citizenship through naturalization, after 3 years.


Limiting the Number of Immigrants from a Single Country

As a measure to prevent any one national group from dominating the US immigration policy numbers, the number of permanent immigrants from a single country cannot exceed 7% of the total number of immigrants to the USA in a single year.


Family-Based Immigration

Family Reunification is an important category driving the US immigration policy. Under family-based immigration US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are allowed to petition (sponsor) certain family members to immigrate to the USA. Every year 480,000 visa are available for this category.

The family-based category is further divided into two divisions:

1. Immediate relatives of US citizens, which includes:
1a) the spouse of a U.S. citizen;
1b) unmarried children, under 21 years of age, of U.S. citizens;
1c) the parents of U.S. citizens (the petitioner must be at 21 years or older and meet certain financial requirements in order to petition for a parent).

2. The family preference system, which includes;
2a) adult children (can be married or unmarried), and the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (to petition for a sibling the petitioner must be 21 years or older);
2b) the spouse and children (both minor and adult) of a lawful permanent resident (LPR), (the petitioner also has to meet certain financial requirements in order to petition a relative).

Note: In order to petition through the family preference system, the petitioner will have to prove the family relationship, have sufficient financial resources, and sign an affidavit that they will be financially responsible for their petitioned family member once in the USA. Also see Family Immigration Visa.

Employment-Based Immigration

Another important group in the U.S. immigration policy are immigrants with skills that are needed in the USA. In this category there are two paths to permanent immigration, either as a temporary non-immigrant worker, or as a permanent immigrant.


Temporary Non-Immigrant Visa

There are over 20 types of visas catering to this group with the visas most frequently applied for being: diplomatic employees (A-visa); intra-office transfers (L-visa); highly-skilled and lesser-skilled employees (selection of H-visas); workers of extraordinary ability (O-visa); athletes and entertainers (P-visa); and religious workers (R-visa); These have numerical limitations (see the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for the numerical limitations).


Permanent Employment-Based Immigration

This group is divided into 5 preferences and have a numerical limitation of 140,000 visas per year. Preference Category #1 covers “persons of extraordinary ability” in the arts, science, education, business or athletics; Preference Category #2 deals with professionals holding advanced degrees, and those individuals with exceptional abilities in the arts, science, or business; Preference Category #3 deals with skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience; Preference Category #4 handles certain “special immigrants” and includes religious workers, and employees of the U.S. foreign services, etc; Preference Category #5 covers individuals who invest $500,000 to $1 million in job-creating businesses. Also see U.S. Work Visa.


Diversification Policy in Immigration

The Diversity Visa lottery allocates 50,000 to 55,000 visas to individuals from countries that have a low rate of immigrants to the USA. No lottery visas are given to individuals from countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants over the past 5 years.

In order to be eligible for this visa an individual have a high school education, or have a minimum of two years (within the last 5 years), working in a profession that requires a minimum of two years training or experience. For more on the Green Card Lottery see…Getting a Green Card.

Refugee Protection

The U.S. immigration policy also has several categories of dealing with the immigration of refugees, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable populations. The number of refugees allowed each year into the USA is not included in the annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants. The number of refugees allowed into the USA is determined by Congress and the President.