Why is Immigrating to the United States So Hard?
Navigating the U.S. immigration system is an often difficult process, with numerous forms, eligibility requirements, and long waiting times for visas.
It may appear to potential immigrants that the United States does not want them, and that the cumbersome immigration process is designed to keep people out. While it may sometimes appear that way, in reality, the United States still leads the rest of the world in the number of immigrants admitted each year, both in real numbers and as a percentage of the overall population.
Why, then, is it so difficult to immigrate to the United States? A short lesson on immigration history may help answer this question.
US Immigration Difficulties: A Short History
While U.S. citizenship has been regulated since the late 1700’s, the U.S. Congress did not pass laws restricting immigration until the end of the 19th Century, after the U.S. Civil War. The first immigration law was passed in 1882, in response to a large influx of Chinese immigrants to the country. The United States and many other countries’ immigration laws continued to be focused on balancing the numbers of immigrants by country or region until after World War II.
The Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs all immigration to the United States, was passed in 1965, and significantly changed U.S. immigration policy. National quotas were abolished, and the focus of U.S. immigration policy changed from national quotas to family reunification. More visa numbers were allocated to relatives of citizens and permanent residents, while immigration for employment was given lower priority. At the time, the focus on family reunification was seen as a positive humanitarian measure, allowing families long separated to reunite.
Many other countries have updated their immigration policies to recognize the fluidity of business and employment in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Canada, for example, has a points-based immigration system in which a person with no family ties and no concrete job offer can still obtain an immigrant visa by demonstrating language proficiency, job skills, education, and other attributes that are considered positive. United States immigration policy, however, remains focused on family reunification. This is good news for people who have family members in the country, but bad news for young college graduates and entrepreneurs who want to pursue employment and business opportunities in the United States.
Even for those with family members in the United States, immigrating can be difficult. While national quotas no longer exist, the United States issues a finite number of visas each year in each visa category. In order to make the system fair for immigration throughout the world, the number of visas issued to citizens of each country is limited to no more than 7 percent of the total number of visas issued. That means that, for citizens of some countries, there will be long waiting lists for visas, as there are usually more applicants than there are visas available.
Many politicians and political analysts in the United States believe that a complete overhaul of the immigration system is needed, and President Biden has promised that immigration reform would be a priority of his administration, but when a change might happen and the form it might take is still unknown.