The Legal Immigration Process The legal immigration process in the United States is complicated, lengthy, costly, and not available to many who would like to be part of it. For these reasons, and because the process does not provide the United States with the number of workers its economy demands, the U.S. immigration system is widely www.mdcathcon.org regarded as “broken.” 2. Employment-Based: Employers sponsor a Completing the Immigration Process Opportunities for Legal Immigration potential employee for immigration; in select cases extraordinarily-qualified immigrants may The first step in legally immigrating to the An immigrant must have a legal immigrant visa immigrate without an employer-sponsor. United States is to obtain an immigrant visa. to be eligible for legal permanent residency and Employer sponsors must demonstrate that Most immigrants obtain visas through the U.S. citizenship, but the visa is not enough. To there are an insufficient number of qualified sponsorship of close family acquire a “green card,” an immigrant must first workers available in the United States to meet members or employers. Others apply to adjust his status to legal permanent their need. The wait can last 7 to 8 years qualify for visas as asylees or resident. The Department of Homeland Security because of the limited number of visas. refugees, fleeing persecution in then verifies that there are no medical, their home countries. Of all 3. Asylum and Refugee Status: These financial, criminal or prior immigration violation others wishing to come, only protections are available to people who are grounds to deny the application, which costs the luckiest few will have a unable or unwilling to return to their home $1,010. Most people need an attorney to help chance to do so legally; those countries because of persecution or a well- them navigate the complex process, incurring coming from countries like founded fear of persecution on account of race, additional costs of several thousand dollars. Mexico will have virtually no opportunity religion, nationality, membership in a particular Most legal permanent residents are allowed to whatsoever. Below are the four most common social group or political opinion. In general, apply for citizenship after five years. To gain ways of obtaining an immigrant visa: asylee status is granted in the United States citizenship, they must demonstrate good moral and refugee status is granted outside of it. character and a basic knowledge of English, 1. Family-based: A U.S. citizen or a legal U.S. history and government. The citizenship permanent resident (a “green card” holder) 4. Diversity Lottery: For those who don’t application costs $675. sponsors a family member for immigration. have a family member or employer to sponsor Waiting periods for obtaining such visas vary them, the Diversity Lottery may be an option. It is important to note that immigration law is a depending on the closeness of the family Only 50,000 winners are granted visas annually type of administrative – not relationship, and can be lengthy, because a in this process. Not everyone is eligible to enter criminal – law. Immigration limited number of visas are available each year. the lottery: The program aims to increase legal procedures like immigration from underrepresented countries, deportations do not proceed Sponsor Family relationship Wait for visa through the U.S. judicial so each year the State Department issues a list Spouse, minor child, U.S. citizen parent Immediate of those countries whose citizens may not system. They take place within 3.5 years apply. For 2008, immigrants from the following the U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. citizen Adult unmarried child (up to 14*) countries are excluded from the visa lottery: Because deportation is 6.5 years U.S. citizen Adult married child (up to 14*) Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the Dominican considered an administrative U.S. citizen Brother or sister 12 years Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, correction and not a criminal punishment, (up to 20*) Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Peru, Poland, undocumented immigrants facing deportation Perm. resident Spouse, minor child 5 years Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and do not have the right to legal counsel provided Perm. resident Adult unmarried child 9 years Vietnam. by the government. As most cannot afford legal *Some countries of origin, including Mexico, China, and the representation, they face the system alone. Philippines, have more restrictive visa availabilities. Special thanks to staff of the Hispanic Apostolate/Immigration Legal Services of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for their help in preparing this piece. The Hispanic Apostolate/Immigration Legal Services has provided services to immigrants in the Baltimore metropolitan area for more than 40 years.