How does The U.S. Legal Immigration System Work? If you’re wondering how legal immigration systems work, congratulations, you are in the right place. Read on to find out very important information about immigration systems in the United States and how it works.

How The U.S. Legal Immigration System Work?

Legal immigration to the United States occurs through channels of visa categories. However, the major channels for immigrants seeking temporary or permanent U.S. residence are family relationships, ties to employers, or the need for humanitarian protection.

How does The U.S. Legal Immigration System Work?

Visa categories have varying requirements, and they offer differing rights and responsibilities. The legal immigration system today is based on laws enacted in 1965 and 1990. However, it has two main visa categories known as

  • Permanent visas (formally known as immigrant visas
  • temporary ones (nonimmigrant visas).

The Permanent Immigration

Immigrants who want to reside permanently in the United States apply for a green card, the informal term for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. However, LPRs are allowed to remain indefinitely, as long as they are not convicted of a crime that makes them removable. They can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years, or three years if they marry a U.S. citizen.

However, Family reunification has long had a central role in the U.S. immigration system, more than in some other major immigrant-receiving countries. While the share changes from year to year, roughly two-thirds of legal immigration to the US is on the basis of family ties. While the rest are divided between employment-based and humanitarian immigration and those arriving through the green-card lottery (also called the diversity visa).

The Family Preferences

There are both numerically limited and unlimited categories that U.S. citizens and green-card holders to petition to bring in a relative.

Immediate family of US citizens. U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouses, unmarried children under age 21, and parents for a green card. There are no annual numerical limits. For Family-sponsored preference visas. However, there are 226,000 green cards reserved each year for other categories of relatives. So, US citizens can sponsor adult children and siblings, while green-card holders can sponsor their spouses and unmarried minor or adult children.

The Employment Category

There are about 140,000 green cards available each year for immigrants in five employment-based categories. The categories were set up as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, and the numerical caps were set then and have not been adjusted since, as is also the case with the family preferences.

Most employment-based immigrants, except some very high-skilled immigrants and investors, must have an employer who will sponsor them for a visa. Less than half of employment green cards given out yearly go to people selected for employment reasons.

Other Visa Categories or preferences

Apart from the family and employment routes, the U.S. immigration system has a few other ways for entry for permanent residence.

Diversity Visa: Nationals from countries that send few immigrants to the United States can provide the Diversity Visa program, which allocates up to 50,000 visas yearly. For instance, a lottery visa.

Refugees and asylums. People may be granted refugee status or asylum and given the right to live in the United States permanently. This can happen if they can show that they have experienced persecution or have a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted “on account etc.

Asylum is given to people who are already in the United States, while refugee status is given to people who are vetted abroad and approved for resettlement. However, both resettled refugees and those granted asylum are eligible to apply for a green card after one year.

Temporary Immigration – How does The U.S. Legal Immigration System Work?

The United States also admits hundreds of thousands of workers, foreign students, and exchange visitors yearly for temporary residence through a broad swath of visa categories, assigned letters of the alphabet from A through V. However, temporary visas do not lead directly to a green card. In some cases, temporary visa holders can get one if they are able to find a family member or employer to sponsor them.

Furthermore, some temporary visas (B, C, and D) allow foreigners to enter for tourism or short business trips. While others allow students to study at U.S. colleges and universities or to participate in cultural exchange programs (F, J, and M visas). And there are many other temporary visa classes, including for temporary workers.

There are also cases where, temporary workers can bring spouses and minor children with them, but those family members do not have the right to work.

Good Examples of Temporary Worker Visas – How does The U.S. Legal Immigration System Work?

These are examples of US temporary work visa;

H1B – The H-1B visa for (speciality occupations) lets workers stay for up to two three-year work periods, or longer if they are in line for a green card.

H2A – H-2A visa is designed for foreign agricultural workers, who can stay in the US for up to 3 years. There is no numerical limit on H-2A visas.

The H-2B – The H-2B visa is usually granted for short periods but can be extended for up to 3 years. The visa is available for workers filling nonagricultural seasonal or temporary jobs, such as landscapers, crab pickers, lifeguards, or resort workers.

L Visa: The L visa is for workers transferring from a foreign branch of a company to a US branch. There is no numerical limit on L visas. L visa holders can stay for 7 years if they are a manager or executive in the company, and for 5 years if they are a “specialized knowledge” employee. However, spouses of L visa holders are allowed to work in the United States.

O – The O visa is for people with extraordinary skills in the sciences, arts, business, or athletics. There is no numerical limit on O visas, and holders can stay for up to three years.

TN – The TN visa Preference, established by the North American Free Trade Agreement, allows professional workers from Mexico and Canada to live and work in the United States.

How does the US immigration process work?

When someone sponsors you or files an immigrant petition for you. Wait until the petition is approved and there is a visa available in your category. Next, apply for a Green Card from within the Us. However, you will still need to get a medical examination, go to an interview, and wait for a decision on your application.

What are the steps for Legal immigration?

  • File a Petition with USCIS
  • Case Preparation by the National Visa Center
  • Visa Interview Scheduling by the National Visa Center (NVC)
  • Go for a Medical Exam
  • On the day of the interview
  • Visa Approval.

If approved, you will receive your visa.

What is legal immigration in the United States?

Legal immigration means when a person not a citizen of the United States is residing in the U.S. legally. It is also known as “Permanent Resident Alien,” “Resident Alien Permit Holder,” and “Green Card Holder


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