By James E. Root
legal immigration system, U.S. citizen and lawful
permanent residents united with close family members
and U.S. employers gain access to the specific skills
necessary to strengthen the U.S. economy and remain
competitive in the global economy. Through legal
immigration, the U.S. also fulfills its longstanding
tradition of protecting a fraction of the world’s
refugees. Legal immigration is good for American
citizens and immigrants alike.
How does someone come to the U.S. as an immigrant?
Through family-based immigration, a U.S. citizen
or lawful permanent resident (LPR) can sponsor his
or her close family members for permanent residence.
A U.S. citizen can sponsor his or her spouse, parent
(if sponsor is over 21), children, and brothers
and sisters. An LPR can sponsor his or her spouse,
minor children, and adult unmarried children. As
a result of recent changes in the law, all citizens
or LPRs wishing to petition for a family member
must have an income at least 125% of the federal
poverty level and sign a legally enforceable affidavit
to support their family member.
Through employment-based immigration, a U.S. employer
can sponsor almost any foreign-born employee for
permanent residence. Typically, the employer must
first demonstrate to the Department of Labor that
there are no qualified U.S. workers available for
the job for which an immigrant visa is being sought.
As a refugee or asylee, a person may gain permanent
residence in the U.S. A person located outside the
United States who seeks protection in the U.S. on
the grounds that he or she faces persecution in
his or her homeland can enter this country as a
A person who is already in the U.S. and fears persecution
if sent back to his or her home country may apply
for asylum in the U.S. An asylum applicant must
prove that he or she has a “well-founded”
fear of persecution on the basis of at least one
of the following internationally recognized grounds:
race; religion; membership in a social group; political
group; or national origin. Once granted asylum,
the person is called an “asylee”. In
most cases, an individual must apply for asylum
within one year of arriving in the U.S. Refugees
and asylees may apply for permanent residence after
one year in the U.S.
How many immigrants are admitted to the United States
Congress has placed a limit on the number of foreign-born
individual who are admitted to the U.S. annually
as family-based or employment-based immigrants or
Family-based immigration is limited to 480,000 persons
per year. Family-based immigration is governed by
a formula that imposes a cap on every family-based
immigration category, with the exception of “immediate
relatives” (spouses, minor unmarried children,
and parents of U.S. citizens). The formula allows
unused employment-based immigrant visas in one year
to be dedicated to family-based immigration the
following year, and unused family-based immigration
visas in one year to be added to the cap the next
year. This formula means that there are slight variations
from year to year in family-based immigration. Because
of the numerical cap, there are long waiting periods
to obtain a visa in most of the family-based categories.
There is no numerical cap on the number of “immediate
relatives” admitted annually to the U.S. as
immigrants. However, the number of immediate relatives
is subtracted from the 480,000 cap on family-based
immigration to determine the number of other family-based
immigrants to be admitted in the following year
(with a floor of 226,000).
Employment-based immigration is limited to 140,000
persons per year. In most cases, before the U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will
issue an employment-based immigrant visa to a foreign-born
individual, the employer first must obtain a “labor
certification” from the U.S. Department of
Labor (DOL) confirming that there are no U.S. workers
able, qualified and willing to perform the work
for which the foreign-born individual is being hired.
The DOL also must confirm that employment of the
foreign-born individual will not adversely affect
the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.
Under the PERM regulations, which took effect on
March 28, 2005, the DOL is processing new “labor
certification” applications within just 45-60
The United States accepts only a limited number
of refugees from around the world each year. This
number is determined every year by the President
in consultation with Congress. The total number
of annual “refugee slots” is divided
among different regions of the world. For the fiscal
year 2005, the number of refugee admissions was
set at 70,000.
There is no limit on the number of people who can
be granted asylum each year. Both refugees and asylees
may apply to become Legal Permanent Residents after
one year, but only 10,000 asylees are permitted
to become Legal Permanent Residents in any fiscal
year. No such limitation is imposed on refugees.
For more information and a “free” initial
legal consultation please contact Immigration Attorney
James E. Root at 1(888) ROOT-LAW or visit his website
at www.RootLaw.com. Mr. James E. Root heads an Exclusive
Immigration Law practice with two offices in Southern