The United States is home to nearly 34 million lawful immigrants. These immigrants are here in the country as lawful permanent residents (green card holders) or as temporary visa holders such as students and workers. Over the years, the immigration policy of the country has evolved along with the changes in administrations. But despite our country’s ever changing immigration policy, we continue to be the land of immigrants.
The US immigration policy is governed by a broad immigration law with a wide-ranging scope. It involves administrative law, civil law, appellate law, and criminal law. But what actually makes the US immigration policy more complicated are the constantly changing immigration laws. Almost every administration has a different take on the issue of immigration, hence our ever-evolving policies and laws. To make it even more complex, immigration policies are also affected by orders, rulings and decisions rendered by different government bodies, such as USCIS policy decision, federal court rulings, laws enacted by Congress, international treaties, and presidential executive orders.
Given the complexity of immigration laws in the US, top New York immigration lawyers recognize that it can be difficult for ordinary people to understand the country’s immigration policy. To help you get a glimpse of the US immigration policy, here are some basic immigration laws that lawyers recommend you to be familiar with.
Family Based Immigration
Green card holders can petition their immediate family members (spouse, children siblings, and parents.) However, permanent residents who don’t hold a green card cannot initiate a family-based visa sponsorship. There are different types of immigrant visas available depending on category to which your relative belongs. Specifically, close relatives can be categorized under unlimited family-based visa, while distant relatives fall under limited family-based visas. Uncles, aunts, in-laws, and other distant family members may not be sponsored. Recently, the Trump administration has been somehow critical about chain immigration. But the good news is that the recent pronouncement of the government still has no definitive impact on this visa type.
Employment Based Immigration
This immigration track is intended for individuals who have a valuable skill or whose employment is needed by the country. These immigrants can come to the US permanently or temporarily. US-based employers can file sponsorship for qualified aliens for a specific duration. Immigrants holding temporary working visas have limited ability to change jobs. There are several types of employment-based visas. The sponsoring agency will choose one depending on the eligibility requirement of the petitioned worker and the job classification being offered.
Visa Annual Limits and Caps
The Immigration and Nationality Act set a limit to the number of employment and family based immigrant visas issued every year. At present, the US only accepts up to 675,000 legal immigrants per year. This is divided as follows: 226,000, up to 480,000 for family-based visas; 140,000 for employment-based visas; and 55,000 for diversity visas (green card lottery). The available visas are calculated every year so that no country will have immigrants higher than 7%. This 7% per-country cap is applicable to both employment and family-based visas. This rationing of visas helps ensure diversity of immigrants coming to the country.
Asylum seekers and refugees
Although this immigrant category is very limited, it provides a path for people who are seeking asylum or refuge due to persecution in their homeland or other conditions that hinder them from going home. Asylum and refugee visas often require tedious vetting process before they are issued. The officers will determine the actual condition of the petitioned individual, such as the risk they face and whether they have a family in the US. It is the prerogative of the Congress and the president to set the number of visas under this category.
Diversity Visa and others
To better ensure representation of the entire global population in the US immigration, the diversity visa or green card lottery offers an immigration track for people coming from countries where there is a relatively low immigration rate to the US. But recently, this program has become a target of the Trump administration even vowing to cut it along with family-based visa.
There you have the key laws that shape the US immigration policy. Aside from these laws, there are also many other legal facts, such as DACA and immigration reforms, that you might need to know to fully understand the current state of immigration of our country. These legal issues deserve a separate post.