In 2014, nearly ten million visas were issued by the United States to those seeking to enter the country. Overall, the United States has one of the highest immigrant populations and is one of the most visited countries on earth. This high demand for entry means that US immigration law is overwhelmingly complicated, and for many, it is almost impossible to make it into the US.
So we wanted to know, how hard is it to legally enter the US, and how do you do it? Well, if you are a foreign national, then you need a visa, which is a government issued document outlining the terms of your stay. And although the laws today are somewhat limiting, they are nowhere nearly as restrictive as they once were. Original immigration laws were incredibly racist, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Further laws prohibited the mentally ill, the uneducated, and even homosexuals. From 1912 specific ethnic limits were enacted, preventing more than 3% of any existing ethnic population from immigrating annually. Luckily, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated those quotas and allowed immigrants and visitors in based on their skills and family relations in the US.
Today, incoming quotas are much larger, although the process is more complex. For non-immigrants, there are more than 30 different visa applications, ranging in purpose from visiting for business to competing in an athletic event, to attending a university. Some are even designed to allow victims of human trafficking or other crimes to stay in the US while helping law enforcement.
Several of those visas require further clearance from an employer or school in the US, which must apply on behalf of the visa-seeker with the appropriate government body. Certain countries like Canada and several sovereign islands have a special relationship with the United States, meaning you don’t need a visa at all to visit or even stay indefinitely.
There is also a visa-waiver program, allowing members of 38, mostly European, countries to enter the US without a visa for up to 90days. Incoming visitors are, however, required to get electronic authorization before arriving, to determine that they are eligible to enter the country.
In order to avoid having nonimmigrant visas used for immigration, incoming visitors must demonstrate that they are visiting for a specific purpose, are only staying for a set length of time, and that they have a home or other obligations to return to. Applicants must pay a fee of at least $160, and if rejected, lose the money.
Rejections can occur for a number of reasons, including having a criminal record, past drug use, prostitution, and sometimes as the result of a presidential proclamation barring visitors from certain countries. Incredibly, even heads of state can be denied a visiting visa.
In 2005, India’s Prime Minister was denied a visa into the US for his role in violating religious freedom back home. Although about ten million visas are approved each year, millions more are rejected.
The more stable your life back home appears, the more likely you are to have your visa approved. But if an immigration officer believes you might overstay your visa, chances are that you’re not going anywhere. Many say that the US’s immigration policy is in major need of an overhaul.