By, Richard Hanus, Esq.

Almost 45 million people immigrated to the United States in 2019. For reference, the total population of the United States is about 320 million.

45 million is quite a large number, but the reality is that immigration is beginning to slow. While it’s still increasing overall, the rate of increase is slowing, and we may very eventually see a decline.

Changes to our immigration laws over time will also influence the immigration rate, and its impact will depend on the nature of such changes, whether restrictive or forgiving.   Here are some of basic facts about immigrants and U.S. immigration law to help inform your perspective when it comes to most conversations on the topic.

1. Immigrants and Permanent Residents

The difference between a U.S. permanent resident and U.S. citizen isn’t as obvious as it seems.  For certain, there are a wide variety of terms and classifications that get mentioned in conversation, including the terms “immigrant”, “resident”, or “citizen” – all of which can mean different things, depending whether they are used colloquially or more formally.

For instance, lawful permanent residents are people who are living and working in the US with practically no restrictions, but they are not necessarily “U.S. citizens”.   On the surface and practically speaking, there’s not much of a difference between them, however, for example, permanent residents are not eligible to vote in our elections AND they are vulnerable to be placed in deportation proceedings if they commit certain crimes or acts.

2. Conditional Residents, Unconditional Lawful Residents and Nonimmigrants

There are also conditional residents  – whether because of marriage to a U.S. citizen/resident or via an investment – who only become eligible to become unconditional permanent residents by meeting certain requirements after a period, typically 2 years.  After meeting certain eligibility requirements for two years, and conditional residents can file to covert have their conditions removed before their green card expires.

There are also lawful nonimmigrants who aren’t in the country permanently. These foreign nationals are in the U.S. temporarily, whether to visit, study, work or receive specialized training, and generally will return to their homeland after accomplishing the purpose of their journey to the U.S.   Many though will seek to stay in the U.S. and avail of the legal options available for them to obtain lawful residence.

3. Skilled Labor

In theory, one might think anybody can become a citizen, as long as you follow the law and wait in the right line.  Sometimes that is true, but other times and in certain circumstances, no viable options exist.  Of course, the starting point in researching and formulating a U.S. immigration plan is to have the best immigration lawyer in Chicago, if you happen to live there.

Not everybody who wants to get into the US can, but the more skilled and/or unique one’s talents are, the better that immigrant’s chances will be.  In most cases, the skilled or talented worker generally will also need a “sponsoring” employer to initiate and steer the immigration process.

Among the immigrants that came to the US between 2014 and 2019, about half of them had a Bachelor’s or some higher degree.

4. Families and Refugees

U.S. immigration law definitely puts a high value on keeping families together.  Much of the controversy surrounding US immigration policy in recent years has to do with the separation of families and by and large, the legal immigration process will generally allow a family unit to immigrate together, including a dependent spouse and under 21 year old children.

Refugees are also a favored group when it comes to the U.S. immigration system. In order to qualify for refugee status, the person has to demonstrate they have been or will be persecuted in their country of origin, and due to their race, religion, political belief or social group.  Given recent events around the world, its not much of stretch to say there will likely be a large influx of refugees in the next few years.

Things to Know About Immigration Law

Immigration law can be difficult to navigate, because it’s complex and can change often. The good news is that we’re here to help.

We’ve discussed some of the most important principles to be aware of when it comes to immigrating to the United States.  However, as one could imagine there are whole books worth of information on the subject.

Feel free to do more research if you’re interested. You can find a lot more information on our site, and can even contact us if you have any questions or are in need of a Chicago immigration attorney.

PUBLISHED October 11, 2021– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2021, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois