The United States provides various ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the United States on either a permanent or a temporary basis. There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary, non-immigrant workers. These include, but are not limited to:
L visas for intra-company transfers,
P visas for athletes, entertainers and skilled performers,
R visas for religious workers,
A visas for diplomatic employees, and
H visas for special occupations such as nursing and agriculture.
Most of the temporary worker categories are for highly skilled workers, and immigrants with a temporary work visa are normally sponsored by a specific employer for a specific job offer. Many of the temporary visa categories have numerical limitations as well.
Permanent employment-based immigration is set at a rate of 140,000 visas per year, and these are divided into five preferences, each subject to numerical limitations. These include persons with extraordinary abilities, members of a profession holding advanced degrees, skilled shortage workers with at least two years of training or experience, certain “special” immigrants (like religious workers or ambassadorial staff), and people who will generate $500,000 to $1 million in job creating enterprises employing at least 10 people.
To determine whether you or someone you know qualifies for one of these categories, contact an experienced immigration attorney in your area.
In addition to the numerical limits placed upon the various immigration preferences, the INA also places a limit on how many immigrants can come to the United States from any one country. Currently, no group of permanent immigrants (family-based and employment-based) from a single country can exceed 7% of the total amount of people immigrating to the United States in a single year. This prevents any one nationality from dominating American immigration patterns.
III. Refugees and Asylees
Refugees. There are several categories of legal admission available to people who are fleeing persecution or are unable to return to their homeland due to life-threatening or extraordinary conditions. Refugees are admitted to the United States based upon an inability to return to their home countries because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, membership in a social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. There are also preference or priority categories for refugees based upon the degree of risk they face, membership in a group that is of special concern to the United States (designated yearly by the President and Congress) and whether or not they have family members in the U.S.
Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. The total limit is broken down into limits for each region of the world as well.
Asylum. Persons already in the United States who were persecuted or fear persecution upon their return to their country of origin may apply for asylum. There is no limit on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum in a given year nor are there specific categories for determining who may seek asylum.
Refugees and asylees are eligible to become Lawful Permanent Residents one year after admission to the United States as a refugee or one year after receiving asylum.
Other Forms of Humanitarian Relief . Temporary Protected Status may be granted to people who are in the United States but cannot return to their home country because of “natural disaster,” “extraordinary temporary conditions,” or “ongoing armed conflict.” TPS is granted for 6, 12, or 18 months and can be extended beyond that if unsafe conditions in the country persist.
Deferred Enforced Departure provides protection from deportation for individuals whose home countries are unstable, therefore making return dangerous.
Certain individuals may be allowed to enter the U.S. through parole, even though he or she may not meet the definition of a refugee and may not be eligible to immigrate through other channels. Parolees may be admitted temporarily for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.
IV. The Diversity Visa Lottery
The Diversity Visa Lottery is a program to allow the entry of immigrants from countries with low numbers of people admitted to the United States. Each year 50,000 visas are made available in the Diversity Visa Lottery. To be eligible, an immigrant must have a high school education (or its equivalent) or have, within the past five years, a minimum of two years experience working in a profession requiring at least two years of training or experience. A random lottery drawing chooses individuals for diversity visas. The visas are distributed among six geographic regions with a greater number of visas going to regions with lower rates of immigration, and with no visas going to nationals of countries sending more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the last five years. No one country within a region may receive more than 7% of the available visas in any one year.
V. U.S. Citizenship
Finally, in order to qualify for full U.S. citizenship, an individual must have had Long-Term Permanent Resident status (a green card) for at least 5 years (or 3 years if he obtained his green card through a U.S. citizen spouse or through the Violence Against Women Act). There are other exceptions for members of the U.S. military who serve in a time of war or declared hostilities. Applicants for U.S. citizenship must be at least 18 years old, demonstrate continuous residency, demonstrate “good moral character,” pass English and U.S. history and civics exams, and pay an application fee.