The 5 Most Common Forms of U.S. Immigration

The complexity of United States immigration policy

Immigration is a complex issue which merges many policies, from economics to humanitarian ideals. Because there is much dissent over this issue, it is crucial to understand how the current immigration system works, regardless of your political affiliation. Learn more about the five most common forms of immigration below.  

I. Family-Based Immigration

Immigrants can be admitted into the United States if sponsored by an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives include spouses, unmarried minor children, or parents. No quotas limit this form of family immigration.

The family preference system is another type of family-based immigration which works to unite immigrant families, however there are a limited number of visas available. The qualifications include…  

● Unmarried/married adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens

● Spouses and unmarried children (minors or adults) of LPRs (lawful permanent residents).

This system expands family-based immigration, however there are specified caps within each nuanced category, calculated by a complicated system established by Congress. In order to be admitted through this system, the immigrant’s sponsor must first petition for the individual, then establish legitimacy of their relationship, meet minimum income requirements, and sign an affidavit of support which states that the sponsor is financially responsible for their family member upon arrival.

II. Employment-Based Immigration

Immigrants can be admitted to the U.S. on the basis of employment either temporarily or permanently.

Temporary employment-based visas allow immigrants to work in the U.S. if employers petition and subsequently hire the specified person. There are numerous forms of these visas, which include intracompany transfers, athletes and other skilled performers, and diplomatic employees. The eligibility requirements, duration, and ability to bring dependents vary depending on the type of temporary visa.

Foreigners can also be granted permanent employment-based immigration. The preference ranking for eligible workers is as follows:

● “Persons of extraordinary ability” in arts, science, education, business, or athletics

● Professionals who have advanced degrees within their field

● Skilled workers who have 2+ years of training or experience, professionals with college degrees, and other workers of unskilled, non-seasonal labor

● “Special immigrants” which include religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign service posts, and former U.S. government employees

● People who will invest $500,000 to $1 million in job-creating enterprises, which must employ at least 10 full time U.S. citizens

Within each category of eligibility, there are different limits to the number of visas granted.

III. Refugees and Asylees

Legal immigration is also admitted to people fleeing persecution, or who are unable to return to their homeland due to life-threatening or extraordinary conditions.

Refugees are people who are forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, or violence. A well-founded fear of persecution relates to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of particular social groups. Refugees apply for admission outside of their home country in “transition countries.” A refugee’s admission is qualified by many factors such as the degree of risk that they face, membership in groups of special concern to the U.S., and if they have family members living in the United States. Each year the President and Congress determine numerical ceilings for refugee admissions, which are broken down regionally.

Asylees are foreigners who are unable to return to their home country due to fear of persecution, grounded by the same five reasons listed above. Asylum seekers, however, apply for this status either at a port of entry at the U.S. border, or from the U.S. within one year of their arrival. There are no limits to the number of immigrants who can lawfully reside in the U.S. based on asylum.

IV. The Diversity Visa Program

Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, the Diversity Visa lottery allocates visas to foreigners from countries that have sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years. In essence, this program gives people from regions with low U.S. immigration rates an easier avenue for immigration. Basic qualifications for this program include either a high-school education or two years working in a profession which requires at least two years of education or training. Spouses and unmarried children are also permitted as dependents for this form of immigration.

Diversity Visas are distributed among six regions around the world, with a greater proportion of visas going to areas with lower immigration rates. A computer-generated lottery system randomly selects individuals for this program.

V. Other Forms of Humanitarian Relief

Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure are extensions of the immigration system which work to ensure the safety of U.S. immigrants. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted to immigrants who cannot return home due to natural disaster, ongoing armed conflict, or other “extraordinary temporary conditions.” As the name alludes, TPS is only granted to immigrants from a particular country for a temporary period (six, 12, or 18 months depending on the crisis). Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) similarly protects immigrants from deportation if their home countries are unstable. This is not a formal branch of the immigration system, but rather an authorization from the U.S. President.

In conclusion, U.S. immigration policy has changed significantly throughout history. That being said, certain guiding principles have consistently shaped it. The American Immigration Council defines ideals like “the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity” as integral to U.S. immigration policy. As each administration approaches immigration differently, it is crucial to understand the basic structure of the U.S. immigration system to properly analyze proposed policy changes.



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