The immigration debate isn’t exactly a new conversation in America but lately, that debate has gotten even more heated, what with talk of travel bans and multi-billion dollar border walls. Lots of people have their own ideas about the solution to the so-called illegal immigrant problem but few realize or care, how the immigration process in America actually works. For those who aren’t in the know, why can’t they just get in line to come here legally, seems like a pretty reasonable question but this isn’t the old-timey days when 98% of people who showed up to Ellis Island were let into the country.
America’s immigration process is super long and super expensive. Through the hellish landscape that is green card land, it’s like candy-land only way more depressing. So you want to live and work in America? There are several ways to achieve this and none of them are easy or necessarily guaranteed to make you a citizen.
First, you’ve got to figure out what kind of tedious application journey you’re about to embark on, let’s talking about a few. If you’re from a country with a low immigration rate you could apply for the green card lottery in which, over 11 million people worldwide, each year, apply for only 50,000 available visas, got to love those less than 5% odds.
But for argument’s sake, let’s say you apply for the lottery and don’t win. You could file an employment-based application. All you need is an eligible employer in the United States to sponsor you and pay for the application process and prove you’re not taking away a valuable job from a U.S citizen.
This will only take a year to get approved by the Labor Department if you have a Masters or Ph.D. and only two to five years if you don’t. Plus, you have to be outside the U.S if you don’t have lawful status and on top of that, you haven’t even applied for the actual visa yet.
But if you’re really special, you can apply for a shiny EB-1 visa, that’s for aliens of extraordinary ability, basically anyone who’s managed to excel in the arts, business, academia or athletics, and fits at least three of 10 special-people requirements or they’ve made a cool one-time achievement like winning a Pulitzer, an Oscar or an Olympic medal.
What, you don’t have a Pulitzer? Let’s say maybe the employer thing didn’t work and your Pulitzer was lost in the mail, well, you could have a family member petition for you if they are already living in the United States legally. If you’re flying solo, your last option is to find a spouse just is prepared to prove it’s real.
A standard green card application costs $1,760 and a lawyer to walk you through the filing process can run you anywhere from $500 to $10,000 depending on how complicated your case is going to be. Plus, there are literally hundreds of different forms that you may have to file and all of them cost something, you’ll be shelling out money on fees to the government, lawyers, passport photos, biometrics, mailing costs, and so on, all while trying to, you know, live your life.
An application can get rejected for all kinds of reasons, maybe your passport photos aren’t the right size or you forgot to check a box on page 19 and even if your application is perfect, you can wait up to four years for a response and in some cases, even 10. Plus, if you are rejected after all this, you could face deportation or go back to start this long and costly green card land adventure.
America is a country of immigrants, except Native Americans, of course, and African Americans who were brought here against their will. Obviously, undocumented immigration is a complex issue, which means there is no easy solution, but maybe before building a wall or issuing highly specific travel bans, we should focus on building a better system for welcoming new folks in.