A look at visas, green cards, refugees, asylum-seekers within US immigration system

A look at visas, green cards, refugees, asylum-seekers within US immigration system

Border Crisis: Fifth in a series

By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Understanding the U.S. immigration system can be confusing especially when it comes to the various ways a noncitizen can enter the country legally. The Alabama Baptist staff has been learning about the process and wanted to share some key points of information.

Visas and green cards

A visa functions as sort of an admission ticket into the country. A foreign national may legally enter the U.S. on either a temporary (non-immigrant) or permanent (immigrant) visa. Within those two major types many different subcategories of visas exist with differing requirements, time limits and restrictions on the number of people admitted under each visa.

Non-immigrant visas allow for temporary visits to the U.S. by a wide range of foreigners, from diplomats to doctors to deckhands and from athletes to au pairs to amusement park workers.

By contrast immigrants with permanent visas may apply for green cards, which grant them lawful permanent resident status. You can approach the immigration law firm in Oakland when you have to face any legal issues regarding your immigration status.

According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the U.S. grants about 1 million green cards each year.

“Roughly half are given to immigrants already in the United States who are adjusting from another status (for example temporary worker or student). The remainder go to applicants outside the United States. In both cases the majority of these visas require sponsorship by a relative or employer,” MPI reports.

Reunifying families is central to the U.S. immigration system, more so than what happens in other countries, according to MPI.

“While the share varies from year to year roughly two-thirds of legal immigration to the U.S. is on the basis of family ties with the rest divided between employment-based and humanitarian immigration and those arriving through the green-card lottery (also called the diversity visa).”

The diversity visa option is where foreigners from countries and regions with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. are allowed to apply for a green card. If you need any immigration related information, you have to hire an immigration lawyer and get advice from them!

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), up to 50,000 immigrant visas per year are randomly selected from applicants from six geographic regions: Europe; Africa; Asia; Oceania; North America (excluding Mexico); and South America, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

“The odds of being selected for this opportunity are very small,” reports the American Immigration Council (AIC), “with an average of 13.3 million people submitting applications each year.”

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) defines a refugee as “any person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence and is unable or unwilling to return to or seek protection of that country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Individuals outside the U.S. may apply for humanitarian status as refugees while those already in the U.S. (whether legally or illegally) must apply as asylum-seekers.

Asylum-seekers must prove they meet the definition of a refugee as specified by the Refugee Act of 1980. Since the passage of that act the U.S. has admitted more than 3 million refugees and granted asylum to more than 683,000 foreign nationals, according to the State Department.

Refugees and asylees are assisted by faith-based and volunteer agencies with their resettlement and integration into the U.S. and are eligible to receive certain ORR benefits and services upon their arrival.

Once the world leader in refugee resettlement, the U.S. has in recent years drastically reduced the numbers of refugees it will accept, the AIC reports. Refugee admissions dropped from a high of 110,000 in early 2017 to 30,000 this year.

In 2018, AIC reported the largest share of refugees arriving in the U.S. came from Africa (46.5%), followed by the Near East/South Asia (16.9%), East Asia (16.3%), Europe (16.1%) and Latin America/Caribbean (4.2%).

As for those asking for but not yet granted refugee status the U.S. expects to process more than 280,000 asylum-seekers this year but only a small percentage of them are likely to be granted asylum. In 2017, for instance, only 26,568 of 259,104 applications for asylum were granted. Of those 21% were from China, 13% from El Salvador and 11% from Guatemala.

LPR status

Once refugee or asylee status is granted the immigrant may seek to stay in the U.S.

“Refugees must apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status — getting a green card — one year after being admitted to the U.S. Asylees become eligible to adjust to LPR status after one year but are not required to do so,” MPI reports.

“As lawful permanent residents refugees and asylees have the right to own property, attend public schools, join certain branches of the U.S. armed forces and travel internationally without an entry visa. They may also apply for U.S. citizenship five years after being admitted.”