Eligibility & Other Issues
>Each year, millions of people from around the world are temporarily or permanently admitted to the U.S. Click here for a chart that provides a brief overview of who is admitted and under what conditions.
Annually, nearly 1 million people are admitted to the U.S. for permanent resettlement. In general, to be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative(s), U.S. lawful permanent resident, or by a prospective employer, and have application approval by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Click here for more information about types of immigrant visas. For application information, visit the USCIS website.
Immigrating to the U.S. is a lengthy and arduous process, fraught with application and eligibility pitfalls. While most immigrants are approved under family reunification categories, such relationships may be narrower than desired. For instance, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of U.S. Citizens do not qualify. Click here for an illustrative diagram depicting the complexity and pitfalls involved in the current legal immigration application process.
Annually more immigrant applications are approved than there are visas available. So a backlog of more than 5 million approved applications has developed. Thus, some families must wait for 20+ years before visas are actually granted. The Department of State Visa Bulletin notes delays by admission category.
Refugees are a subset of immigrants on the Citizenship Track. They are fleeing persecution in their homelands and have been designated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement elsewhere in the world. Each year, in consultation with Congress, the U.S. government allows up to 70,000 refugees to be admitted to the U.S. However, since 2001, annual refugee arrival numbers have been well below the ceiling. Click here to view annual refugee admissions.
Temporary Visa Holders
More than 15 million foreign-born are admitted to the U.S. annually on time-limited visas. Categories include visitors, foreign students, guest workers and others. Most temporary visa holders are not work-authorized. Check the USCIS website for more details.
Undocumented Entrants/Those Having No Legal Visa Status
It is estimated that there are more than 10 million foreign-born in the U.S. who are residing here illegally. They may have entered with a valid temporary visa and overstayed. Or they may never have had any sort of legal visa status. The Migration Policy Institute can provide a variety of useful data and immigration information, including this 2008 report.