Imagine a life in a dangerous and cruel wasteland where almost every chance for a better future has faded. But, through the agony, there is a beacon of hope lighting the treacherous way to freedom. For many immigrants, this hypothetical situation is the reality they must face every day, and the beacon of hope is the United States. While the U.S. accepts one million immigrants each year, legal immigration is a slow, restrictive process, indirectly influencing illegal immigration. Many immigrants face great hardship which makes waiting months or even years for a visa unfeasible. Although opportunities for non-permanent immigration in the U.S. have broadened in the twenty-first century, permanent immigration policies have become increasingly strict with requirements such as refugee status, family in the U.S., or a highly skilled job in order to obtain a green card. Often, the strict nature of these requirements makes the common immigrant at an unfair advantage in applying for permanent residency.
The reason behind this peak in immigration is the extent of problems in Latin America throughout the years, including wars and socialist governments, each of which has made immigration numbers rise. However, common problems that most countries have, to some extent, seem to be more prevalent now than ever, directly affecting immigration. Political corruption, lack of education, poverty, and crime have received more media coverage over the years, both nationally and internationally. Now people in Latin countries know how bad their situation actually is, so many attempt to escape by moving to other countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families, which often equates to seeking permanent residency in the U.S.
First, it is vital to know what exactly a green card is and how common they are. Officially called a permanent resident card, a green card is a permit that allows foreigners to stay in the U.S. legally, permitting them to work and providing them with an opportunity to become citizens. Green cards are also surprisingly common. Boundless Immigration, a start-up that a service that “helps applicants fill out their applications for green cards online” (Schwab), states, “Every year, the U.S. government issues more than a million green cards. [However,] most are given to family members of U.S. citizens and current green card holders, followed by workers from other countries seeking employment in the United States as the next biggest group of recipients” (“Everything About Green Cards”). The main issue is that the “green card” is an umbrella term that refers to several different visas for different types of situations. The green cards issued are split unevenly between the visa categories, simply because visas relating to business and family deal with situations that are more common than others, such as being a Nobel laureate. It is clear that not everyone has the chance to go through this process due to the eligibility categories that an average immigrant would fall in.
The first macro-category is a green card through family, which encompasses five different subsections. These situations are being a(n) “Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, other relative of a U.S. citizen or relative of a lawful permanent resident, Fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen or the fiancé(e)’s child, Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen, VAWA self-petitioner– victim of battery or extreme cruelty” (Green Card Eligibility Categories). The first category in which the applicant is a relative of a U.S. citizen allows this relative to sponsor the applicant, who may be their parent, sibling, spouse, or child. This is the most common form of green cards granted due to the lack of restrictions a U.S. citizens faces. A green card holder may also sponsor their relatives, but they face more restrictions, as they can only sponsor their spouse or their unmarried child.
Fiancé(e) green cards are improperly named, as they are nonimmigrant visas that ease the process of getting a green card. These visas only allow immigrants to stay for 90 days, presumably for them to have a wedding; then they could change their visa category and apply for a spouse green card. A widower visa is an uncommon visa and only applies if the immigrant was married to the U.S. citizen sponsor before the sponsor’s death. Finally, USCIS only grants a VAWA self-petitioner if a U.S. citizen has abused their spouse, parent, or underage son/daughter.
However, completing the requirements, legal forms, and/or payments do not guarantee a green card. The immigration office must ultimately decide if granting a green card to that specific immigrant is beneficial for the country and the family, and that there are no irregularities in this process.
If someone does not qualify for the first macro-category involving family relations, then it becomes increasingly hard to be eligible for permanent residency. The next macro-category is also the second most common: the green card through employment. This category is separated into three subsections, which according to USCIS are “Immigrant Worker, Physician National Interest Waiver, [and] immigrant investor” (Green Card Eligibility Characteristics). The Physicians National Waiver is given to a physician who agrees to work full-time in an underserved area (an area with not enough physicians for a specialty or lack of any physicians) for five years.
Meanwhile, the immigrant investor via is straightforward in comparison to the rest. The immigrant must invest either one million dollars in a business of their choosing or half a million in a targeted area. Finally, the immigrant worker visa is broad and thus broken down into three additional sections, which are separated by skill level as well as first, second, and third preference. The preferences encompass almost all workers, with the third preference stating that the green card could be given to “an unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than two years training or experience)” (—). The reason why this visa is not available for everyone is largely thanks to its cost and limited job offerings. Unless the immigrant has received international recognition or has been identified as someone whose work is of national benefit, he would need an employer sponsor.
This process is difficult and costly, as the employer needs to prove no American worker would want the job that he is offering. Borderwise, another start-up pledging to aid immigrants in the legal process, mentions that “employers must obtain the Permanent Labor Certifications (PERM). Most of the cost of employer-based green cards comes from this first portion, which requires the employer to advertise and recruit for the said position to demonstrate the unique need for the alien worker.” (Green Card Cost). Furthermore, the job cannot be a seasonal one as there are non-immigrant visas for that (usually given for farm labor or holiday season). Overall, Borderwise has calculated that “Employment-based sponsorship generally costs about $10,000 with attorneys fees,” which is a significant investment. Unless the average immigrant has a unique ability that is uncommon in the United States, this type of green card will likely not be given out.
The following macro-categories can be separated into two informal sections— special qualifications and special circumstances. Special people include religious workers, international broadcasters, NATO members and their families, and even American Indians born in Canada. On the other hand, special circumstances include victims of abuse, refugees or, human trafficking victims, and the lottery diversity visa recipients. Many of this categories are highly uncommon, with the two most common ones being the refugee-asylee green card and the diversity green card.
Refugees and asylees, however, have to prove the existence of a real danger in their origin country, or they risk deportation. Even if the risk is proven, the immigrant will receive a temporary visa that him/her must hold on for a year. Then, applying for a green card is possible. With the current administration, it has become a greater challenge to prove the risk to become a refugee, especially if there is no apparent problem in the country, such as political corruption. Finally, according to Boundless Immigration, under the diversity-lottery visa “the U.S. government every year randomly selects up to 50,000 people from a pool of entries it receives from six geographic regions, such as Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Only people from countries that have had little immigration to the United States in the past— for example, Algeria, Lebanon, and Slovakia— may enter the lottery. The share of green cards distributed to any one country is capped at 7%” (Everything About Green Cards). For many, the informally called visa lottery might be their only way to obtain permanent legal residence in the United States.
However, it is true that strict immigration policies are created to protect the nation and its citizens. After all, an immigrant who does not benefit the economy and takes advantage of services like Medicaid or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a burden for taxpayers in the country. Some potential immigrants could also bring serious crimes, such as terrorism. The approach the United States has taken works, but it comes with a price. For every potentially harmful immigrant that gets denied access, countless potentially beneficial immigrants get denied access as well. Our immigration system is a slow train wreck, with no one, not the president or congress, acting in favor of the immigrants because they do not want to be blamed if it were to backfire. Is this a reasonable fear? It could be. But when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that “immigrants come here looking for economic opportunity, freedom, and a better life for themselves and their families. They’ve crossed oceans to work, learn, and live. Our country has benefitted from this influx of cultures and ethnicities, and immigrant workers have made lasting contributions to our economy,” it is clear that a more lenient policy would be beneficial for all the parties involved (Hackbarth).
Immigration will always be a controversial topic. Since there is no way to build a perfect system, someone will always be to blame if the process is not done correctly. Racism, ignorance, and fear are all walls that an immigrant must face on their path to a better life and to freedom. If legal walls are built on the way of those who seek freedom, can we truly call ourselves “the land of the free”? In the end, it will always be better to build a bridge with a guard than just a wall.