How do we decide who can immigrate to the U.S?
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Democratic and Republican leaders actually seem to agree on one thing: that foreigners trying to get permanent residency — AKA “green cards” — should go to the back of the line and wait their turn like everyone else. It makes the whole green card process seem really simple, as though there’s just one line that everyone’s waiting in. Not surprisingly, though, the system is a whole lot more complicated than that. There are actually tons of different kinds of lines and dramatically different wait times depending on who you are and where you’re from. So what does that “line” actually look like and how did it all get so darn complicated?
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What is a visa?
It’s the form that most foreigners need to have in order to travel to and stay in the United States. The two main categories are non-immigrant visas (for temporary stays) and immigrant visas (people trying to live here permanently). The immigrant visas are also known as green cards.
Is there really just one line to get a green card?
Not even close. It totally depends on where you’re from, what family connections you have, your education level and skill set and even how much money you have.
Do Dems and Reps both agree that the system needs to be changed?
Yes, but leaders of the two parties have very different ideas of how to do that. Republicans generally favor stricter immigration enforcement and tighter borders, while Democrats generally want to create more paths to citizenship, especially for immigrants already living in the country illegally.
Migration Policy Institute: Frequently Requested Statistics
MPI: Going to the Back of the Line: A Primer on Lines, Visa Categories, and Wait Times
Business Insider: ‘Wait your turn’: The incredibly complicated process behind legal immigration to the US
Urban Institute: A Comparison of Family and Employment Immigrants
US Citizenship and Immigration Services; Dept. of Homeland Security
Democratic Party Platform 2016, Immigration
Republican Party Platform 2016
The Atlantic: The Immigration Act that Inadvertently Changed America
Pew Research: More than Half of New Green Cards Go to People Already Living in the U.S.
With special thanks to Julia Gelatt, Senior Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, for reviewing the script.
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