The Immigration Process in the United States

immigration process

Before I finally discuss the five problems we are trying to solve with immigration, I want to look at the actual immigration process in the United States.

Politicians and pundits like to bemoan the ease with which dangerous immigrants slip across our borders.  The truth of the matter is our immigration process is anything but easy.  Whether immigrants are arriving for work, to reconnect with families already in the country, as refugees, or with plans to become U.S. citizens, their journey is long and arduous.

Immigrant Visas

The U.S. State Department has done a good job of outlining the process by which immigrants can obtain a visa.  Click here to see the pathways available to immigrants and the immigration process they must follow.

Visa Overstays

One point that deserves scrutiny on this topic is the idea that many people stay in the U.S. illegally by overstaying their visas.  Politicians and pundits often cite the statistic that 40% of people in the country illegally have overstayed their visas.  Marco Rubio is one example.

There are two problems with this assertion.  The first is the sheer difficulty of actually gathering this data.  No current measurements completely capture all visa overstays.  In many ways, this is a simple matter of updated measurement processes within our government.  Still, this is a tough number to capture considering the many ways one can enter the U.S. by air, land, and sea.

The other problem with this statistic is the age of the data.  It comes from a 2006 report from the Pew Research Center relying on data from 1997.  In Pew’s defense, they did not really have a choice.  No government or private entity actually measured the number of visa overstays from 1997 to 2016.

The latest report completed by the Department of Homeland Security in early 2016 actually found much smaller numbers of visa overstays.  From October 2014 to September 2015, 527,127 people overstayed their visas in the U.S  As of January 2016,  only 416,500 of these people still remained in the U.S.

Becoming a United States Citizen

Another step in the journey for many immigrants is applying for U.S. citizenship.  This process is also anything but easy.  For a good look at all this entails, watch this video below.


Entering the United States as a refugee is the immigration process receiving the most attention in recent months.  This was a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and remains prominent in his administration’s plans.

One of the best breakdowns of this subject actually comes from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.  The entire video below is worth watching, but he specifically discusses how the U.S. “vets” refugees from minutes 5:01-6:40.

For a closer look, visit this State Department page where they outline the full process for admitting refugees into the U.S.

Many people have skewed the facts about refugees in the U.S.  This fact sheet from the Migration Policy Institute will help you to differentiate between fact and fiction on this subject.

As with every important policy subject in our country, the only true way to look for solutions to problems is to discuss those problems factually.  Hopefully, this information helps you see the facts for what they truly are.

Next up, I will finally discuss potential solutions for the problems we perceive with immigration in the United States.

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