The Basics of the US Immigration Policy
Many people immigrate to the US for a host of reasons. Some are persecuted in their own countries, others want to be close to family members, some believe that there is more opportunity in the States than in their own countries, and others have been offered jobs, internships or scholarships. Quite often, foreign students attend universities and colleges in the US with the sole purpose of returning to their own countries in an effort to help the residents. Whatever the reasons of those wanting to live in the United States, each application is reviewed independently, but at the same time, specific rules apply to specific situations. And even if one does qualify, it does not always mean that entry into the country will be granted. Although the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) reviews thousands of applications from residents of countries all over the world, the process is not always as simple as a "yes" or "no" answer. Consequently, this discussion will only explore the basics of the US immigration policy.
To begin, there are only two categories under which a person may legally enter the US. They are called "Temporary Admission" and "Permanent Admission" with the latter being the most difficult to achieve. Temporary Admission is reserved for those individuals who do not seek residency in the US. Tourists are the best example of this category. They travel to the US for their vacations, then they go home. Additionally, Canadians and Americans who live in border cities and communities regularly cross the borders to shop, visit or just pass time. Basically, all that is required to enter the country is a government approved piece of identification such as a passport, NEXUS card, or an Enhanced driver's license. It is expected that the person will return home in a couple of hours or at the end of the specified time period. Students, diplomats, and temporary workers all fall into this category, as they have no intention of living in the US. They usually receive a visa to enter for the duration of their approved stay. The US also offers a Visa Waiver Program to citizens of twenty-seven other countries. Visitors from these designated countries can be permitted up to ninety days without a visa providing they are traveling for business or pleasure.
In the US, those individuals who are granted permission to live and work in the US are called "aliens" or "immigrants". They enter the country under a Permanent Admission. But, they cannot show up at the border or any other port of entry and expect to enter if they do not have permission to do so. All of the paperwork must be done in advance, although, sometimes asylum seekers have been allowed to stay temporarily. Of course, this is not the usual and legal way to do things. Once an alien is granted permanent admission, the term is changed to immigrant or "lawful permanent resident (LPR)". The person then receives a green card and is eligible to work in the US, and may also apply for citizenship at a later date. Readily available government statistics show that just under one million people received LPR status in 2004.
US immigration policy also deals with the unlawful entry of persons into the country. These people are generally referred to as "illegal aliens". Once caught, they can face huge fines, imprisonment and future banishment from the country. Of course, it is probably obvious that they will be deported as soon as possible.
When looking at who should enter the US on a permanent basis, immigration policy does take into account members of families already residing in the US as citizens of the country. Sometimes, the policy places caps on certain foreign nationals, and as a result, does not allow people from certain countries to achieve permanent status. They might be permitted to enter for a visit, but they are expected to leave when the duration has expired. Often, a particular skill set is given priority when reviewing applications. For example, specialized labor where there does not appear to be enough applicants in the US to fill the job vacancies.
The Refugee Act also examines special circumstances for individuals who cannot continue to live in their native countries. And seasonal agricultural workers have been permitted to apply for permanent status, if they completed ninety days working on a farm or at another agricultural type job. Family sponsored programs exist, as well, to aid in the reunification of family members.
Whether one is admitted on a permanent or temporary basis, it is not a right to enter the US. For example, just because a person entered last month for the day does not mean that he/she can enter on another given day. It is up to the officer on duty to determine whether entry should be granted. Some of the reasons that a person would be denied entry upon arriving at a port of entry is poor health, disease, criminal or suspicious activities, the threat of terrorism, and the possibility that the person will become dependent on the state. In other words, the person does not have the financial means to support himself or herself and must look for welfare. Additionally, those applying to emigrate to the US may find the process very long and tedious. Backlogs are common, and if there is no specific reason to grant entry, that application may sit for some time.
As was mentioned earlier in the discussion, the US immigration policy does allow for refugee and asylum seeker claims. Most people understand the terms to be interchangeable, especially when they see the boats full of people trying to reach the US. Technically, however, these two terms are different. The classification "refugee" refers to people who apply for permanent residency through channels in their own countries. They are not in the US and are awaiting a decision on their applications. Usually, they have applied because of the imminent dangers in their own countries due to political or religious beliefs.
When the immigration department refers to "asylum seekers", it is speaking about individuals who have shown up in the US with the express purpose of staying due to persecution in their native countries. Their situation is so bad that they took the chance and just arrived without having completed the proper application process. In addition, refugee admissions do have set caps on the numbers who are granted entry, whereas asylum seeker admissions do not.
Clearly, US immigration policy covers many aspects of lawful entry and illegal entry into the United States. As there are many volumes of information that encompass each individual act within the boundaries of immigration, this discussion represents only the basics of the US immigration policy.